At the intersection of hip hop and social action lies the University’s Hip Hop Congress, an organization focusing on the sociocultural, political and artistic impacts of hip-hop culture. Since the national organization reestablished its chapter on campus in 2010 after a two-year hiatus brought on by a decline in membership, the congress has continued to boast a strong following and promote positivity.

As a good kid in this m.A.A.d city himself, LSA senior Joe Hermann serves as the organization’s president. Often drawing inspiration from his favorite rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and their tales of triumph against gang violence and drug use, Hermann believes there is an empathetic aspect of the congress’ namesake genre.

“That’s what I think has stuck with me most about hip hop, opening me up to how people are more products of social conditions than they are necessarily poor choices,” Hermann said. “I just gained greater empathy for people of all backgrounds because of hip hop.”

This empathy and acceptance drawn from hip hop fuels the organization’s positive impact across campus. With 30-40 active members, the congress is a diverse group, yet all are bound together by their love of the music.

“When we have our meetings and we’re talking about a new album, so many people from different backgrounds think it’s dope and they can all relate to it in different ways and for different reasons,” Hermann said. “I think that’s one thing I really appreciate about our organization, how it draws together people from different backgrounds to have conversations about something they love.”

Meetings are really in-depth discussions, with topics ranging from Kanye’s latest shenanigans to the prejudices stemming from the hip-hop stereotypes. The congress serves to explore issues of race, class and the prison-industrial complex, all while striving to uphold the positive aspects of hip-hop culture’s history and significance.

“We’ll watch one or two music videos, we’ll talk about what we thought about it. I usually try to bring one or two topics of relevant hip hop news,” Hermann said. “There’s a real sense of community and we just try to have good discussions and try and create a little bit too while we’re there.”

Along with dropping beats (the organization is currently in the process of creating a mixtape), the congress attempts to educate its followers on the roots of hip-hop culture’s negative connotations.

“A lot of hip hop is very misogynistic and that comes out of other conditions, you know,‘what are the social conditions that produce misogyny?’ and often times its poverty, lack of access to equitable housing, lack of access to jobs, poor education,” Hermann said. “So when I think about music that has those negative qualities, I don’t blame the artist, but I blame the social conditions that it comes out of.”

Due to the equal focus on arts and social justice, the group includes an eclectic mix of members — complete with aspiring rappers, clothing designers and writers.

“People are both extremely knowledgeable about politics and social conditions, but they’re also extremely creative, so they’re thinking of creative ways to approach problems,” Hermann said.

The creative minded organization hosts annual events, often boasting noteworthy speakers. During last fall’s presentation by Kanye West affiliate, Rhymefest, the rapper spoke of his Chicago-based poetry workshop collaboration with West, designed to stem youth violence and foster greater political participation. During the second half of the year, the congress hosted an Immortal Technique concert at the Michigan Union.

The group also works to falsify unfavorable reputations of gang culture in various cities such as Detroit and Pittsburgh, with the help of guest hip-hop activists Piper Carter and rapper GsiriX, each from the aforementioned cities, respectively.

Events usually attract a crowd of about 200 and aim to encourage a stronger following of the University chapter. In terms of localizing the breadth of the national organization, Hermann believes in the preservation of the national organization’s ideals regarding respect and political activism and connecting these to local issues.

“For example, last year we did an event called Hip Hop Made Me Do It, which was held at Rackham and sort of around the time BBUM was happening, we tried to gather students and local leaders to talk about the actual issues related to race on our campus and in the Ann Arbor community,” Hermann said. “We tried to take the tradition and spirit of the national organization and apply it to local issues, and also just show love to local hip hop artists.”

In accordance with the goals of their predecessor rap-icons, the congress strives to eradicate the common misconception that hip hop and social justice are mutually exclusive. Hermann is hopeful that the group will continue to showcase collections of music that are neither misogynistic nor violent.

“Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Kendrick Lamar … there’s all sorts of rappers who are making music that has a positive message as well and are aware of the platform that they’re on as pop culture figures,” Hermann said. “I like that our organization has been able to facilitate meaningful conversations and left an impact on people where they’re legitimately pursuing things that aren’t necessarily hip hop related.”

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