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Oakland rapper Jahi holds lecture on the history of Hip-Hop

on February 5, 2019

During his lecture at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland on Friday night, Oakland rapper Jahi cited a rhyme from artist Erykah Badu:

“I was born underwater
With three dollars and six dimes
You may laugh,
but you did not do your math.”

“Three dollars and six dimes is 360 degrees,” Jahi explained to more than 100 adults and children who filled the Megadome Theater to hear his lecture, “The Intersection between Hip-Hop Culture and Education.” He focused on broadening the current perspective and conservation about Hip- Hop culture through discussing its four founding elements: the MC, DJ, graffiti art, and breakin’—or break dancing. The Space and Science Center served as the 14th museum where his event was conducted.

“In the spirit of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, this is the beginning of black history month,” said Jahi, referring to one of the first people to study African American history and he started what was originally a week to celebrate black culture. “This is why black history week turned into a month so that we can share our culture.”

The interactive lecture series focuses on the life-affirming aspects of Hip Hop through an academic, education and cultural lens. In January, Jahi presented it at San Jose State University with the California Music Education Association and in Seattle at the Northwest African American Museum where he gave a presentation on celebrating Hip-Hop through the great Muhammad Ali, who was not only known for his rope-a-dope style in the boxing ring, but also for his activism regarding race, religion and his stance against the Vietnam War.

Jahi, originally from East Cleveland, Ohio, is an active participant in the Hip-Hop world as an MC, DJ and lecturer. The Oakland rapper is a part of the new generation of the rap group known as Public Enemy 2.0 (PE 2.0) created by Chuck D. He also serves in the community as the program manager for The Office of African American Male Achievement in the Oakland Unified School District, which is tasked with improving academic and life outcomes for African American male students in Oakland. He is also the owner of Microphone Mechanics and KHMUNY Publishing, which focuses on music projects for youth and music publishing.

Throughout the presentation, Jahi helped the audience reminisce back to the early days of Hip-Hop. Not only did he get the crowd hyped through his rhymes and beatboxing, but he also spun vinyl records on turntables—and allowed children and other guests to give it a try. He also invited Oakland native Asim Smith Jr. to perform a break-dancing routine in front of the audience.

“I am presenting Hip-Hop as a world culture with life-affirming principles that has a science to it,” said Jahi. “We have our instruments, we have a technique, we have our skill, and we have a message that we want to send to the world.”

Throughout the lecture, Jahi also spoke about the science and math that goes into creating a beat and understanding music. “There’s a science to spinning records,” Jahi said. “There is also beats per minute, lyricism, cadence and style—all of that is around science.”

Lawrence Patrick, the father of three children in attendance, said the event helped capture the excitement and enthusiasm of Hip-Hop culture. “It helped young people understand that it does have a history,” said Patrick. “It’s for them to see that it’s more than just a song on the radio, but also for them to know that there is a cultural connection that we share.”

Patrick also emphasized that scientific principles tie into the elements of Hip-Hop, and that it involves math. Hip-Hop music generally is built on four- to eight-bar patterns and uses fractions and syncopation to create a variety of rhythms and change the expected downbeat to create excitement and energy. “Sound is rooted in physics,” said Patrick. “There’s a lot of science that you can just teach just by talking about sound and how music works.”

Lawrence Taylor, also known as DJ Styles, who was in attendance during the lecture, recalled the year 1977, when the first Star Wars movie was released, and said it played an essential role into shaping the sound of Hip-Hop because of its use of dialect and focus on the future. “Some of the ways we use Hip-Hop, some cats are Jedi Knights with it,” said Taylor. “When I look at science fiction themes that dominate through hip-hop, rappers such as Busta Rhymes talked about Y2K, or Missy Elliot provided futuristic themes in their music.”

Hip-Hop also relies on science through its use of different machinery—Taylor mentioned the use of turntables, but also drum machines such as the SP 1200 or Music Production Controllers, which are electronic instruments that allow a musician to use drum kits and other percussion instruments to produce unique sounds.

Taylor said that he also uses “deep science” as a DJ, using a certain structure for his own sets. “Whenever I DJ, I look at every set I am doing as if I am writing a thesis paper,” said Taylor. “My first song is very intentional, everything else I play is the supporting evidence in paragraphs to support my thesis.”

Along with the Jahi’s lecture, the space and science center also used the First Friday event to conduct other Hip-Hop activities such as “Rhyming with Reading Partners,” which allowed children to practice their rhyming skills and learn the importance of reading, “Ya Gotta Believe! Music and Movement in the Gaming with the MADE,” an interactive exhibit where families explored the influence of hip-hop music on the world of gaming, hosting a dance party, and showcasing the art collection of Keith “K-Dub” Williams, who created the first official Oakland skate park, Town Park and the Town Park Skate Gallery.

Jessica Hicks, programs and community partnerships manager for the Chabot Space and Science Center, said it was pivotal to start the month of February with an event such as the Art of Hip Hop and Science. “We really wanted to highlight Black History Month here at Chabot,” said Hicks. “We are really far away from town and wanted to include our community whereas First Friday would be the perfect opportunity to do just that.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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