Sun | Dec 16, 2018

Dancehall, hip-hop connected to academia - Columbia University professor shares recipe ...Schools urged to participate

Published:Sunday | February 26, 2017 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Dancehall artiste Tifa is robed by Professor Christopher Emdin (right), mathematics and science Professor at New York’s Columbia University, in new laboratory coat. Watching is Floyd Green, minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. Tifa is one of Science Genius Jamaica mentors. The Science Genius Jamaica project is aimed at generating interest in science among students around the country. The grade nine students and their teachers from the 20 schools across the country participating in the project will create dancehall songs using science and mathematical content, and compete in clashes for prizes that include an upgrade of their science lab.

During the launch of Science Genius Jamaica at the Knutsford Court Hotel on February 22, Professor Christopher Emdin, author of Urban Science Education for the Hip-hop Generation and founder of the Science Genius project, was able to fully express his passion of, and the motivation behind using music, particularly hip-hop and now dancehall, as a tool for scientific learning.

In an effort to bridge the gap between dancehall and academia, Emdin has adjusted his Science Genius US, a programme that challenges grade nine students to express scientific theories, practise and understanding through writing hip-hop songs, but for Jamaican receptors.

After numerous visits to Jamaica, Emdin told The Sunday Gleaner, that he became acutely aware of parallels in the socio-economic issues in the inner cities of New York and those on the island.


Natural sense


"The same issues around underachievement and struggling in schools with the young people who connect to dancehall that you can connect to hip-hop, it makes natural sense that you use this tool to connect them back to their education," he said.

"In fact, I have Jamaican lineage and roots on my mother's side. My family is in Port Antonio. The connection to dancehall and to Jamaican runs really deep for me," Emdin told The Sunday Gleaner.

"It's an island that really has the potential to transform the globe, in creating a musical artefact. I'm a dancehall fan. It's not just an arbitrary connection."

He continued, "I am a student of it as well.

"If you look at the history of hip-hop, you have to know dancehall as well. As a person who has used hip-hop successfully, I want to trace back the lineage of hip-hop, and the origins always come back to Jamaica, through Kool Herc."

DJ Kool Herc, real name Clive Campbell, is called the founding father of hip hop. He is said to have developed a technique in mixing records that became the blueprint for hip hop music. Born in Kingston, Campbell emigrated to the Bronx.


Sale prevented


In 2008, New York state officials prevented the sale of the apartment building where DJ Kool Herc developed his sound in the summer of 1973. Now, 1520 Sedgewick Avenue is declared the "birthplace of hip hop", and has been nominated to US, national and state historic registers.

"So to be able to do hip hop justice, you have to understand where hip hop came from," Emdin said.

Science Genius began four years ago, the brainchild of Professor Emdin, and with his recognition of the origins of hip-hop, believes he can make a similar impact with the project in Jamaica.

"We are going to reclaim our education by using a culture that is ours, that you told us has no value," he said during the launch.

"It's like my dream has come true," Donna Hope told The Sunday Gleaner, "because a lot of the work that I've been talking about is advocating for us to see the value in dancehall, value for the young people. I'm very excited by the Jamaica National initiative.

"I'm sure it will only have positive results and can only be seen as a positive move in terms of how dancehall can be used for the young people, who are very excited and very connected to this tone of popular culture."

To participate in the project, schools (grade nine, in particular) will be asked to submit preview videos of themselves to the Science Genius Jamaica selection panel by February 28. The submissions will be narrowed to the top 20 schools. They will then compete in clashes, from which the top five performing classes will be chosen. Those five will then battle it out for the top spot in Jamaica, culminating in May of this year.

"In many ways, we are pushing back against a system and a set of traditions that in reality, are the remnants of a dying colonial imperialism," Emdin said.

"This is a place where people who have had their bodies, minds, and souls incarcerated by a philosophy of age-old time, saying that we're gonna reclaim our education by using a culture that you have told us has no value," Professor Emdin said.

As for the response towards the initiative thus far, Emdin said "It "has been overwhelmingly positive. People already feel it and have already been thinking about it, and it just takes one moment to really bring it to the fore, and if I can be part of a machine that allows it to become visible, then I'm just blessed with the opportunity."

Science Genius is sponsored by the JN Foundation and was launched with endorsements from . Floyd Green, minister of state in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information; Dr. Andrew Wheatley, minister of science, energy and technology; with a show of support from Opposition spokesperson Julian 'Jay' Robinson and Science Genius mentors Tifa and Wayne Marshall.