DJs often think quite hard about what they’re going to play beforehand—but like Kool Herc, a good one will switch it up according to how the crowd is reacting in real time on the dancefloor. Think of this schedule of readings in the same light. Note also that I regularly make announcements in class, typically at the beginning of the period, about what’s coming next.

Week 1 – Introduction: Hip-Hop & the Academy

M 1/29 What do we gain from the academic study of hip-hop? And what do academics typically get wrong about hip-hop?

W 1/31 How subjective can taste be for social animals like ourselves?

Week 2 – Hip-Hop History: DJing and MCing

M 2/5 What’s the difference between rap and hip-hop music?

W 2/7 Is hip-hop inherently political?

  • Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, ‘Hip-Hop: Planet Rock’, in Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey (Grove Press, 2006)
  • Audio: TBD
  • Video: DJ Jazzy Jay | Crate Diggers | Fuse (10 October 2012). Jazzy Jay was one of Zulu Nation’s main DJs, was the co-founder of Def Jam Records, and is one of hip-hop’s great storytellers. keywords: crate digging; sacred crates.

Week 3 – Hip-Hop History: Dance


W 2/14 How have various kinds of mass media influenced the evolution of hip-hop dance?

  • Jorge ‘Popmaster Fabel’ Pabon, ‘Physical Graffiti: The History of Hip-Hop Dance’, in Jeff Chang, ed., Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop (BasicBooks, 2006). Also reprinted in Forman and Neal (2012).
  • Audio: TBD
  • Video: Wild Style (Charlie Ahearn, 1982). We’ll watch this movie in class, but I encourage you to look at it a few times. You can view this movie for free using the hyperlink in the title.

Week 4 – Hip-Hop History: Visual Arts


W 2/21 Did graffiti survive its move to the galleries?

  • Jeff Chang, ‘Zulus on a Time Bomb: Hip-Hop Meets the Rockers Downtown’, in Forman and Neal (2012). This time, focus on the sections on graffiti.
  • Audio: Sugar Hill Gang, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (1979). In many ways, we can interpret Wild Style as an attempt to correct the historical record: ‘Rapper’s Delight’ was seen by hip-hop insiders as a cooptation from outside ‘the culture’; the filmmakers sought to show its audience what ‘authentic’ hip-hop was all about. It hardly seems accidental, for example, that Grandmaster Flash caps the climactic bandshell party jam by cutting up Chic’s ‘Good Times’, the song that was interpolated for the beat to ‘Rapper’s Delight’.
  • Video: Wild Style (Charlie Ahearn, 1982)


Week 5 –  Hip-Hop Historiography

M 2/26 How do we separate history from mythology?

W 2/28 Did hip-hop really begin in the Bronx?

  • Nelson George, ‘Hip-Hop’s Founding Fathers Speak the Truth’, in Forman and Neal (2012); also available in Forman and Neal (2004)
  • Video: Founding Fathers: The Untold Story of Hip-Hop (Ron Lawrence and Hassan Pore, 2009). Watch this before class; we’ll review a few scenes during class as they become relevant to our discussion

Week 6 – Hip-Hop Historiography, cont’d

M 3/4 Did the ‘founding fathers’ really create something out of nothing?

W 3/6 What defines a hip-hop classic?

Week 7 – Writing and the Rhetoric of Rap: MCing

M 3/11 What can the study of linguistics teach us about the language of hip-hop?

W 3/13 What can the study of poetics teach us about rap lyricism?

Week 8 – Rap and the Rhetoric of Authenticity

M 3/18 How can we come up with a thesis, and what is the mark of a good one?

W 3/20 What do we mean when we talk about ‘authenticity’ in hip-hop?

Week 9 – Hip-Hop Politics: Conscious Rap

M 3/25 If hip-hop is protest music, why did so many conscious rappers support the patriarchy?

W 3/27 If hip-hop is protest music, why is there so much gaybashing?

Week 10 – Race, Space, & Place: Hip-Hop’s Cognitive Mapping

M 4/1 Where does keepin’ it real go wrong?

W 4/3 Was gangsta rap the real conscious rap?

Week 11 – Gender Politics

M 4/8 What do feminists hear when they listen to hip-hop?

W 4/10

Week 12 – Race & Cultural Appropriation

M 4/15 Is cultural appropriation always a bad thing?

W 4/17 What exactly is ‘dirty’ about the ‘Dirty South’?

Week 13 – [SPRING CLASS]



Week 14 – Sampling, Chopping, & Screwing: Or, the Genius of DJ Screw & J Dilla


W 5/1 Is DJ Screw really to blame for Drake?

Week 15 – Sampling, cont’d

M 5/6 What’s creative about using other people’s records?

W 5/8 How much can we read into an artist’s sampling choices?

Week 16 – Hip-Hop, Commodification, and the Culture Industries

M 5/13 Is J Dilla really to blame for the lo-fi hip-hop phenomenon?

W 5/15 CONCLUSIONS (Last Day of Class) When the money talks, what is there to say?

Final Exam Period

W 5/22 (note: 3:30pm-5:30pm)

  • TBD
  • Audio: TBD
  • Video: TBD


Forman, Murray, and Mark Anthony Neal. 2012. That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge

Forman, Murray, and Mark Anthony Neal. 2004. That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, 1st Ed. New York: Routledge.