From Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Kendrick Lamar, long before cellphone video and social media demanded Americans witness police killings and the mundanity of racism on streets, in stores and parks, hip-hop turned a bright light on all of it, and more. Marcyliena Morgan is the Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, a professor in the Department of African and African American Studies, and the founding executive director of the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. She spoke with the Gazette about hip-hop culture’s history of exploring the systemic tangle of American racism, violence against Black people, and social, economic, and political inequality.
GAZETTE: When you think about issues of injustice and police brutality, with racism at its core, how do you think about it in terms of hip-hop?
MORGAN: We can start with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 song “The Message,” which is the first prominent hip-hop song to provide a social commentary on issues affecting the Black community. It begins early with the words “broken glass everywhere,” and jumps right into a scathing critique of everyday urban life, especially in poor Black communities. Then it moves into more and more detail about racism and white supremacy in particular. Early on, one of the things that I immediately noticed about hip-hop lyrics was a social critique and exposing injustice the moment the rhymes start coming.