Hip Hop Research: On its own Terms
“Hip Hop has been my salvation. If would have never met Hip Hop I don’t know where I would be. I love Hip Hop.”
From its birth in the 70’s in the Bronx of New York, Hip Hop has crossed borders and surpassed generations to reach many hearts of youth around the world. The youth of Quito are no exception.
Quito has a vibrant Hip Hop community which continues to grow and impact the culture of the city and the lives of many. This summer, Pachaysana in collaboration with the University of Northwestern, Cultural Center Nina Shunku, and Casa Machankara embarked in a research project focused on Hip Hop. The purpose for this project was to use the tools and methodologies that made sense for our realities and would help us explore questions that our local Hip Hop community was grappling with.
Much has been said about the limitations and problems that research can have when it is embedded solely in academia. So we decided to take to praxis our vision of how research could be done differently. In retrospect, we observed flaws in our project, though perfection was not our priority; nevertheless our research allowed for immense learning, growth and community organizing.
Pachaysana has worked on several occasions with members of the Hip Hop community in Quito. Over the years of this joint collaboration, conversations about the healing properties of Hip Hop and questions about gendered dynamics in the community have come up.
As a preliminary phase of the research, Pachaysana conducted an intensive month-long “Theater for Social Change” workshop to explore these topics.
Besides developing a deep creative dialogue with members of the Hip Hop community, one of our main objectives of the workshop was to formulate the research questions that would guide our later process. The two main research questions that emerged were: 1) What are the gendered dynamics in Quito’s Hip Hop culture? and 2) Is Hip Hop healing?
In June, the official research began. Two fellows from Northwestern University along with two local researchers, who are part of the Hip Hop community and work at Casa Machankara, collaborated to imagine, structure, and facilitate the research process.
From the beginning, we realized that if we were to explore Hip Hop, it had to be on Hip Hop’s own terms, which meant using the language of Hip Hop, as well as emerging ourselves in Hip Hop epistemologies.
It was imperative to consider and look closely at the four basic elements of Hip Hop: Graffiti, MC’ing, Breaking, and DJ’ing. We facilitated various focus groups that included one or more of the elements each time and always began with a Hip Hop “practice” as a creative way to start dialoguing. It was incredibly powerful to see how people opened up as they danced, sung, painted and DJ’ed.
By recognizing and giving Hip Hop space to simply be, deeper bonds of trust and solidarity occured and organically guided our research.
It was clear that in order for this process to have real value for the community, we needed to create a product that would be accessible and of interest for the Hip Hop youth. Since the earlier stages of this journey, the idea of creating a documentary was brought forth.
Even though it seemed a little bit intimidating, we decided to go for it as a team. This way the “findings”, key points, and main dilemmas could be communicated and shared in a broader way.
We are still working hard to make this documentary a reality and for this process of education and research to further engage the Hip Hop community.
We are not expert documentary makers, nor expert researchers (whatever that means), and we are not trying to be.
However, we are excited to engage in a community based educational process, which can directly benefit our communities and open spaces of dialogue, leading us closer towards social change.