Hip-Hop Week offers chance for Kid Cudi opening performance

By Larissa Gula

Pitt students will embrace the culture of hip-hop next week as WPTS radio station hosts its… Pitt students will embrace the culture of hip-hop next week as WPTS radio station hosts its annual Hip-Hop Week, which includes DJs in dorm lobbies, a DJing competition, a live on-air show and a dance on Friday.

This year WPTS is collaborating with Pitt Program Council to plan the competition, scheduled for Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Nordy’s Place. Students are welcome to watch the competitors. At press time, 11 groups had signed up to compete.

The winner of the hip-hop competition will be announced after the show on Tuesday and will open for the PPC-sponsored Kid Cudi concert in March.

At least half of a competing band’s members must be Pitt students, but otherwise the contest is completely open to any eager performers, according to Corey Mizell (aka DJ KaraZmatiK), the hip-hop director for WPTS.

Mizell, a part-time Pitt student, has always been a DJ. He said this year’s collaborations between WPTS and PPC presents a major opportunity for students in bands.

“For anyone who’s always wanted to do this, this will be a one moment to actually see what it would feel like to see what it would feel like to perform for thousands for students,” Mizell said. “It can probably get people to pursue this as a career … It takes a lot of nerves to get up in front of a lot of people on a massive stage and perform your music and hope they like it.”

Former WPTS director Marcus Harris, also a Pitt student, will perform in the competition with his group, the BNVz.

Harris is the founder of Pitt’s annual hip-hop week, which he hopes explains and shares the culture of hip-hop.

“A lot of people think it’s a type of music,” Harris said. “But it’s a culture based on urban storytelling. It’s based on young people wanting to tell their story no matter what their story was.”

Hip-hop culture has its roots in 1970s New York City, according to James Peterson, assistant professor of English at Bucknell University. Peterson teaches African-American Literature and studies hip-hop culture.

Peterson explained hip-hop has four main elements: break dancing, DJing, graffiti and rapping. During the 1970s, economic and socioeconomic factors such as the closing of art centers led to the need for expression in urban areas.

Today hip-hop is “just the most recent installation of African-American oral and folk culture and musical intervention,” Peterson said. “Hip-hop is part of the historical continuum of production which is largely responsible for all American music. Hip-hop is also a repository. It samples jazz, moves like the blues, and it’s basically merging with R&B.”

Hip-hop is also welcome in mainstream music and culture because of historical events, according to Peterson.

“It’s a black art form, but it was based in diverse communities. It was always pretty diverse,” he said.

Music changed in the 1980s. Content shifted from “public enemy” to a “gangster consumerist form of the music that is accessible to mainstream,” Peterson said.

Part of hip-hop culture tends to include alternate names or personas between daily life and stage life, something Mizell says he’s just “always done.”

“There’s always a persona name which is like an alter ego because I’m a completely different person when I’m DJing a party or when I’m outside of my element, or being everyday Corey,” Mizell said. “Now it’s time for me to go to my second job, be the entertainer for the night and bring the energy for everybody. It’s always been that way. If you see them in interviews they’re a completely different person than when you see them at a live show. It’s like a natural instinct.”

“DJ KaraZmatiK” is Mizell’s current stage name and was suggested to him by a friend. Mizell changed names when he switched between performing groups because he “wanted a new, refreshing name to summarize him now.”

Harris, however, has a slightly different take on the alternate name.

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it my persona,” Harris said. “It’s like a child. When a child is born they don’t get to choose their name, but in hip-hop, because it’s about expression, you get to redefine yourself. You get to choose who you want to be. In life you don’t get to do that.”

Harris explained his stage name is MH the Verb, a name that came about because he was a very active, energetic person when he came to college.

“I’m not a noun, not a person. I’m a way,” he said.

Harris also explained some aspects of hip-hop are not straightforward, such as why it tends to be a male-dominated culture, or why the same artist will seem to give conflicting messages in their songs.

“It’s conflicting at times, but we’re all conflicted at times, and that’s the beauty of hip-hop,” Harris said. “It’s a bit of a positive outlet even when it’s not so positive.”

For Mizell, the collaboration of the competition and PPC with Kid Cudi is a significant event during Hip-Hop Week.

“It allows all people to see all organizations can work together and not be so separate,” he said. “This is a major institution but many organizations bringing many people together for one common cause. People rally together for a national disaster or tragedy, but we can’t even do it within the interlinking of our own university, you know?”