Not even the coronavirus can keep a good party down.
Near the end of fall term in December, hundreds of University of Oregon students, community members, and music fans of all ages converged in Global Scholars Hall to celebrate the art and culture of hip-hop. The crowd came not just to sing along, try out their best dance moves, and show off ’80s-inspired fashions—but also to renew and reenergize an important bond of campus community.
When the first UO Hip Hop Jam went off in 2014, it was launched with the idea that a group of first-year students would learn about race, society, and community building not by attending a rap concert—but by putting one on.
On the wheels of steel: André Sirois, a.k.a. DJ food stamp, senior instructor and multimedia supervisor with the Department of Cinema Studies and School of Music and Dance
“It was an incredibly grassroots event,” recalls event co-founder André Sirois, PhD ’11 (communication and society), a senior instructor with the Department of Cinema Studies and the School of Music and Dance. “It was manifested to meet a need for more community building and more diverse perspectives in the curriculum at the UO. In a very authentic way, these events are incredibly inclusive.”
At the inaugural Jam, Sirois—who performs professionally as DJ food stamp—appeared as part of the lineup. Spin forward almost a decade: now a member of the faculty, he teaches Hip Hop and Politics of Race, a program in which first-year students put on the event.
Portland artist Mic Capes, the '21 headliner, has taught lyrics-writing workshops at previous Jams
“From the beginning, it’s been about bringing together all the hip-hop arts: MCs, DJs, beatmakers, bgirls and bboys, and live graffiti painting,” Sirois says. “Alumni are regular participants now, and we’ve had some really important regional and national acts. Most years, we’re drawing 400 or 500 people.”
The pandemic presented obstacles. The 2020 concert was held in a livestream format with virtual workshops on dance, beat-making, and aerosol art. Last fall, with UO students returning to mostly in-person instruction, the event was held live in the context of a “new normal” nationwide that included masks, vaccination protocols, and a broader awareness of issues of race, security, and policing.
Holding Court: Sedona Prince (right), a general social science major from Liberty Hill, Texas, and forward with women’s basketball, hosted the event
Live and direct from PDX: Sotaé dropped rhymes and moved the crowd
Ellie Reisman (left), an art and technology major, and Victoria Ginzburg (right), a journalism and ethnic studies major, helped plan the event as assistants with the first-year program
DJ food stamp kept the beat bumping in Global Scholars Hall
As always, students in their first term of college helped in every stage of concert planning, from selecting and booking artists to marketing.
Victoria Ginzburg, a journalism and ethnic studies major from Marin, California, found the hip-hop program so inspiring she returned during her junior and senior years. As a student-employee assistant for first-year programs such as this one, she helps other students adjust to college.
“I hope they walk away with a greater sense of agency, feeling more confident in themselves not only as students, but as members of the community,” she says. “They really see the impact they can make in just one term at the university.”
According to Sirois, this experience provides some of the most valuable outcomes he can offer as an instructor—especially for first-year students.
“While this class specifically engages with the artistic practices and social history of hip-hop,” he says, “it teaches a concrete set of skills they can later apply in producing and promoting all sorts of community, arts, and cultural events.”
Jason Stone is a staff writer with university communications.
Shout-Out to all the performers: Mic Capes, Jordan Fletcher, Sotaè, Justice Gbada, MLTZR, Andrew Kai, Duck Street Dance Club, Flock Rock, and Tasko.