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Preserving New Orleans Post-Katrina Hip Hop History in an Academic Archive

One grad student is archiving interviews with members of Nola’s bounce scene.

Hobbs' interview with hip hop duo Partners-n-Crime.

Despite efforts to commericialize the genre over the past two decades, hip-hop remains the language of struggle and resistance, particularly within black American communities. Hip-hop artists are modern-day cultural cartographers, mapping out political and social geographies in sound and song, creating time capsules of the history that produced them. But most hip-hop artists are unable to penetrate the mainstream industry and struggle for survival in the underground scene, eventually disappearing with little recognition. In recent years, there have been prominent efforts to document and preserve hip-hop’s musical culture, particularly that of relatively unknown artists, and some of these efforts have come from an unlikely place: academia.

The latest project comes from Tulane University, where ethnomusicology grad student Holly Hobbs has been building the Nola Hip Hop and Bounce Archive. The archive, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, currently boasts over 50 video interviews Hobbs conducted herself with stars, veterans and aspirants of the hip hop music scene in New Orleans, post-Katrina. This includes musicians and DJs from the genre of bounce, a New Orleans style of hip-hop that often features Mardi Gras Indian chants and dance call-outs. Hobbs’ interviews center on the musicians and allow them to speak for themselves about their music. There are no academics talking over them or treating their music to overwrought interpretations. In an interview with The Guardian, Hobbs said that academics tend to prioritize lyrics and neglect the instrumental stylings.

“The academic focus is all on lyrics, and not on performance and context,” she told to the British newspaper. “Rap is music—rap is not literature. It can be literature. But music does stuff that other forms of art cannot. To take the performative aspect out is really problematic.”

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