INTERVIEW WITH RAQUEL Z. RIVERA: HIP HOP IS NOT DEAD UNTIL THE LAST PERSON CALLING HIM OR HERSELF A HIP-HOPPER IS DEAD
Raquel Z. Rivera is an American professor of Puerto Rican origin, who has build the bigger part of her career through studying the hip-hop culture and its interpretation in reality. She has written numerous articles on this topic, starting from the ghettos in Puerto Rico, right to the academic circles in America. Her articles have been published in almost all of the important hip hop media in the USA, such as the Vibe Magazine, the interview for www.allhiphop.com, etc. She’s the author of the book New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, a PhD in sociology. Her website is www.raquelzrivera.com. This isn’t an interview about the best MC and such stuff, this is an interview with which we can get to know our culture even more profoundly, at first hand. We have to also mention that Raquel Rivera is one of the reasons the crew of this site some 5-6 years ago decided to put the studying of hip-hop across from street to a scientific level. Thus, we have the honour to open this interview:
hiphopmacedonia.com: Tell us something about yourself, how did you start with academic research of hip-hop culture?
Raquel Z. Rivera: I began when I was an MA student in Puerto Rico in 1992. Rap and reggae music were extremely popular among young people in the early 1990s, but there was hardly any academic work or serious media coverage of it. There were a lot of prejudices circulating about hip-hop culture and the young people that cultivated it. For example, people were saying hip-hop (music, art, dance) wasn't really art and also that the people involved in the culture were "cacos" (low-class, thugs). So I began writing about hip-hop because I wanted to document both the history of hip-hop as well as the prejudices against it.
hiphopmacedonia.com: What’s the difference among Blacks and the Latino population when it comes to understanding of hip hop culture? Do they comprehend this culture in the same way?
Raquel Z. Rivera: People see hip-hop according to their worldviews. The thing is that not all African Americans see the world the same way. And not all Latinos see the world the same way, either. So many other factors come into play: class, race, gender, sexuality, personal taste, politics, religion... So I would be very wary of making sweeping statements about how folks see hip-hop based on their ethnicity.
What I will say is that oftentimes people assume that there is no overlap in Latino and African American experiences and perspectives regarding hip-hop. And there is quite a great deal of overlap.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Has commercial hip-hop destroyed hip-hop policy and social activism?
Raquel Z. Rivera: I'm not sure what you mean by policy. But commercial hip-hop has definitely not destroyed hip-hop social activism. The social activism side of hip-hop might not be the most visible (in terms of commercial media) but it is strong and thriving.
hiphopmacedonia.com: The people you adore in hip-hop culture are…? Why?
Raquel Z. Rivera: They are: Ethical. Loving. True to themselves. Committed to improving themselves and their communities. Why? Because these are the qualities that I see as most crucial in building better lives for ourselves and those that come after us.
hiphopmacedonia.com: What’s the topic of your hip-hop lectures and presentations? What’s the main message you want to convey to the young students who are into hip hop?
Raquel Z. Rivera: Sometimes I speak about the history of hip-hop in New York City and the role that Puerto Ricans have played in it. In that history, I always emphasize the commonalities of Puerto Ricans, other Caribbeans, and African Americans.
Other times I speak about women's participation in hip-hop. Other times about gender power dynamics, sexism and homophobia in our society in general and hip-hop in particular.
Other times I speak about the connections between hip-hop and related music genres like reggaeton.
Lately, I've been speaking about spirituality and activism in hip-hop. Check my blog post "Liberation Mythologies: Art, Spirit & Justice": http://reggaetonica.blogspot.com/2010/03/liberation-mythologies-art-spirit.html
One important message for me is the importance on knowing the (diverse) histories of hip-hop. But also that these histories are highly contested. You can develop and defend a certain version/vision of history but always being respectful of other perspectives.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Your book “New York Ricans From the Hip Hop Zone” is widely accepted from hip hop generation. What the main topics in the book?
Raquel Z. Rivera: The main topics of my book are precisely the same ones I mentioned earlier as being the ones that I lecture about.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Where do you work today? Where is your office?
Raquel Z. Rivera: I am an independent scholar. I am still affiliated to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City (where I used to work full-time as a researcher) but now I work from home and on the road. I travel a lot doing lectures at different universities and I'm also working on several new writing projects (two of them, new books).
hiphopmacedonia.com: What is the influence the Latino population has on hip hop culture?
Raquel Z. Rivera: Latinos have had a huge influence on hip-hop. Hip-hop wouldn't be hip-hop without Latinos. Just like salsa wouldn't be salsa without African Americans. The history of Latinos and African Americans doing music and other arts together goes back more than a hundred years.
hiphopmacedonia.com: What is hip hop for you (in your own words)? How would you describe it?
Raquel Z. Rivera: To me, hip-hop is whatever its practitioners say it is.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Can hip hop be involved in some serious cultural policy of the government? How?
Raquel Z. Rivera: It already is. Not only folks in government, but also educators and cultural activists of all kinds have for years been using hip-hop as an agent of education and change. I would recommend folks check out these links:
hiphopmacedonia.com: Why do young people feel so close to hip hop?
Raquel Z. Rivera: Because it speaks their language. Of course, it speaks their language, because it was and still is made by them.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Is it hip hop violent and misogynistic culture? We know that hip hop has been a powerfull weapon for freedom fighters, but we also know that this culture brings violence among gangs in the ghettos.
Raquel Z. Rivera: Certain types of hip-hop are as violent and as misogynistic as certain aspects of the larger societies where hip-hop thrives. Other types of hip-hop are as visionary and as healing as certain approaches to freedom dreaming in those same societies. There is a great diversity within hip-hop.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Today you are known as the author of the Reggaeton book. Can hip hop be mixed with other cultures or music genres?
Raquel Z. Rivera: It is already mixed. Hip-hop is hybrid to begin with. And then people keep mixing it with other things. Contemporary dancehall reggae feeds from hip-hop. So does bhangra, reggaeton, trip-hop and hiplife.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Is hip hop dead?
Raquel Z. Rivera: No. Not until the last person calling him or herself a hip-hopper is dead.
hiphopmacedonia.com: Thanks Raquel, it’s been a pleasure to talk with you.
Raquel Z. Rivera: Thank you!
Photo By: Jorge Vazquez
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By Hip Hop Macedonia Crew