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tv   Discussion on Race in America  CSPAN  November 26, 2021 1:28am-1:58am EST

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through sunday at c-span shop.org. >> c-span offers a variety of podcasts and has something for every listener. weekdays come up washington today gives you the latest from our nations capital and every week book notes plus has interviews with writers on their latest works. while we also have a series with extensive conversations with historians about their lives and works. many of our television programs are also available as podcasts. >> and now, to a conversation about the impact of hip-hop culture centering around a new smithsonian project documenting where than 40 years of hip-hop. joining the conversation is kevin young.
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this is about half an hour. ms. givhan: hello and welcome to washington post live. i'm robin givhan, senior critic-at-large for the washington post, and today, as part of our race in america series, we are talking about the smithsonian anthology of hip-hop and rap, which will be released tomorrow. my guests today are kevin young, the director of the national museum of african american history and culture, and dr. dwandalyn reece, who is the organization's associate director for curatorial affairs. welcome to you both. dr. reece: thank you. mr. young: thanks for having us. ms. givhan: i thought i would start with you, dr. reece, and if you can just give us a sense of why the smithsonian felt it was important to put together this anthology. what was the impetus for it?
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dr. reece: well, the impetus, i mean, it ties a lot to the philosophy of smithsonian folkways records and the national museum of african american culture. and our museum is about the past but also about the present and the future. and hip-hop has been around with us for 40-plus years, and so it's just a natural outgrowth of looking at the african american experience through a contemporary lens. and for smithsonian folkways, a lot of the desire around this project is really seeing hip-hop as community music, looking at its birth and its origin stories, really coalescing around the idea of community and finding a voice to express joys, sorrows, anger about the current circumstances. ms. givhan: i mean, the anthology consists of both
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essays, photography, and also the music itself, and in many ways, it seems like putting it together would be sort of the ultimate task and the result being something that people would argue over for generations to come. i mean, how did you--what was the process of being able to winnow down decades of music and culture into something thatâ'â'well, not quite manageable because it's quite big, but at least, you know, compact? dr. reece: a project like this, like any list or any anthology, is very difficult. how do you make those choices? and we were very intentional from the beginning to really make this a grassroots project. so it wasn't the smithsonian coming up with the idea and making the decision. we had a community of advisors, and we had an
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executive committee made up of scholars, artists, journalists, industry folks, who made that decision. the advisors selected, i believe, some 900 songs. and from those 900 songs in one meeting in november 2014, the executive committee sat through and went through that entire list, to choose the tracks that would--we like to say that this list is not the definitive story of hip-hop, but it is a story of hip-hop. so the selections are really based on tracks that help illustrate the story of hip-hop as it evolves, the critical moments, the critical stories and issues. so you could replace any of those tracks with other things, but this is a story and this is a place to get the dialogue going. ms. givhan: before we get into some of the specific tracks that
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are there, director young, i wanted to ask you just sort of more broadly. we talk about hip-hop and, you know, the poetry of hip-hop. how does that fit into the broader mission of the institution? you know, how does it--how do you connect the dots to the other elements that are part of the museum? mr. young: well, thanks for having us and thanks for featuring such an important anthology. you know, i think it very much fits in the long story we tell, starting in the museum. if you've been there, it starts in the bottom and thinks about history but also connects to culture. and you can't have one without the other. we're a museum of both. and to me, hip-hop really illustrates that connection between history and culture. it names the times. chuck d, who was one of the people who helped us think through these tracks, you know, said that hip-hop was cnn for black people. and that idea, i think, is so powerful if we think about, over time, the issues from the message to the moment we're in now speak to what's happening in everyday life.
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and i love that there's an organic quality, both to how the anthology was created but also how hip-hop was created. and it mirrors in many ways a museum, which you know, comes about from the things that people brought us, that people kept close and treasured, and hip-hop is one of those things. they kept the, you know, great 8-ball jackets and the great outfits and the radios, and the things that made hip-hop, the mixers, and we've also been collecting that material. and so it's really an important moment, i think, as we look back toward hip-hop and we look back on the fifth anniversary of the museum, too, and think about the ways that culture is still happening. history is a living thing, and we need to chronicle that as well. ms. givhan: one of the really interesting elements is the idea that the choices really reflect the ways in which the music and the culture was moving forward and the impact it was having in any given moment. i mean, as you
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go from sort of the origins of hip-hop, you know, we do get to a point where--director young, you just brought up public enemy, and you know, that was a moment when it seemed as though hip-hop was really starting to speak to--very directly, to issues of social issues, political issues. i mean, can you talk a little bit about the impact that public enemy really had in our understanding of what hip-hop could be? mr. young: absolutely. i mean, i think dr. reece can describe it, too, but i think it's a sonic and a social mix. i mean, what's beautiful about public enemy is that layered sound they had. i remember dancing to it myself. but it's dancing and thinking at the same time, which is, i think, the kind of thing that hip-hop offers us.
