Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Event to explore Kendrick Lamar’s popular radicalism

Mon, 03/21/2016

LAWRENCE – When rapper Kendrick Lamar took the stage at the Grammys this year, he delivered more than a performance; he sent a message about black lives in the United States. A presentation sponsored by the University of Kansas will explore in-depth the influence and roots of Lamar’s blend of artistry and activism.

“Reflections on Kendrick Lamar” will feature a performance by Kansas City musical artists Storm & Co. with special guest Mae C, as well as discussions from professors and graduate students from KU and the University of Texas-Austin. It is the fifth installment in the “Make It Funky” lecture series. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Lamar, from Compton, California, has resuscitated West Coast rap in the tradition of Tupac Shakur and created a “new black aesthetic for the 21st century,” according to keynote speaker Sequoia Maner.

“Lamar is self-consciously contributing to a long history of black intellectual thought,” including W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon and Tupac, said Maner, a doctoral student in English from the University of Texas-Austin whose research specializes in the rhetoric of hip-hop. Her analysis of Lamar includes his choice of musical styles (from G-Funk to jazz to blues to spoken word), lyrics, and the messages he embeds in his live performances and album covers.

Maner’s writings interrogate relationships of power, identity formation in urban spaces, and black masculinity and subjectivity. She's interested in the mythology of “great men”; some figures she's written about include Jay-Z, Barack Obama, Otis Redding, Jean Michel Basquiat, Kehinde Wiley and Malcolm X.

“Many things led me to study the aesthetic qualities of contemporary black performance. I come from a performance background and grew up with all kinds of music in my ears, from heavy metal to hip-hop. But this project also comes from a more personal place since I'm originally from Long Beach, California, and am the same age as Kendrick Lamar,” Maner said. “I'm interested in how we grew up just miles from one another, experienced similar events like the 1992 Los Angeles riots, yet are from two different worlds. We both made it out, and my project pays homage to that.”

A panel discussion will follow the keynote, moderated by Tony Bolden, associate professor of African and African-American studies at KU. Panelists are Ayesha Hardison, associate professor of English at KU; Jameelah Jones, a graduate student in African and African-American studies at KU; and Nicole Hodges Persley, associate professor of theatre at KU.

The performance by Storm & Co. featuring Mae C will follow the panelists.

The presentation is sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and its Department of African & African-American Studies. 

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