It’s more a case of straight outta Cork rather than straight outta Compton, as a music professor from University College Cork has landed a €2m research grant to undertake the world’s first global study of hip-hop music and culture.
Despite his obvious ‘Rapper’s Delight’, Griffith Rollefson doesn’t mean to brag and doesn’t mean to boast, but the award from the European Research Council will butter his toast and fund a five-year project to study hip-hop on six continents.
The San Francisco-born, Milwaukee-raised academic has been teaching in UCC since 2014 when he was hired as the university’s first lecturer in popular music studies.
He said this followed in a college tradition, as UCC was the first Irish university to study traditional music and with the department focusing on the performance, composition and scholarship of various musical forms.
“I remember walking home from church in 1983 and seeing kids breakdancing for the first time, I was hooked”, he said of his long-running love affair with hip-hop and its various sub-genres.
He has already published a well-received book, Flip the Script: European Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality but Rollefson believes the research project will lead to a new book as well as an academic journal and a global council.
Yet while the €2m fund will allow him to hire four post-doctoral research positions in Ethnography and Digital Humanities and direct two fully-funded PhD students — in the words of Eric B. and Rakim, “paid in full” — it will not just focus on the global impact of hip-hop, with Rollefson name-checking Irish acts such as Speculative Fiction and Rusangano Family.
He said that hip-hop is “deeply local” all over the world and describes it as a “progressive populism”.
In his view the music has gone global because, like many forms of traditional music, it adapts to the people who listen to and play it and it is anchored in storytelling.
And for a man who also answers to the title of Professor Griff, might he end up meeting his namesake from Public Enemy, the other Professor Griff?
“I hope so,” he says.
A breakdown of the research application and details of the Syllabus for Dr Rollefson’s Global Hip Hop Course is available at europeanhiphop.org/related-resources