During the week of March 12, Siena held its 5th annual Hip Hop Week to bring recognition to the social and cultural influence of the music genre.
This year’s festivities featured three main events: Keynote Speaker Wu Tang Clan’s Masta Killa, a “Spoken Word Workshop” where students finessed, perfected, and invested in their untapped lyrical potential, and “’I’m Not Racist’: A Conversation” in which students joined the Political Society and BLSU in thoughtful dialogue on a Joyner Lucas music video.
On Monday, March 12, Wu Tang Clan’s Masta Killa visited Siena to speak about his experience with hip hop and as a member of the Wu Tang Clan, an American hip hop group from Staten Island that took off in 1991 and still composes music today. The Wu Tang Clan, a “group of brothers” as described by Masta Killa, is currently celebrating their 25th anniversary together as a party of nine hip hop artists.
The event was opened by Christa Grant, director of the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center, who introduced Todd Snyder, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, and facilitator for the keynote speech.
“Hip hop is more than just something on iTunes,” said Snyder. “It’s a culture, and people love it.”
The keynote address transformed into a Q&A session as Masta Killa addressed the audiences eager questions. When asked about why he fell in love with hip hop, he brought the room back to when he was a child listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” He had a deep love of soul and good beats, and begged his mom for the records even though they didn’t have a turntable. The reason for his musical passion? “Music is a universal language,” Masta Killa said. “It’s a form of entertainment and education.”
Masta Killa not only shared his hip hop legacy with the Siena community, he informed them of life’s truths and the importance of passion. “Love,” he said, “is one of the most precious things everything is born from,” that love being what leads to vision and passion.
When asked what he thinks of the idea that modern hip hop artists disrespect the true origins of the hip hop genre, he told the audience that those artists are young and haven’t yet experienced the many things his songs were about. “Some things you have to grow to really understand… that’s life,” said Masta Killa. His reference was how children think love songs are slow and boring, because they haven’t yet learned of love, and that some things you don’t truly realize until you grow older.
Something people may not know is that Masta Killa and the game of chess go hand in hand. One of his famous songs, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” was inspired by the game itself, which he would play with his group members for hours at a time. When asked why chess was so inspirational, important, and universal, Masta Killa answered with, “Chess is relative to life.” He said that it enforces patience, penalty, and thinking before speaking. He advised to “look, listen, and observe before we think and speak,” and chess teaches us just that.
In regard to chess, life, love, passion, and everything that Masta Killa touched upon, perhaps the most moving statement he made was that knowledge and wisdom are the most important things in life, “knowledge being the foundation of all things in existence and wisdom being the way we show it,” something that music helps to convey.
A renowned hip hop group, Wu Tang Clan has been given homage in songs written by modern artists and hip hop groups such as Drake and 21:03, which Masta Killa says he is very humbled for. Although he truly believes in these modern artists, he is worried about the future of hip hop because he thinks it’s a genre where emotion is a necessity, and today’s technology causes a loss of emotion due to minimal socialization. But, however large this concern may be, Masta Killa still has hope.
“Everything that’s big started small,” he said. “If someone is really determined to be the greatest at something, I don’t’ doubt them… the only thing that gets in the way is yourself.”
This year’s event was sponsored by:
- Damietta Cross-Cultural Center
- Student Events Board
- Student Activities & Leadership Development
- Residence Hall Association
- Office of Community Living
- Political Science Society
- English Department
- Black and Latino Student Union