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but we have to remember this is a--hip-hop is one in a long line of black music inventions, innovations, that i think are central to us thinking about american culture but also world culture. soul music also was social and made you move. blues thought about expressing individual feelings through this what i like to think of as a kind of "i" that's also a "we." you know, when bessie smith is singing, you start to feel that connection to her and to that experience. and i think in that long tradition hip-hop makes a lot of sense, and public enemy seems like it's very much connected to other music, whether it's soul music or folk music or however you want to think of it. and of course, hip-hop is made up of those musics. it liberally samples them. it riffs off them. it refers to them. and that long tradition, that is also a jazz tradition, is really powerful. and that layered sound, i think, is also a way of thinking about our layers of responsibility and thought as we move about the world and maybe move on a dance floor. ms. givhan: dr. reece, would you like to add to that? dr. reece: the only thing i would add is, you know,
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sometimes a discussion about hip-hop is generational. and just all the interviews we've been doing and conversations we're having--i really think there is something to hip-hop as a movement, just like any other movement in time is started as a grassroots effort and just blew up. but i also think of that post-civil rights generation as, you know, after the legislations and accomplishments in the 60s as the country is still trying to find itself, that hip-hop develops as another tool, just as director young mentioned, of fulfilling a long tradition of how to address issues, how to innovate and create new sounds. and i see hip-hop as pulling us
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forward, not only african americans but all people who listen to it, from the philosophies behind it, the sounds, the experimentation, the fluidity of it, the message. and you know, i think it's arguably--some would argue. but if we start to look at it after these 40 years, that it is a cultural and social moment that has not only shaped america but the global community as well. so you know, part of this set is not only for the aficionados, but it's also for those people who may not understand what hip-hop's all about. and we all know that there are preconceptions about all ideas of what hip-hop is, and they still continue in some quarters. and so the box set itself with the music, with the essays, with the images and the liner notes, really paints hip-hop just as any kind of historical, cultural, social movement that has existed over time and frames it from a variety of perspectives. so, you know, one
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of the hopes we have is that people start to understand that and appreciate the genre and the culture for what it is and what it has contributed to society. ms. givhan: how important is it that this is something that is--you know, it's rooted in a museum, and that gives it--and that automatically gives it a sense of history and legacy because i think a lot of people think of hip-hop as something that belongs to the youth when in fact there is this incredible history and a lot of the people who were there at the beginning are not really quite that young anymore. how important is that to recognize, that multi-generational aspect to hip-hop? mr. young: real quick, i think you see in just this past year, when we lost biz markie and dmx and all these artists, how important it is to appreciate and collect and retain this history and, you know, sometimes to find out from the sources
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themselves how they view that history. and you know, i think it's so important that we do this now and we look ahead to the future but also look back. and i think our collecting around this area has been so fruitful because we've dedicated ourselves to thinking about it in this big context of black culture and global culture, which it's inarguably influenced. but i think you're right. it's really a moment to reflect on how long hip-hop's been with us and what it's given us. ms. givhan: one of the wonderful aspects of the anthology is the emphasis that's placed on the women who were instrumental in founding--both founding hip-hop and moving it forward. there's a terrific essay in the anthology in which it's noted that with--you know, without those women, who were sort of the foremothers in hip-hop, there wouldn't be a h.e.r., a lizzo, a megan thee stallion. we've got
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some great pictures of some of the women rappers. but, i mean, how difficult or how challenging was it to make sure that these women were included when there was a period in hop hop's history when they were kind of erased sort of from public view? that's for you, dr. reece. dr. reece: well, it was intentional to make sure women were included and--because we have to make that extra effort because the dominant, popular narratives do tend to erase women. and we have to be intentional to make sure that they are included as part of the story, not an add-on, but as part of the story. so it is also an exercise to remind visitors and our audiences and people who love hip-hop that women are involved in hip-hop in every shape and form, whether it's
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photographers, entrepreneurs, record executives, artists, designers, and the like. and part of our mission as a museum is to make sure that these stories are really complex and represent the breadth of the african american experience, giving voices to the unvoiced. so we take that very seriously. and i think we have to make that extra effort because so much of the journalism and the history that's written still does not include women and so, ideally, in some great world, the next time somebody does something like this, women just instantly come to mind. but we have to--we have to make an effort to make sure that people know and remember and elevate those people who may not be as famous and well known as others. ms. givhan: how did you wrestle with some of the cultural aspects of hip-hop, the sexism that is there, with the homophobia, you know, with, you
