On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, students of the Music Department’s debut course “Genealogy of Hip-Hop” became the first to use UCR Library’s new Dexter Thomas Japanese Hip-Hop Collection.
Dani Brecher Cook, Director of Teaching & Learning at UCR Library, collaborated with Dr. Liz Przybylski, Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology to make this new archive available for student research.
“It was a new and exciting class that was offered by the Music Department to music majors and non-majors,” Dr. Przybylski said. The course examined hip-hop’s global spread and specific case-studies in the global hip-hop scene.
Dr. Przybylski felt that her collaboration with Dani and the library was productive. “Dani helped the students to interact with some of the materials, which helped them to understand what an archive is and how they can use it,” Dr. Przybylski explained. “The students enjoyed themselves, and it’s great to see what can happen when we have someone like Dani, who has the skill and experience to translate collections into student learning.”
Dani agreed that the collaboration was a terrific experience, stating, “Liz was a librarian’s dream to work with. She had a clear sense of what she wanted the students to walk away with, regarding how distinctive collections can deepen their understanding, beyond or in addition to what a YouTube video or streaming music might.”
Student groups participated in an open-ended listening activity, with each group assigned to one artist, based on what the library had available in the collection. Dani felt that this experience demonstrated the importance of physical collections and how material objects can enhance our understanding of topics in unexpected ways. “The students closely examined each part of the CD, ranging from the artwork on the liner notes and how that correlated (or didn’t!) with the music that they heard on the tracks, picking out the range of influences that informed the music, and tracking how artists evolved over time.”
“Students who don’t have a history of working with a physical product just don’t understand what kind of information it’s possible to encounter when you’re looking at an actual album or all the ways you can interact with an album, other than just hearing the songs that are on it,” Dr. Przybylski explained. “The physical CDs helped to tune the students in to the artist’s trajectory. They were reading CD liner notes to see more than just the lyrics of the songs. One group put all the CDs in order by year and looked at how the images changed over time, what label are the artists on now versus the label they used to be on. It was so much more immediate and accessible with the music in their hands.”
Dr. Przybylski sees great potential for future collaborations between the Music Department and UCR Library, using this archive. She hopes to see the “Genealogy of Hip-Hop” class run each year, and integrate the Dexter Thomas Japanese Hip-Hop Collection more robustly into the course curriculum. She would also like to incorporate it into her graduate seminar in hip-hop so that students could research the collection in-depth.
“It’s exciting to see students discover new things and create new knowledge for themselves using our distinctive collections,” Dani explained. “I’m looking forward to having the whole collection available next time, and seeing how that will help to build new connections and facilitate different thought processes and discoveries.”
“Some students seemed surprised that they really enjoyed the music even if they didn’t understand the lyrics,” Dr. Przybylski mused. She found only one drawback to the experience: “Having someone fluent in Japanese to translate the materials would enable us to extract even more information from them.” Perhaps this need could inspire a future collaboration between the library and the Asian Studies department.
Students also expressed interest in who the collector was and how he put this material together, Dr. Przybylski explained, because they resonated with and were inspired by the success that he had achieved post-UCR. Dexter Thomas graduated from UC Riverside in 2006 with a major in English and is now a PhD candidate in East Asian Studies at Cornell University. While at UCR, Thomas served as the Student Director of Programming at KUCR-FM, and after graduation he became a correspondent for the HBO show Vice News Tonight. Thomas won a Pulitzer Prize for his work at the Los Angeles Times on the 2015 San Bernardino shooting. He is currently writing a book about Japanese hip-hop.