Hip-Hop: From the Valley to the Mountaintop

Sarah Davis, Staff Reporter

Marshall welcomed hip-hop artists Deep Jackson, Shelem, Duke Johnson and Scantag to campus for a performance and panel discussion on hip hop, Appalachian identity and Black culture on Thursday, Feb. 16.

Among the artists were Amy Alvarez, poet and English professor at West Virginia University, Dr. Angie Luvara, sociologist at Frostburg State University and Eric Jordan, music artist and coordinator for West Virginia University’s Center for Black Culture and Research. 

Jordan, who served as keynote speaker of this event, informed the audience on the rich hip-hop history in Appalachia, highlighting the beginning of the Black Arts Movement in 1965 and its founder, Imanu Amiri Baraka.

He also expressed the influence of upbringing, discussing the artistic career of his father, particularly The Norman Jordan African American Arts and Heritage Academy. The artistic camp was first held in 1980 in Clifftop, West Virginia at Camp Washington Carver, the first African-American 4-H camp in the United States.

“The impact that this art has on kids is amazing,” Jordan said.

Jordan continued to talk about the influences of his family, movies and what he calls “hip-hop bootcamp” at Marshall University in 1986, where he found others with a passion for hip-hop.

He went on to describe the moment he found his passion after listening to the 1990 album from A Tribe Called Quest, saying, “I cried because I wanted to be a part of something like that.”

Jordan then became a “full-time broke musician” and got involved in FatHead Records.

In conclusion, Jordan shared a song of his, “Something’s Gotta Change,” about police brutality and left some words of advice to experienced artists. 

“We gotta stay active, so we can pass this on. Be mentors to the new talent coming up; be supporters and resources to the new talent coming up,” he said.

Hip-hop artists Deep Jackson, Duke Johnson, Scantag and Shelem then performed for the audience, showcasing their talents and discography. All of the artists reside in West Virginia. 

The artists were introduced by Corey Cunningham, Marshall’s coordinator of fraternity and sorority life.

Following the performances, Amy Alvarez moderated a panel discussion including the artists: Dr. Angie Luvara and Eric Jordan. Alvarez asked the panel a series of questions regarding Appalachian culture and the presence of hip-hop in that culture.

When prompted, Luvara described Appalachia as a broad musical area that is hard to define.

“You’ve got people bringing other regional sounds into our region and then taking those elsewhere, and then bringing them back again,” she said. 

In closing, Alvarez asked the panelists two parting questions. The first, their individual thoughts on the Grammys. Second, their advice for aspiring artists. 

The advice included the importance of enjoying the journey, maintaining authenticity and learning the business.

“Stay true to yourself, be humble and be open-minded. Be willing to take advice. Be willing to know your rights from your wrongs; let somebody teach you,” Scantag said.