Hip-Hop Gets ‘Schooled’

Rappers Flavor Flav, Common, Chuck D, Dorrough, Talib Kweli and Plies are all hip-hop artists who went to college.

Christopher “Play” Martin, former member of 90s hip-hop duo Kid-n-Play and Florida A&M professor, said he wants to see a transformation in the industry of not just a few selected artists attending college, but all artists making the leap to get a degree.

Martin is working on a documentary titled “Can Hip-Hop Go to School,” addressing how the current state of hip-hop would be different if many artists had taken business courses or attended college.

Kawachi Clemons of the FAMU Hip-Hop Institute said artists could have more longevity in their careers if they take potentially beneficial classes or attend a few basic business courses.

“There could be a tremendous gain from going through studies. It doesn’t have to be formal studies but it could be just continuing education or seminars,” said Clemons. “At the basic level, the music industry is a business. It is a corporate structure, and to operate within that corporate structure you need to know the vernacular of that corporate structure. You need to know how to move in and out of those circles. You need to have a certain level of professional development, etiquette and so forth.”

Attending school can teach future artists the basic rules of success in corporate America while learning how to build a brand for themselves.

Willie Harris, a third-year public relations student from Jacksonville, said school assisted him in his music career and gave him networking opportunities.

“If I hadn’t come to FAMU, I would have had the same style of (Jacksonville-based) rap, but being at FAMU forced me to change the content of my music in order to have better reactions from my peers,” said Harris. “I am sure I wouldn’t have met some of the key people I know if I wasn’t in school.”

Harris said he believes the people he surrounds himself with help him stay determined and focus on the goal at hand.

“Benefits come from the connections you make while you are in school. It helps you become a more industry-ready artist faster and the people around you are geared toward helping your career,” said Harris Clemons said many students who attend business schools learn the concept of major 500 companies, which is equivalent to learning how the music industry works. Clemons said the same basic principle of supply and demand at Proctor and Gamble is applicable at Sony Music Entertainment.

“What is the difference? One company is selling soap the other company is selling music,” said Clemons. “The “P’s” of promotion, price, product and place is exactly the same. The only thing that changes is the product.”

There are artists who see the importance of attending college. Rapper Lil’ Wayne attended the University of Houston in 2005. Because of conflicts in his schedule, he left UH and enrolled in Phoenix University online, studying psychology.

Martin said the origin of hip-hop arose from frustration with the lack of arts and music in public schools. Martin said hip-hop was a means to an end, and “tamed the savage beast.”

“Education is the bottom line,” said Martin. “It has always been.”