Do Savannnah

Armstrong professor delves into Outkast, Southern culture during fellowship at Harvard

 

Armstrong professor delves into Outkast, Southern culture during fellowship at Harvard

17 Feb 2016

LEARN MORE

See more of Regina Bradley’s YouTube videos HERE.

 

When I speak to Armstrong State University professor Regina Bradley, Ph.D., on the phone, she’s just settling into her first day of a semester-long fellowship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Her academic specialty? Southern hip hop, with an emphasis on Georgia’s own superstars, Outkast.

If that seems like an unusual subject for academic study, that’s because it is. Hip hop, with a history now spanning four decades, is still a relative newcomer to academia.

“I think that the academy is playing catch-up,” Bradley says. “They see hip hop as this brand-new thing. It’s only over the last 10 to 15 years that we’ve seen a substantial amount of scholarship.”

Bradley, a native of Albany, Ga., views the study of Southern hip hop as a stepping off point for a broader study of the Southern black experience. For younger generations, this music has been one of the most obvious expressions of what it means to grow up and live in the South.

“I have a profound respect for what people like my grandparents did during the Civil Rights movement, but those experiences don’t reflect my own in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Anything after the 1960s, there’s very little in place about what cultural experiences young Southerners have.”

What makes Bradley’s work so relevant is this broader application. Her personal experiences inform her academic decisions, and she would like to see her work reach people outside of the scholarly world.

The focus of her Harvard fellowship is the completion of a book-length manuscript called “Chronicling Stankonia: Recognizing America’s Hip Hop South.” She hopes the book, like her work in general, can have both an academic and a popular appeal.

“One of the downfalls of academics is academic writing. It’s this kind of opaque and inaccessible and dull conversation on an otherwise fascinating subject,” she says. “In my writing, I consciously try to think how can I have this conversation with somebody who doesn’t have a degree.”

Most importantly, her fascination leads to honest enthusiasm. Watch a couple of episodes of her YouTube series, “Outkasted Conversations,” and you’ll be swept up in her love of the subject.

It’s clear that she would talk about hip hop and the Southern experience whether she had a fellowship to do so or not, and I got the impression that our interview could have happily gone on for much longer than it did.

The only time she faltered was when I asked her to name her favorite Outkast song.

She groaned at the difficulty of the question, and then declared, “That’s not even fair. That’s so not fair.”

She was willing, though, to name one of her favorites.

“One of my absolutely favorite Outkast songs of all time is ‘In Due Time’ off the ‘Soul Food’ soundtrack. Whenever I’m feeling extremely low and uncertain about what I’m doing, that song lifts my spirits and makes me ready to go.”

There’s no more fundamental experience of music than that.

Sections: 
Top