For the third time in recent years, Harvard University has selected another leader from the Triangle’s arts and academic community for the school’s hip-hop mission. On Monday, area poet Dasan Ahanu announced he had been chosen as the 2015–2016 recipient of the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship at Harvard. The nine-month fellowship at Harvard’s Hip-Hop Archives Institute and W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute grants scholars and artists an opportunity to prepare an academic year’s worth of research for a project that contributes to “hip-hop and the discourse.”
“I’m going to be studying and analyzing lyricism in hip-hop,” says Ahanu. “I’ll be identifying lyricists and looking at what is distinct about them and their songwriting styles and the types of songs they make.”
Ahanu, or Chris Massenburg, has long been one of the Triangle’s busiest poets. Complementing an already-full schedule as a performer, writer and recording artist, he coaches the award-winning Bull City Slam Team, hosts the weekly City Soul Cafe poetry open mic in Raleigh, teaches a creative writing course at St. Augustine’s University, and unrelatedly, coaches the Blue Star Carolina Girls basketball team.
Although The Hiphop Archive & Research Institute granted fellowships in the past, it wasn’t until July 2013 when the school named the fellowship for legendary lyricist Nasir Jones. Ahanu points to that reason—along with the opportunity to work under one of the world’s most preeminent scholars on African-American history, Henry “Skip” Louis Gates—as to why he wanted the fellowship.
“As someone who lives with words, I was like ‘Aw, man, I would love to be able to contribute to that,’” Ahanau says.
Before the fellowship took its current name, Duke University professor of African-American studies and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal and Grammy-winning producer 9th Wonder were also selected as fellows at The Hip-Hop Archive & Research Institute. Last year, the film The Hip-Hop Fellow, which chronicled 9th Wonder’s tenure at Harvard, made its world premiere at Durham’s annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.
“I really want it to be an inspiration for folks to start to really think about all the different ways in which they can use their talents instead of just having their eyes set on this one narrow path, in terms of commercial success,” Ahanu says. “There are other ways to get out there and do your thing.”