York co-hosts event series celebrating hip-hop’s 50th anniversary

Crowd shot of a hip-hop concert

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop culture, Roots Rhymes Collective (RRC), in partnership with the Toronto Urban Journal (“the Urban“) at York University and Hart House at the University of Toronto, will host a multi-part event series called We Do It For The Culture: A Hip-Hop at 50 Event Series, which explores how hip-hop developed from a hyperlocal phenomenon birthed in the Bronx, N.Y., to a global commodity and highly translatable expression of self and community.

From September through to December, the series will centre the lives and contributions of hip-hop practitioners in a series of events hosted on each of Toronto’s university campuses (York University, University of Toronto and Toronto Metropolitan University). With programming that celebrates hip-hop’s contributions to the arenas of culture, education and pedagogy, broadcasting, journalism, filmmaking and curation, the series intends to archive and preserve hip-hop’s history, honour hip-hop culture’s various artistic practices and capacity for social change, build hip-hop networks across various sectors and support intergenerational exchange.

Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert
Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert

“Hip-hop culture has always been more than an expression of the creative arts,” emphasizes Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert, course director of York University’s Hip Hop and the City course and chief research officer at the New York City-based Hip-Hop Education Center. “In the 50 years since its creation, the culture has shaped the contours of our everyday life, practices and institutions, including the knowledge production practices of the university.”

D’Amico-Cuthbert is also an adjunct professor in York’s Urban Studies program, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and the director of archives and historical preservation at the Roots Rhymes Collective. The collective, made up of music industry professionals and academics, has created a program intended to work collaboratively with artists to explore the role of hip-hop in social activism, commerce, community-building and storytelling.

The event series will include an array of in-person activities such as fireside chats, professional development sessions, panel discussions, artist workshops, a conference, film screenings and an exhibit talk. Across the many events, the Roots Rhymes Collective will engage a cross-section of artists (MCs, DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, beat-makers, producers, directors, photographers and fashion designers), as well as those in sectors adjacent to hip-hop (radio, television, film, education, curation, business and commerce).

A key component of the series will be a commemorative art piece that has been commissioned to celebrate and document Toronto hip-hop history. The piece, The First 50: Toronto’s Hip Hop Architects, was illustrated by incoming first-year Seneca@York student Jones Amare Au-Duke, with curatorial support from Jeff “Spade” Duke (also known as Crazy Roc of the Graffiti Knights). “When I heard hip-hop, it was the first thing I encountered that felt like me,” shares Duke. “To be a part of that history – to see it validated in this art piece – it feels like my contribution to the culture was truly meaningful. I hope that when people see this art piece, especially young people, that they get that same aspirational feeling that I had when I first heard hip-hop.”

With additional event details to be released each week, the first batch of events include the following:

  • Citizen Kane’s Spade: Toronto’s OG B-Boy, featuring a moderated conversation with Jeff “Spade” Duke, Michele Geister, Main Source’s K-Cut and Down to Erf’s Mathematik (and music by DMC champion DJ Versatile) – Sept. 22
  • The debut of the art commission The First 50: Toronto’s Hip Hop Architects, which will also be installed and hosted at the Talking Walls Art Gallery at Hart House throughout Fall 2023 – Sept. 22
  • Know the Ledge: Hip-Hop Education, Pedagogy and Professional Development, for educators interested in learning more about hi-hop culture and how to incorporate it into classroom curricula and pedagogy – Oct. 6
  • Producers’ Circle, featuring a conversation and workshop on music production and beat-making with Main Source’s K-Cut” – Oct. 18
  • Lyricist Lounge, featuring a conversation and workshop on rap lyricism with Dan-e-o (of the Monolith Crew) and Keysha Freshh (of The Sorority) – Oct. 27

To learn more about the We Do It For The Culture event series, or to register for upcoming events, visit rootsrhymescollective.com or follow the collective on Instagram @rootsrhymescollective.