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know, the abuse that was in many ways part of the culture, which is sort of part of the broader culture? i mean, did you debate whether or not certain people should be included because of that? how did that work? dr. reece: that's an interesting question. at the end of the day, you know, people are complicated and have complicated stories. but when you're telling a story, a historical story, it's really difficult to leave someone out who has influenced and shaped other people or shaped the music. so, on one level, we focus on the story, but we don't distance ourselves of the changing perceptions and how one's image might have changed due to incidences or past situations. and i think a lot of that is explored in the telling. i am mindful that the anthology can't be all things to all people and all the themes and
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topics we put couldn't possibly address. but we do address that in other ways through our programming, through our web site, so that we really get visitors to engage with some of these other issues, which don't have easy answers. but our museum is not very shy about confronting these things and having really constructive conversations about them. ms. givhan: yeah, dr. young--or director young, i mean, i'm curious because there was a period, particularly with the rise of like gangster rap, where the emphasis really became on a very particular kind of masculinity, a very particular kind of black masculinity. as you sort of look at the way that that was reflected in hip-hop, i mean, do you draw connections between that and the ways that
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black masculinity is reflected in other aspects of the museum? mr. young: oh, that's an interesting question. i think i think of it as a conversation. you know? and i think that the anthology is having a conversation amidst itself. you know, the rappers are often rapping back to each other. the rap battle. but also, something like "roxanne, roxanne," i remember thinking about it in college as the roxanne cycle and the idea that there was like a kind of epic cycle to that. and i think it's really important to say there's these different voices, sometimes contesting each other, and hip-hop itself has a history of people having those arguments, sometimes backstage, but often on stage and on wax for us to understand.
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i think there is a long conversation, too, about gender and equity, all these kinds of questions. and a good museum, like our museum, and the smithsonian as a whole i think thinks about that with you, helps you think about it, shows you the story, as dwan's mentioning, and tells it over time. i think the context is really important. that conversation and that context is what i try to help people focus on and see it for themselves, and see it and hear it in this case, up close and firsthand. and if you know the music, you know it's layered. and how do you experience it? how do we see it in relation to each other? i think that's the important aspect of the music and the anthology. ms. givhan: dr. reece, can you talk a little bit about the point at which, you know, there's this incredible broadening of hip-hop, and you know, it really becomes the popular--the popular music? and you start to see--i'm presuming you sort of start to see this with the arrival of someone like vanilla ice, who makes an appearance in the anthology, and then it moves on. i will let you defend the presence of vanilla
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ice. dr. reece: well, let me say this. and we teased out part of the playlist a couple years ago, and there were still a lot of responses about that. but i like to quote mc lyte, when she said--when we spent maybe an hour. just, oh, this is so hard to do. i don't know how to make a choice. but she said something--you know, at the end of the day, if a track moves the story of hip-hop forward, it is a critical part of the overall story. so we're not making judgments on chart placement, number of grammy awards or things like that, but who says--we all know when vanilla ice came on the scene there was a lot of conversation about it, you know, from the track itself, from a white artist doing an african american art form. i mean, all
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kinds of issues come out, and that--i like to say it's the beauty of it, that there's so much to think about and the implications. so you know, a person may not put--you know, the track may not hold up 30 years from now. but if it moved the culture, it moved the story, then it's a critical moment in the overall picture of its evolution. ms. givhan: and is there another moment in recent history where you've--where the advisory board really felt like this track, you know, moved hip-hop in a completely different direction? i mean, i'm wondering if that conversation came up with someone like a kanye west or a kendrick lamar. dr. reece: it did. it did, but we had his cutoff at 2013 for a variety of reasons, not only the size of the box set, but licensing issues and trying to have a critical distance because even as we're doing that there are moments in hip-hop occurring. you know, kendrick lamar wins a pulitzer prize. i mean, there are all kinds of
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things that we could do another set for the last seven or eight years. but we did think about that in making the choices and how it's presented. we even talked about doing a precursor cd to show that, you know, hip-hop did not evolve out of a vacuum, that there are precursors in every musical genre, particularly in african american music, rebuilding on one thing after the other. so what's important to me is not only to explore the importance of hip-hop but to place it in that continuum of african american cultural expression. ms. givhan: one--a little bit of an aside, but i was curious about thinking of the music being presented on cd. why that particular format as opposed to sort of old-school vinyl or digital?
