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'Considering the hip-hop South': Professors bring Southern hip-hop festival to Chapel Hill

Local artist Artie Barksdale works on a mural located on 108 Henderson St. for the upcoming Hip Hop South Festival on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. The festival takes place on April 22 and April 23 in venues around Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Artists and performers from North Carolina and other states in the South will gather this weekend in Chapel Hill for Hip Hop South, a celebration of the region’s unique artistic styles. 

Starting April 22, the festival will include two nights of live music at several venues, including Cat’s Cradle. There will also be a virtual lecture on sneaker culture, an exhibition of hip-hop scholarship and a public mural.

Among the co-curators of the festival are two Harvard Nasir Jones Hip Hop Fellows, Christopher Massenburg (also known as Dasan Ahanu), an adjunct professor at UNC and Regina Bradley, a professor at Kennesaw State University.

Carolina Performing Arts is sponsoring the event as part of Southern Futures: a University-wide interdisciplinary project aimed at redefining the South from within, focusing on the arts and humanities.

“It’s an initiative that is designed to meet this moment of change, of social justice, and everything that has happened in the past few years,” said Jane O’Hara, associate director of marketing and communications at CPA. 

Kicking off inaugural festival 

While the hip-hop genre is often dominated by artists from the Northeast and the West Coast, Massenburg said, the curators want to exhibit Southern hip-hop and the culture that surrounds it. 

“It’s not just the drum and the hi-hat,” Massenburg said. 

Since hip-hop traditionally samples from other music genres, the South has different sources of inspiration than other parts of the country, he said. 

“It’s gospel music, it’s the blues, it’s jazz and then it’s also the bass of hip-hop,” Massenburg said. 

O’Hara said there will be a broad range of Southern hip-hop styles featured at the event, including popular artists like Big Boi and Rapsody, as well as lesser-known artists from the region.

The curators are working to ensure the festival represents North Carolina's hip-hop scene. Two of Friday's opening acts, Rapsody and Shirlette Ammons, grew up in the state.

“It’s a great way to kick off the inaugural festival, to be able to say, ‘This is what we have here in North Carolina,'” Massenburg said. 

Beyond the music

Though the festival is centered on hip-hop, it will also explore the surrounding culture through discussions, scholarship and other artistic mediums beyond main stage performances, CPA Associate Director of Engagement Amanda Graham said.

“This is an opportunity to really think about the fabric of the place where we live,” she said.

A permanent contribution to the local community will come through a mural by Durham- based artist Artie Barksdale. It will be painted on the side of a building that currently houses Imbibe and Zog’s Art Bar & Pool Hall.

According to a Chapel Hill Arts blog post, the location was chosen due to its proximity to The Hideaway, a prominent former hip-hop club. 

As part of the event, Bradley will present research on Southern hip-hop, Graham said. 

Bradley’s collection includes work by veteran journalists and oral historians on the significance of regional contributions to hip-hop, according to the event website. 

“To bring Regina’s voice to UNC-Chapel Hill is a really special thing,” Graham said.

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The co-curators worked to fit the festival into the Southern Future Initiatives framework, looking critically at the role of art in the South, Massenburg said.

“When you think about chronicling the South, I don’t think you can do that without considering the hip-hop South,” he said.

For more information, including the the event schedule click here.

@DTHCityState |

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