Jon E. Garrett
Writing the future of journalism one post at a time


August 14, 2012

Say hello to the new face of academia

Professor Bambaataa is in the building.

Cornell appoints hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa as visiting scholar

If hip-hop truly is dead, Cornell University is its curator.
Since 2007, when Swedish expatriate Johan Kugelberg, a former music producer, musician and author, donated the research materials for his latest book, “Born in the Bronx: A Visual Record of the Early Days of Hip-Hop,” to serve as the basis for Cornell University Library’s Hip Hop Collection, the Ivy league school has served as academia’s gatekeeper to the history of the art form.
Kuglberg’s original gift of 800 or so vinyl records and a vast archive of photos of some of the movements’ seminal moments taken by photographer Joseph Conzo Jr., has been supplemented over the years and the collection now includes more than 15,000 recordings and even club and party flyers documenting the birth of hip-hop from the 1970s to 1980s.
Why did he do it?
“Institutions are filled with the well-preserved histories of power and privilege,” Kugelberg told an audience at New York City’s Union League Club as reported by Cornell’s student newspaper the Chronicle. “Hip-hop was about neighborhood leaders, grassroots artistic expression and Saturday night jams.” These artists “gave no thought to self-documentation.”
So, concerned that, “the true origins of Hip Hop culture as it first arose in New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s, would be lost if someone did not intentionally locate and save surviving documentary evidence of that era,” as the collection’s FAQ states: Kugelberg began collecting in the 1990s, seeking out materials, paying pioneers, community members, and other first generation participants for their artifacts.
Just about anyone with ears can attest to the fact that while hip hop has evolved it is far from deceased. If anything it is more vibrant and influential than ever with a worldwide reach and often dominates the pop charts. Like it or not the music is here to stay in some form or another.
Why then did I waste the last 300-plus words giving you the history of what amounts to perhaps the world’s largest old school jukebox? I did it because it paved the way for today’s announcement that DJ Afrika Bambaataa has been appointed as a visiting scholar to the program.
Yeah. One of the original break-beat deejays, founder of the Universal Zulu Nation and the man responsible for these lyrics:

The D.J. plays your favorite blasts
Takes you back to the past, music’s magic (poof)
Bump bump bump get bump with some flash, people
Rock rock to the Planet Rock, don’t stop

In other words some lucky student will be taking a course this fall (perhaps in Music 3303 “Discovering Hip-Hop Research and the Cornell Hip- Hop Collection”; History 2501 “Race and Popular Culture” or ASRC 6606 “Politics of the Hip Hop – three recent courses) from a guy who had so many bodies slapping together on the dance floor in the 70s that he may have inadvertently played a part in their birth.
Prof. Bambaataa will spend the next three years visiting Cornell’s Ithaca, New York, campus several days a year. He will meet with classes, talk to students and even perform. It is the first such appointment for a hip-hop trailblazer at a major university and I’m all for it.
With all the shootings this summer, a high-profile trial that may divide people along racial lines ramping up and the 2012 election battle getting into full swing, I can’t think of a better way to turn the tide. Everybody needs a little more funk in their life, and if you have the grades and money to attend Cornell I suggest you sign up for a course or two concentrating on the collection. Be sure to ask if tuition includes membership in the Universal Zulu Nation.

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Jon E. Garrett



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