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dr. reece: purely economics. the cost of producing a vinyl set with all these tracks would have made the box set really prohibitive, expensive, to a lot of our audience. and we wanted--you know, it's not cheap, but we want it--we want it out there. we want people to be able to purchase it. we spent a lot of time talking about that, too. and it would be really neat, but it's a much more expensive project to put together if we went that route. mr. young: it's also pretty heavy as it is. i can't imagine all that vinyl. that load [unclear] wouldn't it? dr. reece: i think it's also, you know, the cds are outdated and only, you know, traditionalists like me still have my cd collection, but the package is really the whole thing. you know, you can put together a list and stream it all on spotify, but it's the combination of the tracks, of the essays, of the liner notes, the images. when you start to juxtapose those things, you
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start to get different kinds of stories. i know you mentioned masculinity and gangster rap. then we could bring out andrã© 3000, who's challenging, you know, versions of masculinity. so these whole things are in conversation with each other. so this is really an object that we've created for our audiences to engage with time and time again, and providing a foundation, and really engaging with the music in new and different ways. ms. givhan: as you think about that audience, i'm curious. i mean, depending on--you know, what do you think that, you know, sort of the diehard hip-hop fan may take away from the anthology versus someone who really knows very little about the music and the culture? i mean, can they find, you know, sort of a meeting of the minds there?
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mr. young: i think so, and i think that we've already seen versions of that online. and you know, there was a kickstarter campaign around this, and people's enthusiasm was really palpable. for me, as someone who's first record i ever bought with my own money was run-dmc's "king of rock," i was just blown away by the 129 tracks, the real breadth of the collection. i think that's really important. and having, you know, paper anthologies of poetry and other things, it's really hard to pick, you know, and to pick out of 50 years really of this music. i think it's just so dynamic and powerful. and the essays alone are worth the price of admission, and so to have that music and the essays in conversation with each other, too, is really important. and i think there's something for everyone. i think if you don't know hip-hop that well, you might hear songs that you actually know more than you thought. i mean, i think that's the other thing is hip-hop is so broad. it has such broad aspects. and someone like lauryn hill, for instance, has such a rich range of sounds that we call hip-hop but in another world we might call, you know, soul music or something like that. so there's really a
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combination of sounds and also aspects and points of view that i think people will be really enriched by, whether they know the music well or not. ms. givhan: and when you think about the moment that we're in now, i mean, how--director young, how would you describe the kind of conversation that hip-hop is having with the culture at large in this moment? mr. young: well, i think sometimes it's direct, and sometimes it's very topical, but sometimes it's also escape. you know, i think both are valid forms of reaction to our current moment. and i think if you look back at what black music has always provided to black folks, it's been that outlet of expression, sometimes of anger but sometimes coated anger, and sometimes of joy. and joy, as
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the poet, toi derricotte, reminds us, is an act of resistance. and that kind of resistance and joy that the song "happy" by pharrell, for instance, you know, is a way of thinking about the ways that happiness, you know, is something revolutionary. and so, you know, i like that the music isn't all serious or all one thing. and i think that right now is a moment of that, where you see women rappers rapping about pleasure and their bodies and the future, and you see people rapping about whatever they want, you know, and daily life. i think that's really important. ms. givhan: and my last question to you, director young, is, you know, you sort of mentioned the poetry and the protest and the joy. i mean, are you finding that there is a better understanding of that link between the music and poetry, you know, the art form, as we see someone, the enthusiasm
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behind someone like, you know, an amanda gorman? mr. young: well, i think poetry is definitely having a moment, which is great, and i think hip-hop in some ways paved the way for it, makes us lyrically aware. i think it means those two different things. if i could rap, i would, but i'm a poet. so i think about poetry that's power. and you know, i don't think we have to pick one or the other. but it is true, especially if we think about antecedents and, you know, the people who helped bring hip-hop into being, someone like gil scott-heron or the last poets, these are poets who crossed over from poetry into music and into hip-hop in some ways and were inspirations. so there is this long tie in history, but you know, poetry is its own art and so is hip-hop and i think that's important to remember, that hip-hop has its own power, passion, connection to the past, and you know, i
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wouldn't trade anything for those layered tracks that you get to hear and think while you dance. ms. givhan: well, i think we will have to leave at there--leave it right there. hopefully, maybe you'll come back and you will rap for us. i don't know. mr. young: like i said, not a rapper. i'm the dj, not the rapper, the song goes. ms. givhan: well, i thank you both so much for being with us this afternoon. and i want you all to know that if you are interested in upcoming interviews, please go to âwashingtonpostlive.com,â where you can register and get all the information for whatâ™s coming up. and iâ™m robin givhan. thanks for joining us. ♪ >> get c-span on the go. watch the day biggest political events live, on demand anywhere.
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access top highlights. listen to c-span radio and discover new podcasts all for free. download c-span now today. >> civil rights activist and finance experts testify on barriers facing ld -- lgbtq individuals from the house financial subcommittee. good afternoon. i am pleased to convene the subcommittee on diversity and inclusion for a hybrid hearing entitled, there is no pride and prejudice, eliminating barriers to full economic

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