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Hip hop comes to The Kennedy Center

March 28, 2018, 10:18 p.m.

Hip hop comes to The Kennedy Center

Hip Hop Royalty meets Fine Arts at Washington DC's Kennedy Center--we all benefit. 


Washington’s DC’s Kennedy Center for Performing Arts recently named Q-Tip, legendary Tribe Called Quest member and Hip Hop pioneer, as its first ever Artistic Director of Hip Hop Culture.

This is big. The Kennedy Center historically showcases performing arts that are steeped in old world tradition and heritage. Symphony, ballet, and opera are all staples on the Kennedy Center stage. Now they’re expanding to include a different beat. The cultural impact made by Hip Hop is revered by fans all over the world but rarely is Hip Hop recognized by such a prestigious group as The Kennedy Center. This positive sentiment is echoed on the official Kennedy Center website, where they tout Hip Hop culture as, “one of our nation’s greatest cultural assets”. They recognize the movement for its ability to “build and transform communities through art and action.” We like the action part.  The Hip Hop Culture program calls on youth and adults alike to take an active role in their empowerment and advancement.

In a March 6th article, Paul Meara of Ambrosia for Heads, a popular Hip Hop news site, explained the idea behind the Kennedy Center’s new Hip Hop Culture program, saying, “The Kennedy Center’s newest initiative is designed to further the public’s knowledge about Hip-Hop culture through live events and movie screenings, among other activities.”

Q-Tip has assembled what he calls the Hip Hop Culture Council, to bring even more passion and credibility to the program. According to the official Kennedy Center website, the Hip Hop Culture Council will, “create a dynamic home for Hip Hop Culture and celebrate Hip Hop’s role as a catalyst for innovation, exploration, and transformation with a dynamic mix of performances, humanities events, film screenings, workshops and interactive experiences, in-person and online.” The Council boasts highly influential talents such as The Roots’ Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Common, 9th Wonder, LL Cool J, Pharoahe Monch, MC Lyte, Large Professor, Robert Glasper, Bobbito Garcia, and Fab 5 Freddy. "These new Council members are more than Hip Hop performers. Each member already “has a background in teaching or pushing the culture forward outside of music,” outlines Meara.

The Kennedy Center’s Hip Hop Culture Council reflects the creative, social, and intellectual wealth of the Hip-Hop community,” Q-Tip 

The Kennedy Center is experimenting too.  Recently they invited rappers such as Nas and Kendrick Lamar to perform with the National Symphony Orchestra. This blend of classical and new age styles is proof that they’re willing to do things different. In a statement from the Kennedy Center website, they explain that they are “embracing Hip Hop culture in a major way.” The effects of this cultural and community shift are already becoming concrete, as LL Cool J became the first rapper inducted into the elite ranks of Kennedy Center Honors recipients. Upcoming events on The Kennedy Center website calendar include, “a screening of Wild Style, followed by a Q&A session at the Terrace Theater. Bobbito Garcia will also be showing his film ROCK RUBBER 45s, an autobiographical take on the mesh of rap and basketball sneaker culture. A monologue-style event called Between The World and Me will take place where artists interpret different literary works of art and how they portray Black struggle in American history.”

We love this collaboration. Innovation for such a traditional institution is never easy, but together they’ll find new territory and hopefully expose many more people to the arts.

We expect to see this program and its various working parts become an example of successful community building, youth outreach, and individual empowerment. Kennedy Center is working hard to give youth and adults a chance to grow and learn together in an environment that fosters creativity and camaraderie. This program aims to be a catalyst for economic and artistic growth in a city that crosses socio-economic, gender and ethnicity borders.  Hopefully some of DC’s youth will see this as an opportunity to become inspired and develop tools to shape their own destiny.

Cheers to you Q-Tip, Kennedy Center, and all those involved. Washington DC, and the rest of us, will benefit from this type of cultural collaboration.



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