Roger Bonair-Agard moved the crowd of around 60 with a spoken-word poem about coming from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S., where he first realized he was the 'black man.'
"To the hip hip hop a you don't stop, the rock it to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie, to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat."
These lyrics from The Sugar Hill Gang's 1979 classic "Rapper's Delight" were repeated throughout Thursday night by the speakers at the "Spoken Word and Hip-Hop Education in the Academy: Potential for a New Pedagogy" panel at the five-day Wisconsin Book Festival. HBO Def Poets Willie Perdomo and Roger Bonair-Agard addressed the enduring, evolving nature of hip-hop and spoken word. They were joined by UW professors Deborah Jenson and Sandra Adell and Sofia Snow, a student in the university's new First Wave program. Def Poet Kevin Coval moderated the event.
The night started with Bonair-Agard, who moved the crowd of around 60 with a spoken-word poem about coming from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S., where he first realized he was the "black man." Perdomo did the same with his lyrical, powerful performance, noting that young writers should to look at the world around them, give voice to marginalized populations and write in everyday language to reach their peers.
Both poets emphasized the impact hip-hop had on them from an early age and how important it is to address the "hip-hop profiling" that is going on in popular culture today -- how, according to Perdomo, the "white media portrays black bodies in one way and only one way."
Jenson and Adell spoke next, relating the culture of hip-hop to the contemporary university system and how they can be integrated in the educational process. Jensen, a professor of French, said she became interested in hip-hop after she found that her research of Haitian poetry mimicked the lyrics in today's songs. Adell, a professor of African-American Studies, said she realized after teaching in California how important it was to include the poetry and message of "real" hip-hop into the education of today's students.
As Jensen noted: "Spoken word and First Wave give kids a chance to speak as intellectuals in their own language, which has been seen by the world of academia as dangerous or slang."
The students of the First Wave certificate program were out in force to support freshman Sofia Snow. The UW program recruited 15 students in their first year, teaching them how to incorporate their interests into an artistic, educated university setting. The students' energy and enthusiasm on Thursday night were contagious.
Coval ended the panel with the point that hip-hop isn't going anywhere, and in fact, is a way for students to reach their peers in today's language.
The First Wave program and DJPain1 are hosting an open mic with Bonair-Agard, Perdomo, and the Midwest Youth Slam All-Stars at 9 p.m. on Friday night at the Memorial Union. On Saturday, the First Wave Hip-Hop Theater Ensemble will debut its inaugural full-length production at Lathrop Hall on the UW campus. All of these events are a part of the 3rd Annual International Spoken Word Series at the Wisconsin Book Festival.