Landmark Hip Hop Journalism Conference Celebrates Craft, Honors Late Critic Greg Tate

WORD: LIFE honored the late legendary critic Greg Tate with a scholarship founded in his name.

March 01, 2024

Nearly 200 hip hop journalists gathered at Columbia Journalism School in late February for a historic conference dedicated to their craft: WORD: LIFE: An Opinionated Mixtape of Hip Hop Journalism. 

Held between Feb. 20-21, WORD: LIFE recognized the people, publications and programs that shaped this global art form over the past 50 years. This includes the late legendary critic Greg Tate, honored with a scholarship founded in his name.

The event was co-hosted with Critical Minded, a grantmaking and learning initiative that supports cultural critics of color in the United States, the New York Public Library's  Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Ford Foundation.  

WORD: LIFE was inspired by many other celebrations honoring the 50th anniversary of hip hop. However, in those events, there was little discussion of the role of journalism. 


Jelani Cobb, Elizabeth Méndez Berry and rashid shabazz speaking at WORD: LIFE.

Described as a “family reunion” by those in attendance, Word: Life brought generations of writers, photographers and reporters together for conversation about great moments in history and the future of the industry. 

“One thing that I’ve thought a lot about in this position is institutionalization, and what institutions are supposed to do,” said Jelani Cobb, Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism. “And the reason we had this entire conference is that we felt the contributions of hip hop journalists have not been recognized by the institutions of mainstream journalism — not to the extent that they should be.”

Planning Committee member Elizabeth Méndez Berry of One World welcomed the crowd to the first day of the conference at the Schomburg, and shared one of their other “north stars:” Greg Tate, a writer and long-time critic for The Village Voice who died in 2021. He was a major force in establishing hip hop as a genre deserving of critical thought and acclaim.

We got into a conversation about what we could do that is institutional — so we’re happy to announce the creation of the Greg Tate Scholarship at Columbia Journalism School.

Dean Jelani Cobb

But to Méndez Berry, who identified herself as a “Tater tot,” Tate was “a person who could not be contained by that label” of critic: “I was so fortunate to learn from him, his generosity of spirit and his power, both in the community and on the page.”

The event’s penultimate panel also honored Tate. “FLYBOY UNBOUND: The Life and Significance of Greg Tate” invited those who knew him closely to speak on his legacy. 


“When we were discussing what we wanted to do with this event, this might have been the first panel we came up with,” said Dean Cobb when introducing moderator Syreeta Gates and panelists Nelson George, dream hampton, Joan Morgan and Mark Anthony Neal. 

Ahead of that discussion, Dean Cobb and Critical Minded’s rashid shabazz announced a new endeavor intended not only to keep Tate’s memory alive, but to guide future critics in his footsteps. 

“This was our small part to make a corrective to the egregious oversight of this man’s influence and creative brilliance, and the work that he continues to contribute — to us understanding and our culture and our world and our place in it,” Dean Cobb concluded.

The Greg Tate Scholarship will give $10,000 to a student interested in arts journalism and criticism, and will be offered annually for the next five years. Tate, through his writing, became one of New York City’s pre-eminent thinkers on Black music and art. This scholarship is intended to support students who want to follow his footsteps

“Why I’m standing here, I would say, has a lot to do with the imagination and the creativity of Greg Tate,” said shabazz, executive director of the Critical Minded, who funded this scholarship in part. “Not just the writer, but the artist and visionary.”

The scholarship is seen as especially fitting considering Tate’s impact on generations of hip hop journalists. And this was underlined during FLYBOY UNBOUND: Marc Anthony Neal described Tate as “irreplaceable — but he left us space to fill the gap.”

To support the Greg Tate scholarship, please visit the Giving website. When donating, choose “other” in the dropdown menu and add “to support the Greg Tate Scholarship.” 

For more information, contact Kevin Bentley at [email protected] or (212) 854-5263.

To learn more about Word: Life, the speakers and panelists, visit the conference webpage.

Videos from Day 1 and 2 are available on the Columbia Journalism YouTube channel.

To see coverage from students, check out Instagram posts from the CJS City Newsroom.