It is often talked about the close relationship of HBCUs and hip-hop in the past. During the late 80s and 90s it was not uncommon to see hip-hop artist sporting HBCU gear. However, that time period seems like a distant memory and with the donation by Dr. Dre to the University of Southern California coupled with an editorial response by Dr. Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University essentially pointing out that if the $35 million he donated had been evenly spread across all 100 plus HBCUs it would have made a prodigious institutional impact. So what is the relationship of HBCUs and African American hip-hop artist today? Can a relationship be forged to raise much-needed funds and awareness? We sat down with two influential minds of hip-hop and philanthropy to get their thoughts on creating a more mutually beneficial relationship for HBCUs: Young Malice, a Jackson, Mississippi native, hip-hop artist, entrepreneur, and avid HBCU supporter. Jarrett Carter, executive director of the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy and owner of Carter Media Enterprises. We probed their thoughts on where we go from here.
We are sure both of you in some way or another heard, read, or talked about the Dr. Dre donation to the University of Southern California, which many in the HBCU community were not happy with it. What were your thoughts on the donation?
Young Malice: I heard about the donation and I think that a man’s earnings and what he chooses to do with them are HIS/HER business. He obviously had a reason, whatever that reason maybe and why he chose to give such a large amount to an institute, which is already one of the wealthier in the nation. There’s more to it than what meets the eye though, I can guarantee THAT. Headphone sales must be going well for Dre huh?! *laughs*
Jarrett Carter: It was disappointing, but not because he gave the money to a predominantly white college near where he grew up and lives; but disappointing in that we thought Dr. Dre somehow betrayed the HBCU community. I don’t know how many development officers have reached out to Dr. Dre or other rappers, athletes or actors, but the truth is that we have to reach out to young wealthy African Americans as our first and best targets for financial support. Many of these individuals have some connection to an HBCU – a relative or a friend, chances are, have been at or graduated from an HBCU. Being black is no longer a qualifier for attending or supporting an HBCU, and we would be wise to recognize this reality, expeditiously.
Do you believe there is disconnect between African American hip-hop artist and HBCUs? If there is disconnect, what could be done to fix it? If not, what could be done to strengthen the relationship?
Young Malice: Well, there’s definitely a disconnect but like most problems in life we encounter it can be FIXED. As an artist, I’m forced to be capable of placing myself in another’s shoes and seeing ALL angles and not just my own view on things. With this being the case, I can understand why this “disconnect” between HBCUs and hip hop artists exists. I think that the HBCUs within our nation have worked so hard to shed this negative image, which has plagued us as black people for SO LONG that when anything or anyone does not conform to the standards that have been implemented they tend to be shunned. It’s deeply rooted and it will take a lot of work to understand and meet at a “common ground”.
Jarrett Carter: Absolutely. I think somewhere between controversial lyrics and the typical Ivory Tower arrogance mixed with the cultural obligation to “show others how to do better,” we totally ignored and ostracized hip-hop from HBCU culture. Which is particularly weird, since we have no problem inviting some of the more profane and controversial artists to campus to help sell homecoming concert tickets. The quickest way to build relationships with hip-hop is by genuinely drawing upon their skills and interests within the campus environment. How do you standout from others in the effort to be signed? (Career development) How do you market a product to vastly different audiences? (Personal branding) How do you stay grounded while financing so many people to manage your career? (Community empowerment) There are so many lessons to be learned from young sisters and brothers in the hip-hop community, if only we didn’t see ourselves as better or more enlightened then they are.
Some believe that hip-hop artist love HBCUs from a distance because the majority of the fans that buy the music are not African American and therefore do not want to alienate them. Do you believe this to be the case? Or misunderstanding?
Young Malice: Maybe some artists feel like they won’t be accepted by HBCUs and then again, maybe some desire no acceptance at all. I can recall many instances that shows that were booked at predominantly black colleges were canceled at the last minute mysteriously. It’s because certain artists represent EVERYTHING that the HBCUs are AGAINST…and that’s just the truth of the matter…period. It’s deeper than records sales and fans. End of the day, you just ARE who you ARE. I love my HBCUs from up close, never at a distance…but the relationships need work.
