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OutKast of the outback: international hip-hop comes to MIT

Although one may think of hip-hop as a uniquely American performance genre, the art form has flourished beyond its urban U.S. roots. Now Associate Professor Thomas DeFrantz and others at MIT are planning a World Hip-Hop Summit at MIT in fall 2005, bringing together hip-hop scholars, artists, producers and activists from around the world for a three-day series of panels, films, workshops and performances.

"It's global," said DeFrantz. "I saw a hip-hop evening in Umea, Sweden a few years back that to me was incredible and bizarre!"

Working on the summit with DeFrantz (who began work with an international coalition of researchers on a project titled "Playing for Life: Youth Narratives in Contemporary Arts" in 2001) are Ian Condry, assistant professor in foreign languages and literatures, and Mich������le Oshima, director of special programs in the Office of the Arts. Condry is a cultural anthropologist researching hip-hop in Japan where, he says, it is one of the fastest-growing genres.

"One of the things that makes hip-hop so important, not only as a music genre but as a worldwide cultural phenomenon, is the way it allows us to consider the intersection of race, popular culture, global media and political activism," said Condry.

Since hip-hop is now everywhere in the world, "we can learn a lot by comparing how the different scenes are developing and evolving, and what kind of role they are playing in society," Condry said. "The summit might also help us see the potential, and limitations, of building transnational alliances through popular culture."

As part of a series of events leading up to the 2005 summit, Damien Arthur, a Ph.D. student in marketing from the University of Adelaide, will speak on the rise of Aussie hip-hop in a talk titled "Hip Hop: Australia Represent!" next Monday, Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. in Room 1-135.

Hip-hop first landed in the "land down under" in the early '80s when the movies "BeatStreet" and "WildStyle" came out. Innovative Aussie hip-hop culture has flourished over the past three or four years as Australian artists have developed.

Embracing what had begun as an art form of subversion, industries based on Australian hip-hop have grown up in online communities, magazines, street press, record stores, teaching clinics, promoters and venues. Arthur will discuss what happens when an underground culture moves into the mainstream.

"Hip Hop: Australia Represent!" is sponsored by faculty members in music and theater arts, the Comparative Media Studies Program, and foreign language and literatures. For more information, call 253-6957.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 4, 2004.

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