“How dare you give me a multisyllabic word? Can’t you see I’m a scholar but not a nerd?”
When senior English major Keyona Shabazz asked for topics as she freestyled in front of her peers, one student called out suggestions from fish to armadillos to that multisyllabic juggernaut: “Constitution.”
Last night, students gathered in the Formal Lounge for an evening of poetry, but not the Gerard Manley Hopkins kind. This was rhythmic poetry — also known as rap.
More than 20 students attended the first meeting of a new campus club, the Intramural Rappers’ Society.
Shabazz, who organized the event, said it was meant to provide a platform for students to express themselves in an unfamiliar medium.
“The goal is to introduce the body of Hillsdale College, both professors and students, to the art form of freestyling,” Shabazz said on a Facebook page for the event.
After Shabazz freestyled, junior Joe Pappalardo recited what he called a “middle class rap”: “They ask what we slacking for / we’re middle class so actual … ”
Then Associate Dean of Men Jeffery “Chief” Rogers spit a rhyme.
“I don’t need a mic,” he boomed when Shabazz offered him a microphone.
Rogers said he wanted to participate in the event because he loves collaborating with students.
“Hillsdale has always been a place where we learn about one another in community,” he said. “This event provides an opportunity for all of us to learn from one another. Rapping is a cool medium that can really get the message across.”
At the end, six students volunteered to freestyle. Most were nervous and few stayed for long, but some had come prepared.
Sophomore Jemima Gapuz recited a rap she wrote two years ago. She said as an aspiring writer, she was excited for the event.
“This is perfect, because this is where all the bars will be spit, this is where all the fire will be spit, and it’s going to be awesome,” she said.
Shabazz said she got the idea for the event a couple of weeks ago as she and Rogers were chatting over breakfast after sharing about a slam poem she performed at Poetry Out Loud on campus in April.
“We were talking about that, and then I don’t know if Chief said to freestyle, or if I said that I could go right now — truthfully, it could have gone either way, I don’t remember — but I do remember that I did drop a verse at breakfast,” Shabazz said. “And it was a good verse. I was proud of myself; it was a solid verse. And he just said it’d be cool to have an event where professors and students could do that. And it was like a lightbulb went off in my head — but also the bass dropped.”
Shabazz, who occasionally freestyles at parties on campus, credits her upbringing in urban Texas with her appreciation for rap. She said the Intramural Rapping Society will start meeting every two weeks beginning the second week in October.
Above all, Shabazz said she hopes to bring people together to appreciate one of her favorite art forms.
“Rap has been so divisive among racial lines,” Shabazz said. “I’m a black girl asking white people to rap. But that’s okay! I want you to do it. I want you to indulge in this culture, to begin to understand a little bit more of it, you know? ‘Cause it really is for everybody, because it’s music.”