The Hip-Hop Community in Worcester is legit; there are graffiti artists who paint downtown, MC and DJs who hail from the area and work with members of the Wu Tang Clan, and b-boys and b-girls who teach their craft to local youth after school. Learning about hip-hop, a continually evolving global phenomenon from the Bronx, NY c. 1970, requires one to engage with the here and now. When I arrived back to Worcester as an alum and a Visiting Lecturer in Music this fall, I knew I wanted my hip-hop class to be “in the community.” After many months of planning with the Donelan Office, applying for grants, and meeting with members of the local government and school district, “The Breakdown: Hip-Hop With the Woo Crew” was created—a 2-day long event with hands on learning through a graffiti mural project at North High School led by a local artist (Lamour Supreme) and a public forum on the significance of hip-hop in Worcester with members of the college community (Francis Lubega ’20), local government (Che Anderson ’11) and hip-hop scene (7L and Esoteric).
Leading up to the event, which was to take place April 16-17, my students were involved in a series of activities to help them learn more about the local community and prepare for the event. These activities included a tour of Pow! Wow! Worcester public art and group interview projects with local hip-hop artists. We were well underway with advertisements and curriculum designed to help students at North High School prepare for the event when Covid-19 shut down the college and all CBL activities. Needless to say, my students and I were deeply disappointed that our event would be cancelled.
During the week that faculty had to plan for their classes to go online, I was concerned with how to create community in a virtual way that would offer similar benefits to the students and the community at large. I decided to design a website showcasing the members of the “Woo Crew” alongside a student-run blog. Discussions ranged from the impact of Covid-19 on the Hip-Hop community, to reflections on their role as Ethnomusicologists learning more about the local community through their artist interviews. These last few weeks have been filled with discussions, presentations, and personal work related to the website. In lieu of the hands-on learning programed into our CBL event, students were asked to either conduct an interview with a classmate on their relationship with hip-hop or work on a music or art project. The results were astonishing; projects ranged from talk shows with special guest HC student and rapper Jonathan Abrahams (“Don Jon”) to hip-hop inspired beats, mixes, and fashion. We plan to make the website public on the last day of class and hope that it will serve as a platform for members of the community at large to discuss the significance of hip-hop in Worcester. The bonds made between members of the Woo Crew will hopefully build in the coming months, as well as next spring when I hope to revamp this project with my Montserrat class. Although “The Breakdown” broke down, Covid-19 did not stop our foray into community-based learning.