The Oprah Magazine
You Do You Image Credit: The Oprah Magazine
You Do You Image Credit: The Oprah Magazine

You Do You

There’s a hip-hop headquarters within Harvard’s ivycovered walls—and it’s overseen by Marcyliena Morgan, PhD.

Marcyliena Morgan

RHYME AND REASON “In the early 1990s, I was teaching a linguistic anthropology course at UCLA. For one assignment, I asked students to analyze a speech community or a group that shares attitudes about language use and practices. A number of them wanted to focus on hip-hop, but at the time, I didn’t see hip-hop as a culture. A few days later, about 15 students came to my office with a presentation on hip-hop’s elements: its poetry, its wordplay, the underground society it had created. They opened my eyes to the fact that hip-hop wasn’t necessarily profane, misogynistic, or many of the other labels given to it. Rather, it’s a whole world view—a set of cultural and political beliefs and values embraced by its members, who see hip-hop as a way to speak the truth. And when those students graduated, they brought me albums, magazines, posters—what anthropology calls material culture. They said things like, ‘My mom is going to toss these, but we know you won’t because you’re an anthropologist, and anthropologists don’t throw away material culture.’ They were right! In 2002, when I started teaching at Harvard, I brought these items with me and established the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute.”

FOR THE RECORD “The archive feels like hip-hop—but it also feels like Harvard. That’s thanks to 20 students who thought about and debated how space shou

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