Hip Hop Studies at UCLA: The Hip Hop Studies Working Group and Seminar





UCLA is a major center for Hip Hop Studies both nationally and internationally with nearly a dozen scholars writing and researching the culture. Hip Hop Studies has a long history at UCLA, starting with one of the pioneering academics in the field, Dr. Cheryl L. Keyes, Professor in the Herb Alpert School of Music, and Chair of the Department of African American Studies. Nearly two decades ago, a group of graduate students, Loren Kajikawa, Christina Zanfagna, and Jordan Smith organized an informal research group, with Professor Cheryl L. Keyes at the helm.

In the Fall of 2005, Dr. H. Samy Alim, Department of Anthropology, continued to formalize these efforts into the Hip Hop Studies Working Group (HHSWG). In recent years, with Professor Alim’s return to campus, and the enthusiasm and organization of Tabia Shawel (Assistant Director, Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies) and Ethnomusicology Ph.D. student Samuel Lamontagne, the HHSWG has grown to include a large group of interdisciplinary students across African American Studies, Anthropology, Education, Ethnomusicology, Sociology, World Arts & Cultures/Dance, and other departments.

Over the history of the group, they have also held events with cutting-edge artists like Pharoahe Monch, Boots Riley, and South Africa’s Emile YX? of Black Noise, legendary dancer Rennie Harris of Pure Movement, well-known Hip Hop scholars and journalists Jeff Chang, Davey D, Bakari Kitwana, Marcyliena Morgan, Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, Geneva Smitherman, James G. Spady, Samir Meghelli, and of course, Cheryl L. Keyes. In March of 2020, the HHSWG collaborated with the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and the California African American Museum to host a panel with some of Hip Hop’s leading emcees, including Rakim, Chuck D of Public Enemy, and Talib Kweli.

 Meeting virtually throughout the 2020-21 academic year, the HHSWG continues to function as a space for graduate students (and some advanced undergraduates) to explore methodological and theoretical issues in the study of Hip Hop Culture, with a focus on the central debates that have developed in this field as well as the major tensions within it. In particular, the HHSWG students not only read relevant literature, but also work with a group of scholars who share similar interests to strengthen their writing and analysis, as well as to advance their own theses and dissertations.

For spring 2021, the HHSWG functions as a seminar featuring a stellar line-up of leading scholars right here at UCLA, including HHSWG alumni, and special guests:


           4/2 -     H. Samy Alim, UCLA, Anthropology

-               Introduction to Hip Hop Studies and the Hip Hop Studies Working Group


4/9 -     Cheryl L. Keyes, UCLA, Herb Alpert School of Music; Chair, African American Studies

-               Keyes, Cheryl L. 2016. “‘Ain’t Nuthin’ but a She Thang’: Women in Hip Hop.” In Issues in African American Music, edited by Portia K. Maultsby and Mellonee V. Burnim, 306–327. New York: Routledge.


           4/16 -   Kyle T. Mays, UCLA, African American Studies and American Indian Studies

-               Mays, Kyle T. 2019. “Decolonial Hip Hop: Indigenous Hip Hop and the Disruption of Settler Colonialism.” Cultural Studies 33(3): 460–479.


           4/23 -   Bryonn Bain, UCLA, African American Studies and World Arts and Cultures/Dance

-               Bain, Bryonn. Forthcoming book. Critical Minded: Rebel Voices on Justice, A Hip Hop Generation Mixtape.


           4/30 -   Jooyoung Lee, University of Toronto, Sociology, and HHSWG alum

-               Lee, Jooyoung. 2016. Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


           5/7 -     Adam Bradley, UCLA Department of English

-               Bradley, Adam. 2021. “The Artists Dismantling the Barriers between Rap and Poetry.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/t-magazine/rap-hip-hop-poetry.html


           5/14 -   Christina Zanfagna, Santa Clara University, Arts and Sciences & HHSWG alum

-               Zanfagna, Christina. 2017. Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels. Oakland: University of California Press.


5/21 -   SPECIAL EVENT: Karim Hammou, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) CRESPPA, and Samir Meghelli, Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum

-               Hammou, Karim. 2016. “Mainstreaming French Rap Music. Commodification and Artistic Legitimation of Othered Cultural Goods.” Poetics 59: 67–81.

-               Meghelli, Samir. 2020. “‘Fear of a Black Planet’ The Transnational Racial Politics of Hip-Hop in France, 1990–1991” In Hip-Hop en Français: An Exploration of Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World, edited by Alain-Philippe Durand, 29–46. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.


6/4 -     Shana L. Redmond, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and African American Studies, and Kwame M. Phillips, John Cabot University Department of Communications 

-               Redmond, Shana L. and Kwame M. Phillips. 2017. “‘The People Who Keep on Going’: A Listening Party, Vol. 1.” In Futures of Black Radicalism, edited by Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin, 206–224. New York: Verso.





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