“Hip Hop in the Round” Commemorates50 Years of Hip Hop

2023 marks 50 years since hip hop’s inception.

I had the opportunity to attend “Hip Hop in the Round” at Woods Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 22, which celebrated this milestone year. In coordination with the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music, Blue Hawk Records promoted its own artists and spotlighted the genre’s deep history.

Upon arriving to Woods Theatre, I felt welcomed by the personal and intimate atmosphere of the theatre.

Though the stage was somewhat plain, its simple appearance forced the audience to focus on the topic at hand: music.

Joe Rapolla, Specialist Professor and Chair for the Department of Music and Theater Arts, introduced the night’s speakers. Included in this introduction was the show’s moderator Bob Santelli, Director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music.

Santelli was joined onstage by Monmouth’s very own artists—Gabe “Double G” Garza, Justin Ume, and Asad “Kid Ace” Whitehead. Adding to this range of musicians, Mike Savage, a resident and music artist of Asbury Park known as 8Dayzstr8, also participated in the production. I loved that the Department highlighted its own students, in addition to local talent.

Santelli began the night and briefed the crowd on the cultural roots of hip hop, dating back to the introduction of the term “dub” and The Sugar Hill Gang. For someone who has little to no knowledge of hip hop and primarily listens to pop music, I appreciated this quick rundown of the genre and its origins.

The musicians then proceeded to discuss their first memories of music and how it impacted them up to this point. They cited Street and Gospel music as their inspirations for creating their own style. Likewise, music groups and rappers like Kris Kross and Daddy Yankee also had an effect on the young creators.

As for influences in their personal life, TV shows like The Get Down and different social media platforms have helped the rappers construct their own art form. More specifically, the artists explained how mass communication has enabled them to share their work.

The next activity for the night involved the artists rapping a few of their own tracks, which featured a wide range of topics. Many references to personal and cultural struggles the artists have encountered made their way into the songs.

Notably so, Kid Ace’s song “Protect and Serve” alluded to the killing of Trayvon Martin and George Floyd. The line, “My skin is like a weapon,” shares an emotional reflection about cases of police brutality in the last decade.

As for Double G, Ume, and Savage, they sang about the obstacles of self-love, self-actualization, and hard work.

The young artists had this to say about writing and producing music: “Patience is the most important thing you need…You need to have real life experiences outside of writing music in order to create meaningful content.”

Savage also said that interactions with the audience support his process of writing music. He can gauge which types of pieces provoke listeners.

The artists encouraged aspiring creators to start with poetry and utilize platforms like SoundCloud and YouTube to get started. As long as you’re writing and producing, you are dipping your toe into the world of music.

Overall, I enjoyed listening to the artists perform on campus. Understanding their perspectives, both individually and collectively, contributed to my overall opinion of hip hop as a genre.

If you’re interested in listening to the student artists, you can tune into the Blue Hawk Records page on music platforms. To stream Mike Savage’s music, he has tracks listed on SoundCloud under @MikeSav, and you can follow him on social media @8dayz.