Celebrating 50 Years of Hip Hop Journalism

Collage of panelists

An Opinionated Mixtape of Hip Hop Journalism
February 20 – 21, 2024

With a preview event at the Ford Foundation
on February 15, 2024

Word: Life was a two-day conference sponsored by Columbia Journalism School, Critical Minded, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to recognize the people, publications and programs that shaped this art form over the past 50 years.

The panels included:

Nelson George on his 1978 Amsterdam News article about DJ Kool Herc

Flyboy Unbound: The Life and Significance of Greg Tate

The Culture is Visual: Hip Hop Photography

In Her Own Words: Women Journalists on Covering Hip Hop

The Architects: A Conversation Between Editors

Journalists provide the first draft of history. When the history of hip hop is written it will rely heavily upon the insights that two generations of reporters have provided. It is time that those journalists be included in that history as well.

The headline in the Aug. 11, 1973, edition of the New York Daily News shouted “11 Face Charges for Shakedowns” above a story relaying that seven past or present police officers had been indicted in an extortion racket that targeted peddlers, bars and construction companies. Elsewhere the paper noted that a guard at National City Bank on Vanderbilt Avenue was injured in the second of two robberies that occurred on the same day. Across town The New York Times led with a story about the embattled President Nixon signing a bill to modify farm subsidies. Its metro coverage reported on a 27-year-old teacher who stabbed a Harlem drug dealer to death with an arrow, and a separate extortion racket that targeted Chinese business owners in Queens.

This was New York City on that single, late summer day.

The papers make no note, however, of the back-to-school party being held that evening at a rec center in the Bronx by Clive Campbell, better known as DJ Kool Herc, and his sister, Cindy.

In time, though, that gathering would generate headlines of its own and so much more as the foundational moment in an emerging culture that came to be known as hip hop.

Among the major creative art forms of 20th century United States hip hop is the only one in which the primary reporters, critics and chroniclers were people of color, many of them of the same generation as the artists who were pioneering the culture itself.  Chuck D of Public Enemy famously called hip hop “black America’s CNN” – a mode of communication that allowed people to convey the realities of their lives across lines of race and geography. But artists were not the only chroniclers that the culture produced.

Unlike the canon of rock journalists, like Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau, whose contributions are well noted in the history of modern journalism, the reporters who covered hip hop, particularly in its most formative stages, have not received the same degree of acknowledgement. This conference will mark one step toward changing that and will feature the people whose pens, voices and ideas have been as central to hip hop as the art itself.

Thanks to Our Co-Sponsors and Hosts

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