As someone who grew up in Mississippi you have a ground view of the history between HBCUs and TWIs in the state. The discrepancy between Alcorn State, Jackson State, and Mississippi Valley State (combined endowments of $23 million) versus Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Southern Mississippi (combined endowments of $876 million) is overwhelming. It is hard to imagine institutional reparations being given by the Mississippi legislature but do you believe it is worth pursuing to even the field? Or do you see other ways HBCUs could even the resource playing field allowing them to effectively compete?
Young Malice: There won’t be any reparations. I have no complaints about growing up in Mississippi, because this place taught me so much. People will do whatever you LET them do and that’s my view on it. The HBCUs here have withstood the test of time, kept their dignity and class…even in the midst of blatant underfunding and being overlooked time and time again. Each one of those historically black colleges you named previously has something VERY special about them! I’ve visited them all and each has it’s own unique feel. You can feel the LOVE…and that’s something that money CAN’T buy. We know why the bigger colleges get the bigger funding. It’s not a hidden injustice, especially in Mississippi. The agenda is CLEAR and in your face. Time to come together – HBCUs and the hip-hop community…it’s bigger than US!
There are some who would say that because some of the negativity in the mainstream media about the images of hip-hop at times as violent and misogynistic that HBCU leaderships tend to prefer to not view these artist as potential donors or partners despite the potential impact it could have institutionally. Would you say that is an accurate statement?
Jarrett Carter: I think that is accurate, but if it is accurate, have HBCUs as the hubs of academic and cultural development reached out to these artists to give them new perspective on their artistry? Have we given them opportunities to travel, exposure to scholarly works and cultural information that helps them to grow?
Aside from the obvious financial support what are some ways that you believe hip-hop artist and the genre could best serve HBCUs philanthropically?
Jarrett Carter: I believe that before money, hip-hop artists could be some of our greatest and most influential brand ambassadors. By just wearing hats and t-shirts, or namedropping campuses in their songs, or consistently promoting their time spent on HBCU campuses, we could engage a totally new generation of HBCU enthusiasts across racial and economic lines.
What advice would you give to hip-hop donors new to the world of philanthropy?
Jarrett Carter: I would encourage hip-hop artists and executives to be open to hearing from HBCUs about opportunities for visiting lecture, specific opportunities to fund programmatic projects and initiatives, and to avail themselves to students working to enter fields of study in the performing arts – theater, opera, jazz, etc – thereby making themselves benefactors of historic and culturally important Black art forms.
In 2012, Forbes reported the top 20 earners in hip-hop pulled in an estimated $415 million in earnings and possibly hundreds of millions more by artist who choose to keep their earnings more private. All 100 plus HBCU endowments combined have combined endowments of only an estimated $2 billion with some HBCUs having no endowment at all. What do you envision being a win-win relationship between hip-hop and HBCUs that could see some of these earnings finding their way to HBCUs?
Young Malice: I would say EMBRACE the hip-hop community or just try to embrace the elements of the culture that you are most comfortable with. Some artists tend to be a bit more extreme than others but then again so are some actors. If you wouldn’t turn Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson away from your doors, then try to understand that most artists are just attempting to paint a picture…just so happens to be that it’s through your stereo. If the MONEY is good enough to be embraced, then the individual should be also. In my opinion – EMBRACE the hip-hop community with open arms – don’t be so quick to “judge”.
Jarrett Carter: In my mind, a mutually beneficial opportunity for HBCUs and hip-hop is if rappers are recording and publishing music from HBCU campuses with shared publishing and distribution rights. That students are involved in every step of a produced project – from A&R, to production, to marketing, to distribution. This ensures that the artist can build individual wealth, and that the schools can build endowments and scholarship opportunities.
In closing, both of you grew up as the rise of hip-hop was taking place. What was your favorite hip-hop memory as it related to an HBCU?
Young Malice: My favorite moments will be when I rock the HBCU crowds around the nation!
Jarrett Carter: The legend of Jay Z being scheduled to perform at Morgan’s homecoming concert in 1996, showing up late, and upon arriving, saying into the microphone, “I’m not coming out until ya’ll pay me my f*cking money.”
Thank you to Mr. Young Malice and Mr. Jarrett Carter for participating in this interview.
Thanks for this, William.