From the Streets to the Classroom

By Bryan Grace | April 01, 2009 | Arts & Entertainment

Comments (2)


From poor disadvantaged streets, to mainstream America. From the bottom of the barrel, to one of the most popular genres of music. And from being taught in the streets to being taught in college classrooms.

This is where the hip-hop culture is now. A culture that is now being taught in schools and has made its way to Fresno State in the form of a class. It is listed under the Africana and American Indian studies department.

Hip-hop’s manifestation comes from various forms of past music genres such as blues, funk, rhythm and blues and reggae. Hip-hop music has a way of being more than just music; it can be a representation of people. This is examined in the class here at Fresno State.

Teaching all of the underlying aspects that make up hip-hop can sometimes be challenging when commercial radio often dictates what one hears.

“I want to push students away from commercial-based notions of rap music toward the cultural and historical roots of it in the communities it sprang from and the communities with which it identifies,” Dr. Talib Hasan Johnson, a Fresno State hip-hop instructor said.

Johnson has taught the class for the last two semesters. The class is broken into four sections: DJing, break-dancing, graffiti art and MCing. And in each section, Johnson links all of the parts together through various films and guest speakers.

Hip-hop has changed in many different ways over the years, and for those people who have lived with it the change has been evident.

“Years ago I would’ve described hip-hop as a form of music, but growing up with it (and watching it grow), I now understand it as a way of engaging the world, replete with its own set of philosophical and value-based perspectives about the world,” Johnson said.

With that being said, some may still question the importance and relevance of teaching a class such as this hip-hop course.

“African-American culture has dialectal dimensions and hip hop is just one of many. Hip-hop reflects some essential contradictions in the social conditions of African-Americans,” Dr. Simba, an Africana and American Indian studies instructor said. “It is important to study how this music form parallels the social relationships within the African-American community.”

“I think most people confuse it with what they hear on the radio, and then wonder why on earth someone would want to teach a class on it in a college setting. However, if you explore the histories and influences on hip-hop culture, you’d find that much of it traverses a wide variety of fields of study,” Johnson said.

Sean Johnson, a student double majoring in biology and psychology said, “I feel that the hip hop culture itself has made its way into American culture so vividly that it reflects on who we are. Which in return would be a significant thing to study at a university level.”

Fresno State is among the few universities to take in hip-hop culture as a course of study. But is in very good company with UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California who also offer hip-hop courses. But with the hip- hop culture continuing to grow; other institutions may soon pick up on this trend.

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2 Responses to From the Streets to the Classroom

  1. Kin1Inca says:

Apr 19, 2009 at 4:47 am

I am glad that now hopefully and maybe the Anglo Saxon conservatives that run this city can respect our culture and communties and for everbody else to understand where our strength and roots come from. Where is that? Being enslaved and placed under economic and racial oppression, Soul, Jazz,Funk, Love, Peace Unity and having fun. Much props to Dr. Johnson may peace be unto you ahki.
ZULU 73…
Kasi kay ujg kuya(quechua)peace one love


  1. Kin1Inca says:

Apr 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I am glad that now hopefully and maybe the Anglo Saxon conservatives that run this city can respect our culture and communties and for everbody else to understand where our strength and roots come from. Where is that? Being enslaved and placed under economic and racial oppression, Soul, Jazz,Funk, Love, Peace Unity and having fun. Much props to Dr. Johnson may peace be unto you ahki.
ZULU 73…
Kasi kay ujg kuya(quechua)peace one love

T. Hasan Johnson

Assistant Professor

Educational Background

Ph.D. in Cultural Studies Department from Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, 2007. Committee: Phyllis Jackson, Sidney Lemelle, Vincent Wimbush
Dissertation Title: Inventing the Sister-Bandit Queen: Icon Construction and the Africana Imaginary in the Case of Assata Shakur.

Completion of courses in college-level teaching in the Graduate Student Learning Community Program in the  Preparing Future Faculty Program, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, 2007.

Graduate Certificate in Africana Studies from Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, 2004.

M.A. degree in African-American Studies from Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, with honors, 1997.

B.A. degrees in Philosophy and Africana Studies from California State University at Dominguez Hills, Carson, CA with honors, 1996.  

Teaching Areas

·         20th Century Africana Icon Construction Practices

·         Africana Cultural Studies

·         Africana Culture, History, and Politics

·         Critical Men's Studies (Emphasis on Black Masculinities)

·         Hip-Hop Culture, Globalization, and Independent Media

·         Visual Culture and Media Representation in African American Societies

Teaching Activity

My Africana Studies (AFRS 130T) course, The Black Male Experience produces two things annually that merit public awareness: The Black Gender Conference and the annual Black Elder Project. The conference is an analysis of masculinity and femininity in contemporary Africana societies (conducted by my students). The Black Elder Project is a student project that is added to a site that reflects on Black Masculinities. The project highlights oral interviews my students conduct with African American men over 40 that exhibit a type of masculinity that contrasts stereotypes about Black males. Enjoy!

