For students searching out study spots on Sunday evenings, a peek inside Berkus Hall 243 reveals an unexpected scene: students freestyling and rapping along to artists such as Tupac, Kanye West, MF Doom and 50 Cent.
This energetic group is Occidental’s Hip-Hop Knowledge and Subculture club, established this semester. Juniors CJ Maruyama and Earl Park* combined their mutual appreciation for hip-hop to create a space for like-minded peers to come together.
“Our first two years on campus, it had always been a tad difficult finding others with similar tastes in music,” Maruyama. “With this club that we have created, we can now bring together hip-hop heads to meet.”
The group meets every Sunday at 5 p.m. in Berkus Hall. During meetings, members share their favorite hip-hop songs, artists, albums, films and music videos. They also watch films to ensure everyone is well informed about the history of the genre. According to Maruyama, this is a critical aspect of the organization because of hip-hop’s politically-driven and serious messages.
“This club is important because hip-hop is a vital form of expression and instrumental in giving a voice to those who have historically not been heard,” Shannon Reese Jones (sophomore) said.
The last 15 minutes of each meeting are set aside for freestyles and cyphers—a “rap battle” in which the freestylers take turns performing—that are open to all skill levels. Club members seek to create a comfortable and welcoming environment.
“Most of our members are not used to freestyling, so our club meetings give them a chance to practice and hone their unique styles,” Edmond Quan (junior) said. “I like to think our club meetings are safe spaces for improvised, poetic self-expression.”
Although the club has only existed for a few weeks, Maruyama said it has already attracted a passionate membership. New students are welcome to stop by and check out the meetings. Self-expression is encouraged, and even inexperienced rappers can join in the freestyling.
Along with providing a space for musical experimentation, the club aims to teach members about the diversity of hip-hop culture. Through films and discussions, students learn about the subculture associated with the genre.
“Hip-hop is a culture, not in the ethnic nor racial interpretation of the word, but a subculture in which anybody—rich, poor, rural, urban, male, female, whoever—can conglomerate and bond in ways that only something as beautiful as music and art can accomplish,” Maruyama said.
The club upholds Occidental’s mission of diversity by exposing students to works from artists of varying backgrounds and points of view.
The members exhibit a strong passion for the hip-hop world and want to share what they have built with the rest of the Occidental community.
“We feel this club adds another facet of judgmental-free cultural diversity to the Oxy campus, and hope to have created a lasting presence on campus,” Maruyama said.
In essence, the club is a learning environment—a casual classroom where new and old information is constantly being exchanged, discussed and appreciated.
*Earl Park is a member of the Occidental Weekly staff.