‘Ode to hip hop’: Big Daddy Kane joins UTA’s celebration of the genre’s 50th anniversary

Generational differences should bond hip hop artists – and fans – as they celebrate the genre’s 50-year history, artist Big Daddy Kane told an Arlington crowd on Wednesday.

While many old-school fans disregard newer work as “not real hip hop,” Kane said music is constantly evolving. They should be respectful of the work as the new generations should be of the past, he added.

Kane, known for his lyric work, delivered a keynote address on how hip hop has changed throughout his lifetime – from learning music from his elders growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., to now connecting with younger generations through the work of artists like J. Cole.

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“The importance of that generation bonding is that you get to learn and understand diversity,” Kane said. “If you want to become a musician, if you want to become a singer, a rapper, a producer, you have to understand different generations.”

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Big Daddy Kane, a rapper who has also worked with Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige and Destiny’s Child, was received with a standing ovation at the University of Texas at Arlington, when over a hundred students and community members gathered for a celebration of hip hop’s 50th anniversary.

Hosted by UTA’s Center for African American Studies, the event included panel discussions with professors and students as well as a master class in the art of DJing. Throughout the morning, speakers stressed the evolution of hip hop and its global impact.

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The hip hop audience has grown beyond “Black teenagers in the hood,” Kane said.

On his travels, Kane notices that “there are 35-year-old adults that like hip hop. There are 9-year-old kids that like hip hop. There are Black, white, Asian, Latino people that like hip hop.”

When he was starting out in the music business, Kane felt that he had “an obligation to the hood to be their voice,” but he also wanted to engage with people from all backgrounds and show them that, “I hear you too. I see you too,” Kane said.

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Hip hop is an art form that unifies people, speakers stressed throughout the event.

Jason Shelton, director of the Center for African American Studies (left), Rapper Big Daddy...
Jason Shelton, director of the Center for African American Studies (left), Rapper Big Daddy Kane (center) and Kane’s former publicist Gene Shelton participate in a panel discussion at the Center for African American Studies conference celebrating 50 years of hip hop at The University of Texas at Arlington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Arlington.(Elías Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

“Whatever geographic divide that may have existed because of my accent or my clothes or something like that, it seems like we were able to mitigate that,” said J. Anthony Guillory, who teaches history and African American studies at UTA. Hip hop gave him a common language to communicate with young Black people across the country, Guillory said.

But as a genre of music and as a culture, hip hop was not always widely accepted in mainstream American society, said Anthony Greene, an associate professor of African American Studies at College of Charleston in South Carolina who was visiting UTA as a guest panelist. Initially, MTV did not play hip hop, he noted.

It wasn’t until the 1990s when the crossover into mainstream culture began.

“You started to see it in cereal commercials. A Fruity Pebbles commercial had Fred and Barney roll in Run-D.M.C outfits,” Greene said of the Flintstone characters.

“Whether it be sports, music or fashion, hip hop became infused in pop culture. It was everywhere.”

For many, the root of hip hop has always been about the empowerment of Black communities.

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“Hip hop kind of sealed that box that it’s okay to be unapologetically Black, to be vocal, to be revolutionary, to speak up for what you want, to not be afraid and to not allow anyone to shut you down,” said Pamela Safisha Hill, an adjunct assistant professor of social work at UTA.

Hill added that her favorite song is still Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”.

Today, students like Taniyah Harris, a senior studying nursing at UTA who is also a DJ, said she was excited to learn about hip hop’s history and connect the past to the current issues they face as they come of age and create music.

“Hip hop is something that can kind of get me through the day, something that when I’m feeling low, I can probably go and lean on it,” she said. “Hip hop means, to me, everything.”

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