Local News

Hip-Hop Controversies Add to Material for Duke Class

Posted April 25, 2007 10:14 p.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2007 10:59 p.m. EDT

— Radio host Don Imus lost his job for racist comments, but many rappers use that kind of language in hit songs. The controversy has been the hot topic in a unique class on the Duke campus.

Some people have argued that Imus's comments are no worse than what appears in some rap lyrics. Recently, some within the rap industry, like mogul Russell Simmons, say more should be done to censor what appears on the radio.

Those are topics that students in Duke's hip-hop and rap music appreciation class have discussed in the basement of Duke's Biddle Music Hall

In Rap Class 101, the students are stars as they write lyrics and produce their own songs

"Duke doesn't really offer things like this,” said rap artist and adjunct professor Robi Roberts.

The class is the brainchild of Roberts, who says it’s the voice of a generation.

"Hip-hop has grown to a point where we're not just talking to our peers anymore. We're talking to the entire world,” he said.

"Don Imus really took attention and put it on hip-hop,” said Duke student Anteneh Addisu. “What everyone’s fired up about is the popular presentation of hip-hop. It's not actually. Hip-hop is a very large animal. All you know are the claws."

Those are claws that need cleaning, according to Simmons, and students were mixed on the subject.

"It's a matter of free speech,” said student Matt Decker. “Hip-hop artists have a right to say what they want to say. That's their choice (by the) First Amendment."

"The way we market and produce things and we sell it to children, they eat it up,” said student Ibtihaj Muhammad. “We definitely need to censor things."

Wednesday was the last day of classes at Duke, and marks the end of the fifth semester for Roberts and his class. He says there's always a waiting list to get in it.

“The fact that Imus is on television, the fact that Simmons is making some comments about censorship and the use of certain words — it's just basically ammunition for my students to learn more about hip-hop."