Penn's got everything from a capella to DJs, but where's the (non–frat) rap? The "Initiative" provides.
Step aside, indie rock and EDM. It’s time for hip–hop to gain its rightful foothold in the Penn music scene.
This is the sentiment that inspired College junior Jonathan Iwry to introduce an institutionalized appreciation of the genre to campus. Although hip–hop dance groups exist here, Iwry was “a little bit surprised that we didn’t have a centralized group for hip–hop appreciation.” Thus, the Penn Hip–Hop Initiative (or simply, “the Initiative”) was born — a club for hip–hop enthusiasts, from self–proclaimed rappers to ardent fans.
Iwry, having been a freestyle rapper for the last 10 years, holds the genre close to his heart and realizes its potential on campus. He stresses that there is much more to hip–hop than “what you hear being blasted out of cars speeding down Walnut St.” It’s worthy of being taken seriously as not just another mixture of sounds, but as a legitimate art form that deserves to be respected as such. While much of the Initiative is focused on allowing fans of the genre to gather among like–minded individuals, it’s just as much about raising awareness on campus of its intellectual and cultural merits. According to Iwry, the university’s focus on cultural diversity and student life makes it “the perfect place for a genre like this to be appreciated.”
One of the club’s main goals is to illustrate just how expressive hip–hop can be, whether performers are “speaking out against social inequality or just jousting lyrically.” It will do so by fostering talent on– and off–campus, hosting speakers and putting the music in a context that Penn students can understand and admire. Iwry noted that “hip–hop has started to get noticed at top–tier universities like Duke and Stanford” and “an expert has even received tenure at Harvard,” so Penn would benefit from paying closer attention to the genre.
Though it was launched just this fall, the Initiative has started off strong with fresh ideas and exciting events. The club’s first freestyle event, which will become a weekly occurrence, took place last Friday at the Compass. This upcoming Friday, the Initiative is teaming up with the United Minorities Council to launch “Penn Meets Philly,” a Unity Month celebration that will bring both local live artists and student performers to the stage. PHHI is also set to work with Natives at Penn, the student organization representing Native American students, to host Native American emcees in the spring, and there may even be some Jewish talent coming to campus through a collaboration with Penn Hillel.
With hundreds of students on its listserv and heavily–attended meetings, the young club already has a solid foundation of enthusiastic members. Although Iwry handles most of the event coordination on his own, “everybody has been doing an excellent job contributing to events, and members seem really comfortable sharing their ideas with the rest of the group.” Ultimately, the founder and president of the club is optimistic. It is starting small — just as Iwry wants it to — but also has a sense of direction.
Why should students at Penn care about hip–hop, exactly? Iwry sums it up nicely: “It’s everywhere we look. We hear it on the street. We see it in advertisements. For better or for worse, it’s become an icon of popular culture, and I think it’s worth studying how we’ve gotten to this point. It’s a living, breathing part of society, and it’s time for us to start tuning in more closely.”
Penn Hip Hop Initiative