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Breakers, Beebois and B*****S

Duke University's conference on hip hop and its global significance is well-timed Planet Rock


"I've given it much thought, it seems, disaster must come-at best, only postponed.

Shaolin Kung fu, to survive, must now be taught to more young men. We must expand, get more pupils, so that the knowledge will spread."

--kung fu flick snippet from "Wu-Revolution" on Wu-Tang Forever

When Soul Train began airing in the '70s to Japanese youth, it was inevitable that the soul-dancing mimicry of America's soul-brothers would be replaced by the next flighty "urban" experience: break-dancing. From Afro-Rican beeboies sporting Chinese-lettered nameplates at downtown kung fu matinees, to beegirls sporting fresh "Chinese cuts," Afro-Asia is hip hop. Who can forget 2Live Crew's Miami Bass interpolation of "Oh Me So Horny" from the Vietnam-sploitation of Full Metal Jacket?

Wu-Bangers with their Jim Kelly colloquialisms mixed with Five Deadly Venoms, have single-handedly popularized the genre of sampled anime/Shaolin myth (Crying Freeman/The Ghost Faced Killer) and coke-drama/street astrologies. Furthermore, in most recent times, we see how Mid/Far-East meets Northeast in the Ravi Shankaresque juxtapositions in Redman & Erick Sermon's React, Truth Hurts featuring Rakim in Addictive, Tweet's, Call Me and Missy Elliott's Get Ur Freak On a tabla/sitar infused anthem, seniored by Rakim's Paid In Full.

When she was alive, Mary Duke Biddle may have never envisioned that a foundation in her honour would later help to research African-American artists from Mary J. to Biggie, as they relate to Afro-Asian musical ethnogenesis. But Duke University's Music Department has put themselves to task, endeavoring along with the Center for Asian and Asian-American Studies and the African and African-American Studies Program, to present Hip Hop Global Flows, a five-day conference that "brings together academic interests, public performances and community outreach around the art and politics of hip hop."

This triangle-wide event will render a virtual smorgasbord of multi-media tiger-balm for geriatric grammarians and orthopedics on two Technics. The Class of '85s graying beeboies, who have swapped fatlaced suede Pumas for Ken Cole Reactions, must be proud of the intellectualism that has transformed linoleum and refrigerator cardboard mats into hardbound geo-political treatises.

"Talk/Listening-In (Hip Hop101): Intro to music and history of Rap," was the conference's precursory event held on Thursday, Jan. 30, with Anthony Kelly and Jennifer Fitzgerald from the Duke Music Department. "[Kelly and Fitzgerald] went through layers, cycles, circles and mixing, tracing the significance of the relationship between African and African-American Music as the roots to hip hop, starting with Ewe music (from West Africa)," says event spokesperson and Chair of Duke's cultural anthropology department, Anne Allison. Kelley went on to examine car culture's influence on the development of the form, exploring topics from "WhoRidas" on "Dubs" and 808Bass-laced "hoopties" of West Coasters, and the shoulder-held boomboxes of "nomadic" East Coasters, to more portable technologies of the Far East coast, such as the Walkman and cellphone. Adding to the discussion on the differences between east and west coast hip hop, Allison says, "The former is more layered dystopic and fast, and the latter more laidback, smoother and upbeat."

Allison, who is well-versed in Asian Culture in general, Japanese in particular (Japanese children's comics and miscellaneous Japanese character merchandise), has studied extensively, Japanese culture's influence on mainstream America--Manga/Sony/Pokemon--providing keen insight into hip hop's influence on Japan's Neo-hipness.

Included in the insightful conference are photo exhibits, film viewings, panel discussions, open-mic performances and competitions. Global Flows seeks to unravel this arguably 30-year-old form as a legitimate art, in various topics including: the historical and musical development of hip hop in the U.S. as a prominent genre; the relationship between different expressions of hip hop including graffiti, apparel, rapping, sampling, DJing and the transformations that have occurred in these expressions over the decades; the roots (or routes) or hip hop--its racial and national modifiers and how it has crossed racial and ethnic boundaries--nationally and internationally; the sub-cultural appeal of hip hop among disenfranchised youth worldwide; and an exploration of gender and commodification, and how the predominance of male rappers and misogynist lyrics feeds style, culture, politics and industry.

Commencing these intense discussions and performances will be the Monday, Feb. 17 lecture "The Miseducation Of Lauryn's Girls (From Queens to Queen B*****S): The Image of Women Of Color In American Entertainment," by David Lamb, Adjunct Professor at John Jay College in NY. Tuesday will feature "Asian-American Word in Movement in Sound in Rhythm," a talk by Deborah Wong, associate professor of music at University of California, Riverside. On Wednesday, the Blue Roach will hold a spoken word session with students and local artists, while Thursday's participants can catch a viewing of Kevin Fitzgerald's Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme," followed by a discussion led by John Jackson, assistant professor in the department of cultural anthropology. Festivities continue on Friday with a panel discussion "Hip Hop Global Flows I," and an evening performance with Dilated Peoples, Little Brother and DJ Seoul. "Hip Hop Global Flows II" will be held on Saturday, as will a break-dancing performance at The Ark on Duke's East Campus.

Scrupulous enquirers might ponder the seemingly sudden upsurge of hip hop culture on the Asian continent and its inverse here in the states. Truth of the matter is, this Afro-Asian phenomenon is nothing new and in fact, is perhaps as ancient as Indo-Kush trade routes. If rap is akin to hip hop as skat is to jazz/be-bop dyads, then certainly the successors have gained from Alice and John Coltrane's early experimentations into Eastern mysticism.

From the onset, hip hop has been a multimedia/international ghetto juggernaut waiting to be unleashed. More than 10 years ago, before 10 hours of 10 hip hop videos per hour on 10 satellite channels simultaneously aired, less than 10 videos vied for space on MTV, between Tom Petty and Spandau Ballet. Then, some SLB2 Technics deejay could lick a thumb and forefinger and transport the entire crowd from a "hole-in-the-wall" to "Live at the Mardi Gras" over a rare groove.

As kids of the early '80s, catching glimpses of USA Network's Wild Style presentation or the 45 seconds of adrenaline-laced Rock Steady Crew in Flashdance, who would have ever dreamt that we could still the naysayer's pessimistic five-year prediction of hip hop's lifespan? Now sitting on 30, in resolute gladness, somewhere, some elderly emcee's eye moistens behind diamelle faux-Cazals, never imagining his couplet of "flygirls making noise" would be the basis for international intellectual fodder. It is a sign we have come of age. Oh, and uh ... hip hop yah' don't stop. EndBlock

The Hip Hop Global Flows conference will be held Monday, Feb. 17 thru Saturday, Feb. 22 in various locations on Duke Campus, Durham (the Friday night Dilated Peoples, Little Brother, DJ Seoul performance will be held at the Cat's Cradle, Chapel Hill; 967-9053 for ticket info). For the complete conference schedule, visit or call Anne Allison 681-6257, or Jane Hawkins 660-3322.

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