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Beyond music: South Florida celebrates 50 years of hip-hop culture

Author Kwame Alexander at the South Florida Book Festival
Carlos Canadas
Author Kwame Alexander at the South Florida Book Festival

"The South got something to say." When Andre 3000 said these now famous words as his Atlanta-based duo Outkast picked up a rap award in 1995, it was one of many defining moments of America's hip-hop history.

Now as the music genre hits a major milestone, a festival in Fort Lauderdale celebrated the impact it has had in our culture — as well as South Florida's role in the movement.

Poster for the South Florida Book Festival at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center.
Alexa Herrera
Poster for the South Florida Book Festival at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center.

Under the theme 'WORD! Celebrating 50 Years of Hip-Hop Culture,' this weekend's South Florida Book Festival brought together authors, dancers and DJs at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, to demonstrate the different facets of hip-hop.

New York Times bestselling author and poet Kwame Alexander helped kick off the the festival on Thursday, interacting with the kids in attendance and sharing pieces from his book The Crossover.

Amongst the other authors speaking at the festival was Kevin Powell, a hip-hop historian, human rights activist and author of 16 books, including a renowned interview with the late Tupac Shakur.

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New York Times bestselling author and poet Kwame Alexander interacts with kids during a book reading as he kicks off the 'Word!' festival
Best selling author Kwame Alexander at the South Florida Book Festival

The Olujimi Dance Theater brought their 'Transnational artistic dance Works and practices that Evoke Revolutionary Kinship' — also known as T.W.E.R.K. — to the center, exploring the rhythms of West and Central Africa and how they bring us together.

Saturday saw DJ Tillery James and DJ LS1 of The DJ Collective hold a discussion about sampling and the importance of jazz, blues and funk on hip-hop's sound, one of many panels held at the venue over the weekend.

READ MORE: How this South Florida artist is diversifying public art in West Palm Beach

Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, the director of the center, said hip-hop fits in with the "long history of cultural expression and cultural creation and music as it relates to people of African descent," going back to jazz and blues.

The Funky Drummer: Hip-Hop, Sampling, and the Legacy of Black Music
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DJ Tillery and DJ LS1 held a discussion about sampling and the importance of jazz, blues and funk on hip-hop's sound at the South Florida Book Festival, 2023.

"We have this very long tradition of oral communication, spoken word, being used by young people to give witness to their experiences," she told WLRN.

"And so now, 50 years later [it's] a global phenomenon that is undeniable, that has had cultural impact, has had an impact on business. There's hardly any aspect of our culture that we can talk about that hip-hop hasn't touched. And that's what this [festival] is about. Finally giving respect to this cultural impulse."

Dr. Regina Bradley, author of Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South, underlined that hip-hop culture is much more than rap music.

"And I feel that, especially as a Southerner ... I listen to the music — but the way that the culture has seeped into my everyday experiences very much let me know that hip-hop is more than just what's knocking in the back of my trunk," said Dr. Bradley, who teaches English and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University.

Beyond the East Coast-West Coast powerhouses

The festival showcased the importance of hip-hop that exists outside of the East Coast and the West Coast, the traditional powerhouses of the genre that Andre 3000 was speaking out against.

"For those of us who were born and raised in the 80s and the 90s and the early 2000s, the narrative that was in place to talk about the civil rights movement as this modern apex of southern blackness, if you will, didn't fit," added Dr. Bradley. "One of the reasons that hip-hop is so significant … is the fact that so many of the artists — the creatives who identify with southern hip-hop — are picking up conversations where the civil rights movement left off."

"There's hardly any aspect of our culture that we can talk about that hip-hop hasn't touched."
Dr Tameka Hobbs

With hip-hop reaching 50, she doesn't see it leaving the public eye anytime soon.

"Hip-hop is not going anywhere," Dr. Bradley said. "We are in the moment where we need to make sure that we not only organize our thoughts about the significance of the 50th anniversary, but also make room and set tables for folks who have not been able to talk about the culture before to come towards the center."

Renee Foster of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, Author Kwame Alexander, AARLCC Assistant Manager Sheena Sewell, AARLCC Regional Manager Dr. Tameka Hobbs at the South Florida Book Festival.
Carlos Canadas
Renee Foster of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, Author Kwame Alexander, AARLCC Assistant Manager Sheena Sewell, AARLCC Regional Manager Dr. Tameka Hobbs at the South Florida Book Festival.

Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.
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