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University of Arizona is first to offer minor in hip-hop

The concentration is added to the school's Africana Studies program, part of a trend to give serious academic study to the subject.

January 13, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times
  • Jay-Z performs at Barclays Center in New York in September. University of Arizona students hoping for an easy minor of just sitting back and listening to Jay-Z probably shouldn't enroll, a professor says.
Jay-Z performs at Barclays Center in New York in September. University… (Kevin Mazur / WireImage…)

Most people consider New York and Los Angeles to be the centers of hip-hop culture, but it's Tucson where students will find the first university to offer a minor dedicated to the movement.

The University of Arizona has recently added the concentration to its Africana Studies minor program. The decision is part of a trend to give serious academic study to the subject.

The curriculum is bound to be a hit with students, said Alain-Philippe Durand, interim director of the Africana Studies program. Though the concentration is new, the university has offered hip-hop courses since 2004.

Last spring, a class on hip-hop cinema at the university filled up in a matter of hours. Students then began emailing the teacher in an attempt to add the course.

"Rap and hip-hop in general has become super-popular around the world," Durand said. "The main reason for that is that it affects every single discipline and aspects of society."

News of the minor is exciting, said Steven Pond, associate professor and chairman of the Cornell University's music department. Cornell is at the forefront of applying serious study to the hip-hop movement, touting the largest hip-hop collection of music recordings, rare fliers, artwork, photography and other memorabilia.

"It's a very good development and an exciting one, … the idea of acknowledgment of the deep impact hip-hop has in many areas, across cultures," Pond said. "I think it's a very positive development to see hip-hop enter the academy, even if it's a decade or even a generation late."

Arizona students hoping for an easy minor of just sitting back and listening to Jay-Z probably shouldn't enroll, Durand said.

The curriculum goes beyond the stereotypical gang and drug cultures to examine the movement's intersection with politics, marketing, fashion and other academic disciplines.

Durand, author of "Black, Blanc, Beur: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World," said the idea of starting a minor in the subject came to him after he noticed that he and his colleagues had expertise on hip-hop culture across various disciplines, such as film and music. They had enough courses among them to create a minor.

Durand and his colleagues made their best pitch to university decision-makers, who obliged.

"The university itself is known for taking innovative steps like that," Durand said, citing the school's work in interplanetary exploration. "We break borders in astronomy, and we break borders in hip-hop now."

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

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