What happened to FAMU’s Hip-Hop Institute?


Did you know that as recently as five years ago FAMU was home to a program called the Hip Hop Institute?

And did you know that the institute still exists, but under a different name?

The Hip-Hop Institute was founded at North Carolina Central University in Durham under James Ammons, who was president of the university at the time.

“The institute was founded as a way to engage in inter-generational dialog on Black/African American Music,” said Kawachi Clemmons, the institute’s director at NCCU.

Clemmons, now the provost at Virginia State University, created the institute to assess the current and future state of popular music in America through the development of innovative student-centered programming and research. When Ammons became the president of Florida A&M University in 2007, he wanted the program to follow – and it eventually did.

The institute had three objectives: To promote interdisciplinary perspectives related to popular music research; develop a network of professionals, university faculty and students committed to archiving and disseminating new and emerging multicultural artistic forms of representation; and to identify partnerships and collaborations with outside agencies to promote entrepreneurship and economic development in the arts.

The institute found its way to the FAMU campus in early 2011. It was housed in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication.

Today it is known by a new name, the Institute for Research in Music and Entertainment Industry Studies. Currently the institute is lacking leadership as the school is engages on a nationwide search for a new director.

Christopher Martin, more commonly known as Play from the popular 90s duo Kid ‘n Play, was a major component of the institute. His role was essential due to his experience and connections to the music industry.

 “We owe (students) more than it being ‘this is how you rap.’ Let’s get into the history of why it came to be,” said Martin. “We were talking about social despair and social economic political situations. Students didn’t want to leave from there because they can identify with it in their own lives.”

School officials and students were a bit confused about what the Hip-Hop Institute had to offer. While others were skeptical, many students were intrigued.

“I kept a lot of the letters that we got from the students talking about how they were grateful that it was a whole lot more and, in some cases, different than what they thought it was going to be,” said Martin.

Martin explains that hip-hop has a negative connotation to some people. It is often associated with drugs, explicit lyrics and the exploitation of women.

“A lot of people, when they say hip-hop, usually think of the music. However, hip-hop is what they call ‘the culture,’” said Martin, “It has four elements: fashion, dance, music and art.”

Hip-hop culture has become a part of popular culture, often deemed “urban.” From the rhythmic and complex music styles to the creative, often risky fashions, hip-hop’s influence has become undeniable.

In the Hip-Hop Institute’s humble beginnings at NCCU, the class was placed in a normal classroom. In short of two weeks, it had to move to the auditorium because enrollment went as high as 170 students.

“What ended up evolving in me was the fact of realizing just how important the culture was and is to a lot of people,”  Martin said. “It was a similar situation (at FAMU). We didn’t lack for people wanting to be a part of it.”

The music industry is not limited to musicians. Producers, managers, and accountants are only a few amongst the many jobs that make the music world go around.

“I meet so many people in the music business now that entered into it with the purpose of being an entertainer and ended up finding their gifts on that journey,” Martin said.

Student artists have made commemorative songs for FAMU. Charlie “Sky’s I’m so FAMUor King Quan’s “FAMU Forever” are both songs to listen to in order to get into the Rattler spirit. More recent students of FAMU that are gaining traction as musical artists are the group RNB, Charades, and Nyne.

Some student artists feel as though there is no real place for them at FAMU. They find themselves picking a major just to get a degree. They think of college as a way to build relationships with other students in the same predicament.

Recently, the Education Department acquired the Music Education Program, which was formerly a part of the Department of Music. This made music industry the number one major in the school.

Third year student and producer/entertainer Aaron Keith was a business administration major upon first arrival on the highest of seven hills. Never quite feeling at home, he ultimately decided to switch to music industry.

“It doesn’t really feel like a real thing. It’s just a bunch of students that’s taking classes towards a degree but there’s no real direction to it,” says Keith. “I had two classes that I didn’t learn anything in.  Both of those teachers didn’t really know what they were doing.”

Keith agrees that the Hip-Hop Institute could be something that would make the program better with the correct leadership.

“It’s a lot of things that I’m disappointed with that happened at FAMU. The fact that the Hip-Hop Institute is another one is like just adding it to the list,” said Keith.

Despite being in a major that is geared more toward his musical aspirations, Keith still feels misplaced.

“It looks good on paper but it’s not really anything serious,” said Keith. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lot of good teachers. The music department is like a family.”

Despite having teachers that care, Keith insists that the department is in need of someone that actually knows the industry. That is what was unique that the institute had to offer.

 When the institute was at NCCU, there would be surprise guests such as D from DMC and Trey Songz.

“We would take certain groups and artists that are a representation of a certain era and follow their story,” said Martin. “It was also to realize that their journey is similar to most people’s journey.”

The Hip-Hop Institute would have given FAMU an edge on an industry that is expected to be worth $41 billion by 2030, according to a Goldman Sachs Report.

“Maybe it was ahead of its time here,” Martin said.