Chapter 12. Music of the Streets: Bringing Local Rappers to the Ivory Tower

Hinda Mandell and Carol M. Liebler

Hinda Mandell is a doctoral candidate in Mass Communications at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University. In August 2011, she joined the Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, as an Assistant Professor. Her research centers around news coverage of scandal. She earned a Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University, and a Bachelor’s in Jewish and Islamic studies from Brandeis University. She comes to academia after working for the popular press. She was the editor of the Jewish Advocate, a weekly Boston newspaper, and the features editor of the Bennington Banner in Vermont. She has contributed to the Boston GlobeBoston Magazine, theJerusalem Post, and the Forward, and was the recipient of fellowships from the American Council on Germany and the Museum of Jewish Heritage.


Carol M. Liebler is Associate Professor and Director of the doctoral and media studies programs in the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Her research interests center on media and diversity issues. She has published in such journals as Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, and the Howard Journal of Communications. Each fall she teaches Media and Diversity, a graduate course she designed and that is now part of the Newhouse curriculum. In 200,8 she was recipient of the Syracuse University Excellence in Graduate Education Award.


Everything seemed to be in place: the rappers had arrived on campus at Syracuse University and sound-checks for the afternoon hip-hop symposium were well underway. One hip-hop artist, known as Cream da General, was testing the microphone with his song about aspiring wealth accumulation. “Get them stacks [of cash],” he rapped. Other rappers were clustered around pizza boxes. We were all wolfing down a few slices of pizza nourishment just before the 2 pm curtain call, going over last-minute stage instructions for the event. After our semester-long research study involving in-depth interviews with 31 Syracuse rappers, we were about to commence a campus symposium that stemmed from this research at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. But in the short time leading up to the event, we were just a group of four graduate students and seven rappers hanging out together.


By now we’ve come to know these local artists. Their cell phone numbers were keyed into our mobile phones, and an unexpected encounter at the local grocery store would result in chit-chat about school or work or kids. We didn’t think this relationship—a new take on the standard “town and gown” interaction—was all that unique. But rewind to the fall of 2008, a few months prior to the symposium, and we were more than a little apprehensive about how a group of 20-something graduate students could possibly woo city rappers to participate in a school research project. What was in it for them? Yet on December 5, 2008, as people from across campus and across town began to file into the auditorium for this first of its kind event, it was clear there was interest in the rappers and what they had to say. People from this private university were curious. As were members of the community. That much was clear. How in the world did we get here?


Read the press coverage and view the video.