Unique perspectives examine contemporary hip-hop culture

From filmmakers to acclaimed artists, the fourth annual Hip-Hop Symposium offered Geneseo students an opportunity to immerse themselves in contemporary hip-hop culture.

“Hip-hop transcends a lot of barriers in the sense that you can talk about racism, you can talk about classism, you can talk about all sexual orientations and identities through hip-hop,” said senior Maya Shah, who serves as student assistant for the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services. “It’s another outlet to get out there, especially for the Geneseo campus.”

A committee comprised of mostly students and led by Coordinator of Multicultural Programs Fatima Rodriguez Johnson decided on which artists to invite to campus, and collaborated to bring the weeklong event together. The Black Student Union and the Alliance for Community Enrichment cosponsored the events.

On Monday March 4, event attendees watched a screening of the film Estilo Hip Hop, and afterwards the director, DJ Laylo also known as Loira Limbal, responded to questions via Skype.

“We asked a lot of questions, got a lot of feedback to see her side, how things have changed within the film and see how things are evolving,” Shah said.

The 2009 documentary focuses on three young rappers from Brazil, Chile and Cuba, and chronicles their struggles to create meaningful art that would resonate with their generation. Rather than trying to enact change with words only, they overlay their messages with beats to enhance their power. 

While Laylo opted to use film as her lens of observing the power of hip-hop, March 5 keynote speaker Yitz Jordan, on the other hand, said he uses his own unique background to fuel his creativity.

Jordan - who is better known by his stage name Y-Love - spoke frankly about his past struggles as an African-American Jewish gay hip-hop artist and the overall power of hip-hop.

“To me, hip-hop is the poor man’s art form,” Jordan said. “Hip-hop is the way that you can change the world with just your lips and a microphone.”

Jordan started to get involved in hip-hop when he was studying the scriptures in Jerusalem. Jordan said he and his study partner would use beats as a method to improve their memorization.

From there, Jordan said he began performing and eventually was able to make a professional career with his music.

Throughout the talk, Jordan performed several of his most popular songs, including “Focus on the Flair,” - a song in which he dressed in drag for the music video and which served as a coming out for his hip-hop persona.

“One of the things that’s commonly said with gay emcees specifically is ‘I love you, I respect you, but just don’t talk about what you do in the bedroom,’” Jordan said. “I’m trying to push that boundary between explicit imagery when it comes to gay people because I’m not going to be told that I have to tone it down just because of how I was born.”

The final event for the symposium will be held on Friday March 8. The student organization LFS Flow will host a workshop and give several performances.

“Seeing how hip-hop has evolved within the last couple of years, it’s exciting to bring it to this campus community,” Shah said.