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Civil Rights Road Trip: Reflections of trip by Mettler

Charles Mettler ’18 — While listening to Dr. Bonnette speak on her research, I found her approach to studying politically charged hip hop interesting. I myself have always been very fond of what’s called “conscious rap” and I was most excited to hear Dr. Bonnette speak on it. While I have been aware of political hip hop’s existence (for lack of a better term), I had not actually considered whether it was an effective form of political or social conscious-raising, or whether it was measurable. Of course, Dr. Bonnette does do this and it intrigued me that she was applying social scientific methods to it. Does political rap music influence the political attitudes of the listener? For me, it does. Some of the views I hold now have been inspired by such music. Is political hip hop influential for people that are ideologically distant from its message or who don’t like hip hop? Maybe. This is a testable question that I think Dr. Bonnette is prepared to answer, using science. The point is, I think it’s fantastic that she is using science to answer questions like this.

I felt her ideas and questions begged a larger question about the hip hop tradition. Aren’t politically charged lyrics a defining character of hip hop? I felt she took a long path to coming to this assertion. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to state this outright (maybe she does, I haven’t read her book yet). This evokes another response I had to her talk. Dr. Bonnette put rightfully strong emphasis on the fact that we often claim that hip hop is no longer politically conscious, unlike its roots. She points out that this is false, and in fact most of not all rap artists engage in politically motivated music at some point in their career. What this means and how it relates to my question at the beginning of this paragraph is the recognition that socially and politically charged music is a foundational element of hip hop. Therefore, the reason we see these themes in hip hop is because it is a part of its basis. In her own words, “it’s the voice of the voiceless.”

Overall, I would like to emphasize a few things about my reflection. First, I commend and admire Dr. Bonnette’s use of the scientific method to answer interesting questions about hip hop. Second, I think her questions regarding political hip hop’s effects upon the listener are good questions, and novel, at least to me, considering I fancy myself a fan of political hip hop. Third, she begged an important question regarding hip hop’s origins: if political rap lyrics are so ubiquitous, is it not safe to assume that it was a foundational point for the genre? I choose to reflect on this final point because I think it is often overlooked and underrepresented in the study of hip hop.