The 9th Wonder Department of Hip-Hop at Duke University.

Sorry, this doesn’t exist—yet. A department of hip-hop is hardly an unimaginable prediction. But it would represent a fundamental change in the way many universities teach music, and the arts in general. 

I’ll use the 9th Wonder Department of Hip-Hop to represent three trends I hope to see in arts education among our institutions of higher learning over the next two decades: inclusivity, integration, and collaboration. Specifically, I’d like to see more a more inclusive definition of what it means to major in the arts; better integration among the various arts at the university level; and a more robust and equitable collaboration between universities and local arts communities. A department of hip-hop would, or at least could, do all three. (By the way, if you’re not a Duke fan, imagine your preferred alternative, maybe the Rapsody Institute at N.C. State or the DaBaby Department at UNC-Chapel Hill.)

At any given moment, students are making beats on their laptops or rapping in front of their mirrors. Few see their university’s music departments as welcoming spaces, and, as far as I know, no area students can major in hip-hop. Most music departments cater to those who study Western classical music, and to a lesser extent, jazz and musical theater. Are you a rapper, or for that matter, a banjo player, rock drummer, or gospel singer attending one of our fine local universities? Giving a senior recital in your chosen genre is an unlikely scenario. 

But why shouldn’t students have this opportunity? I believe that any student who wants to have a life in music should be able to major in music, and this is one of my wishes for 2040, though preferably sooner.

Hip-hop, contrary to common usage, is not synonymous with rap. Rap, a form of vocal performance, is just one element of hip-hop. There are other musical practices (beatboxing, beat-making, and DJing), as well as dance, fashion, poetry, theater, and visual arts, under the umbrella of hip-hop. Imagine a department that housed so many different artistic practices (whether hip-hop related or not) under one roof, one mission, one overarching curriculum. What an incredible opportunity for students, faculty, artists, and audiences to experience and witness transformative artistic encounters. Alas, the siloization of the modern university makes this kind of cross-fertilization the exception rather than the norm. The truly integrative arts department—and I don’t mean a school of art that houses music, dance, etc. as distinct units—is my wish for 2040.

For the last two years, I’ve been overseeing MUSC 493, Music Internship, at UNC-Chapel Hill. The student interns have been working with rapper and entrepreneur Kaze, owner of the recording studio VibeHouse 405 and co-owner of Local 506, a music venue. The students learn real-world music industry skills, while Kaze, who enjoys mentoring, has smart, industrious student assistants. Partnerships like this aren’t that unusual, but they’re not common enough, and our universities need to do a better job of fostering them. And frankly, universities need to treat local artists better. Too often, we invite them into our classrooms without paying them, and it’s nearly impossible for many, however qualified they are, to teach as official faculty members. I know quite a few artists and arts entrepreneurs who can never be considered an “instructor of record” at UNC-Chapel Hill. That’s because they don’t have a PhD or a master’s. Why is having a master’s degree sufficient to teach hip-hop, but having Grammys and platinum records and decades of relevant experience not? So here’s another wish for 2040: University arts programs that forge truly collaborative and respectful relationships with the people who give life to our local arts scenes.

I call these wishes rather than predictions because I’m not confident we will see this kind of change. Institutions transform slowly, and although universities are said to be hotbeds of liberalism, faculty can be insistently conservative when it comes to change. But if we can adopt music streaming and mobile apps into our teaching, maybe my dream won’t languish in the realm of speculative fiction.

Mark Katz is a professor of music at UNC-Chapel Hill and the founding director of the Next Level cultural diplomacy program. Comment on this story at Click here to read the rest of our 2040 predictions.

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