“Original//Remix” Hiphoped Seminar – a rundown (by Kate Ryan)

On Saturday 10th June, I had the privilege of spending the day at a fantastic hiphoped event. As Poetcurious remarked at the start of the session, UK hiphoped has come a long way; from the early inception on Twitter to a mailing list that now rolls 500 deep.

This session was entitled:

Original / Remix? – Tradition, Innovation and Creative Practices in Education

To prepare for the day, speakers were given the following information to prompt their presentations:

We’re looking for 10 minute ‘provocations’ on the idea of creativity, tradition and originality. This may relate to hip-hop, creative practices or to education. If it relates to all three, even better!

Some keywords: creativity, composition, sampling, plagiarism, originality, genre, tradition, imitation, innovation, invention, sampling, crate-digging, remix, mash-up, version, appropriation, copy, combine, transform, ownership, voice, immersion, art, music, writing, performance. 

The quality and range of presentations created by this prompt was impressive. It’s remarkable that a group of people who haven’t met to prepare can pull off such a stimulating session. We listened, spoke, debated, wrote, rapped, made beats (well, Tanga did the last two at least)

I cannot really do the depth of the presentations justice here, so I’ve made “word clouds” (in an ode to my segment on the day.) The words in each cloud are not fully representative of the content of each presentation, rather they are the key ideas that I jotted or remembered. Hopefully they offer an insight into the vast array of topics covered on the day.

Darren Chetty: explored the concepts of sampling and copying in the creative process. Multiple writers and lyricists were referred to and curriculum boundaries were exposed.

Poetcurious: spoke about influences on his own art, as well as the artistic process for himself and his students. He argued that art shouldn’t be planned and preconceived, but rather crafted until it is finished – although one does risk ‘ruining’ it or going too far.

David Lewis: spoke about the evolution of martial arts; from it’s early days (perhaps surprisingly, on Egyptian hieroglyphs) to where it is today. The art of repetitive practice and skill building allows one to master their martial skills.

Dan Holloway: spoke about an eclectic range of subjects and topics to explore the idea that we should all be knowledge seekers. Once we learn a lot, we should then aim to make ridiculous comparisons and connections to develop our creative thinking.

Tanga: made music before our very eyes. He had a sample (from Damu the Fudgemonk) then asked the audience to provide a beat – Michael obliged, and sweet tunes were made. Tanga asked the audience to spit a verse, but we shied away so he did that too. Fab!

Dan Tsu: argued that his personal identity is rooted in his love of hiphop culture. He spoke about the evolution of hiphop and warned older hiphop heads not to be too dismissive of newer artists.

Kate Ryan: I decided not to speak at length, but got people to use vocabulary from existing poems and raps to create their own verses. There were some great examples on the day and I regret not getting copies to share. Oh well.

Ayo Olatunji: did a close critique of representations in hiphop and how these vary depending on who controls the message. While artists like Giggs and Stormzy have produced thoughtful and reflective lyrics, their more violent or misogynistic work is promoted by white-owned record labels who thus control the narrative.

Jeffrey Boakye: did you know that Jeffrey has a book out? Order it here. Jeffrey spoke about issues relating to authenticity and integrity in art; juxtaposing Rihanna’s ‘Work’ (authentic, based on her Bajan culture) with Justin’s Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ (a grotesque pastiche of dancehall culture)

Sam Berkson: showed that time and context can’t come in the way of making connections between artists with a fascinating comparison of William Blake and Roots Manuva. Judging by the close analysis of their words, they have a lot more in common than you may expect.

Ogmios: gave us an overview of the Rap Battle world. I learned a lot about the technical skills required to battle as well as the different types of battles that take place. There was also a funny section of overused ‘defeat/da feet’ puns.

Jack Bicker: spoke about the skills required when sampling the work of another. He used art and music to show that we must be careful about valuing the original sample so that the message isn’t erased or crudely appropriated.

Diane Leedham: showed us the narrowness of the current English curriculum in secondary education. She used the metaphor of an iced cupcake and a raspberry ripple to explain that diversity needs to be an intrinsic and embedded part of the curriculum, not just a careless add-on.

Paula Varjack: delivered an energetic session on her own art and the samples and references that she uses to create something new. She spoke about the need to be sensitive and ethical when sampling, so that it isn’t just plain stealing. She also shared a useful government document about teacher’s exceptions to copyright.

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5 thoughts on ““Original//Remix” Hiphoped Seminar – a rundown (by Kate Ryan)

  1. I’m still thinking about the point at which someone is well-placed to innovate, to ‘sample’.

    David emphasised ‘repetition’ in the teaching and learning of martial arts. I think he said something along the line of “repeat it till you get it right – no until you can’t get it wrong”. This makes sense to me in matters of life and death. I wonder if we would want the same threshold for all learning?

    Dan’s talk of “collide, elide, slide” tricolon for creative thinking (to be set alongside “initiate, innovate, invent” and “copy, transform, combine”) also emphasised the need to go the roots of the subject first.

    More than one person highlighted concerns about the dilution of the original that can come with sampling a sample – and Jack, in talking about Kanye’s use of ‘Strange Fruit’, raised the possibility of there even being political dimensions to this.

    So preservation also seems important. But not, I’d say, preservation as what I’d call the ‘cultural taxidermy’ variety. Cultures are living breathing things with traceable pasts and open futures. In educating we are perhaps wishing to honour both?

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  2. Nice use of sampling to report back on the sampling seminar!
    Like many of our conversations there was healthy disagreement around most areas. Particularly in relation to Jack’s reading of Kanye and the discussion that followed it got me thinking about how important it is to know the artist’s intention in incorporating samples into their work. Shame Kanye couldn’t make it down to explain in person as I’d really have liked to hear his thinking behind using the Strange Fruit sample.
    Perhaps sometimes artists (or educators) have to take a leap of faith and trust their own integrity, even when it may be interpreted or perceived differently by different audiences.

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    1. …Perhaps part of the work involved in engaging with a text/ idea is the exploration of context – working out what the originator’s intentions, biases, aims, limitations were. How refreshing would it be to start every English Lit text with a mapping of the contextual terrain in this way. As teachers, this is what Diane described with the ‘decolonisation’ that used to happen at the beginning of (some) teacher training courses…

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  3. Thanks Chris. I think artist intention can only take us so far – and probably not very far. Partly because it means taking the artists word for it, and partly because artists often talk about not knowing their intentions – or even resisting the idea of intentionality.

    I agree that artists can’t busy themselves with what audiences might think of their work lest they be blocked from creating – they do need to trust their integrity and intuitions. Perhaps this is where education and art diverge? Presumably, educators do need to concern themselves (more) with intentions and with what their audience (i.e. students) make of what they’re doing?

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