Hip Hop South Festival Q&A with Christopher Massenburg

Hip Hop South Festival co-curator and CPA staff member Christopher Massenburg (a.k.a. Dasan Ahanu) shares the scholarship and inspiration behind this new event — and what audiences can expect.
Photo of Hip Hop South Festival co-curators Dr. Regina Bradley and Chris Massenburg (Dasan Ahanu)
Dr. Regina Bradley and Christopher Massenburg. Photo credit: Rofhiwa Book Cafe
What inspired you to partner with Dr. Regina Bradley on the Hip Hop South Festival? 

Regina and I met while we were both Fellows at Harvard University’s Hip Hop Archive and Research Institute. Regina is a brilliant Southern hip hop scholar. When I suggested the idea of the festival, I knew I wanted to work with Regina. We’ve had so many great conversations about the culture and the South. I knew she would have the perfect perspective on the festival. 

How would you describe your co-curation process? How does your Fellowship at Harvard — and your continued scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill and elsewhere — inform it? 

The great thing about working with Regina is that we are friends. Talking about the festival is really us dreaming about a dope Southern hip hop experience that we would want to enjoy. The curation is experience first. Then we think about the logistics that can provide that experience.  

We are both products of the culture. We grew up in it and it is a part of how we see the world, how we move. We both seek to bring the South, the Black South, the Hip Hop South into our work whenever we can. It is our experience with that ongoing integration in spaces like our fellowship, our teaching, our writing, and our participation in various projects that we brought to the curation of the festival. 

How did you determine which artists to feature? What makes their work particularly noteworthy or exemplary of Southern hip hop culture? 

We started with a large list of possibilities. We wanted to make sure there was a range of artists on that list. The South isn’t a monolith. The same is true for hip hop in the South. The artists are different and distinct.  

The other thing to consider is geography. There is a Southern aesthetic, but that aesthetic also varies from area to area. What is happening musically in Memphis is different from Atlanta, New Orleans and North Carolina. It makes for a really beautiful puzzle to work with. Of course, we also wanted to make sure North Carolina was represented in this festival.  

How do the festival artists and academics tie to CPA’s Southern Futures initiative? 

Southern Futures aims to imagine a more just and inclusive vision of the American South. I believe that to do so it is imperative to consider the role of hip hop in the story of the South. Hip hop is a revolutionary culture that pushes back at rigid conventions. It offers folks an outlet to speak about the material conditions impacting their life. It also allows for a celebration of their South own their terms.  

Southern Futures’ mission is to examine the past of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and greater community; and imagine the future, focusing on humble listening and community engagement, bringing storytelling and art to the foreground. Storytelling is a big part of Southern hip hop music. There are rich and beautiful stories to be told and Southern rap artists tell them in compelling fashion. 

Southern hip hop scholarship is still making sure the academy knows the South got something to say. It was critical to hold space within the festival for Southern scholars to be able to connect and network. Fighting for room within the academy for your scholarship can feel daunting, but knowing that you are part of a cadre of scholars pushing the Hip Hop South to the forefront can be encouraging and affirming. We wanted folks to be able to know what work was being done, share experiences and resources, and build new relationships. An initiative like Southern Futures provides an opportunity to center Southern art and scholarship. 

How would you describe Southern hip hop culture to those who may be less familiar with it? What makes it distinctly different from the broader hip hop culture and canon? 

I can’t describe Southern hip hop to someone. I can let them know that it is its own flavor of wonderful. I can assure them that they need to experience it. Commercial representation doesn’t do it justice. The festival is a chance for people to really immerse themselves in the culture in a Southern way. Like many things in the South, you have a better understanding when you can experience in context and it its moment. So folks just need to come on down and have some fun with us.  

What can audiences expect to see and hear during the festival? 

What audiences can expect to see and hear is joy. Throughout the festival there will be excitement, anticipation and joy. There is joy when we gather. There is joy when we celebrate. When we can get together in a space held for us we can be us openly. That is joy.  

So folks should come ready to have a ball, hang out with good folks, and experience some Southern joy. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from the Hip Hop South Festival experience? 

I want folks to have enjoyed it so much they can’t wait to see what we do next. I want folks to know that this event is exactly what is needed and is a great addition to the music landscape in North Carolina, in the South.  

Get ready for the Hip Hop South Festival with Chris’ playlist: Southern Hip Hop Primer Playlist

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