·         The New Black Masculinities Blog (http://newblackmasculinities.wordpress.com/)

·         The Annual Black Gender Conference (http://www.thasanjohnson.com/#/black-gender/)

My Africana Studies (AFRS 55T) Hip-Hop Culture course has been doing some amazing work that I just have to share!

·         AFRS 55T: Hip-Hop Culture (Spring 2012) (http://www.thasanjohnson.com/#/hip-hop/)

The Black Popular Culture Lecture Series and Online Research Archive and The Hip-Hop Research & Interview Project

Past guests:

·         XCLAN 

·         KRS-One

·         Chuck D. of Public Enemy

·         Delroy Lindo


T. Hasan Johnson, You Must Learn!: A Primer for the Study of Hip-Hop Culture (Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Press, 2012).

Personal Statement

As a scholar, my general research focuses on how Africana resistance groups intersect religiosity, sexuality, and patriarchy while negotiating white supremacy, oppressive capitalism, and new forms of media. I specialize in Africana responses to cultural, political, and intellectual aggression from internal and external sources; as well as their use of socially-constructed truths as a means of reifying social heirarchy. Lastly, as an Afrofuturist, my work addresses how technology, political ideology, icon-construction, blackness, and the imagination have been used as tools for social agency, cultural development and political mobilization in Africana communities.

My research, most notably my dissertation, focuses on the cultural role of iconic social-construction practices in Africana communities. Specifically, the social memory of historical figures like Assata Shakur in Africana communities and the ways in which her memory is used to negotiate white supremacy, class elitism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity in the greater international community. More so, the dissertation explores the cultural currency ascribed to icons in Africana societies, making them points of contention for a wide variety of groups interested in shaping cultural identity and social values. Thus, I argue that we use the memories of El-Hajj Malik Shabazz (formerly Malcolm X), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others to establish our own cultural identity. However, our memories of these individuals are not pristine, they are hampered by our own biases, agendas, beliefs, and ideologies, and thus we have created our own Malcolms, Martins, etc.--wholly separate from the individuals that once inspired us.

I not only study historical icons, I also acknowledge the role that fictional icons in graphic novels, television shows, movies, and popular literature play in the Africana imagination. I also incorporate contemporary memories of ancient iconic figures like Jesus of Nazareth or the divine Kemetic family of Ausar, Auset, and Heru. These figures have been remembered in unique ways, ways that still influence how we conceptualize our past and our future. These figures, in each category listed above, have become a form of public text vulnerable to, and produced by, a transnational Black cultural imagination rooted in self-definition and Africana cultural agency. The most critical space for this contestation of meaning is taking place in public media, which is no longer used for the mere pontification of social meaning, but has now become constitutive of it in Africana communities around the world.

Contrary to popular assumptions, Africana communities (communities that negotiate a unique idea of blackness that extends beyond national and geographic boundaries) have rearticulated blackness using independent media technology. Many in the Africana community remain distrustful of dominant corporatized media vehicles and the practices that have led to the consolidated ownership of television, radio, and the print media industry by a handful of white-owned private companies. Thus, groups have voiced their protest by creating their own media, signifying on established forms of technology in ways that are better suited to their own interests. Also, many of these recalcitrant groups have recognized the importance of the visual as a tool for communicating meaning, a tool that lends itself so readily to today’s media. Graphic work by groups like www.gettosake.com or Reginald Hudlin's recent work with Marvel Comics uses imagery, art, and creative storytelling to assert political critiques in new ways to reach new audiences. Furthermore, Africana communities have taken independent media productions that were once disseminated on a limited scale (by word of mouth or print such as newsletters, flyers, handbills, etc.) global by using the Internet. Thus, underground phenomena regarding protest activities, informational events, or police brutality that used to be limited to monthly newsletters or shortwave radio broadcasts have now become globally accessible, often in direct contrast to corporate consolidation practices. Now, for example, information about political prisoners (such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Imaam Jameel Al-Amin--formerly H. Rap Brown, or Assata Shakur), black voter disenfranchisement, or African economic underdevelopment can now be globally accessed on independent websites such as www.panafrican.tv, www.africapoliticsonline.com, www.blackcommentator.com, www.youtube.com, or www.pacificaradioarchives.org. Media can now more easily be shaped to suit the Africana imagination, influencing how political ideology, blackness, and social responsibility in Africana communities, and thus the world, are engaged.

 http://www.thasanjohnson.com/#/home/  http://www.fresnostate.edu/socialsciences/afrs/faculty/johnson.html  http://collegian.csufresno.edu/2009/04/01/from-the-streets-to-the-classroom


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