Lanetta Dickens is majoring in English and minoring in African American Studies. She served as an intern in Special Collections during Spring 2012, working on preservation of the DJ Screw Sound Recordings and assisting with the exhibition DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop.
Awready! The Houston Hip Hop Conference, presented by the University of Houston Libraries, the HERE Project at Rice University, African American Studies at UH, and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at UH, was a recent set of events honoring DJ Screw. I attended the Grafitti, B-Boy and B-Girl Exhibition opening, and the panels/presentations of A Screwed Up History. The art show showcased local Houston artists and their artwork in original display. The event was a success, with free food and fun entertainment.
The panelists involved in the conference were knowledgeably aware of DJ Screw and the Screwed Up Click (S.U.C.). Participants on the panels included rappers, artists, writers and scholars who informed the audience about the history and culture of Hip Hop in Houston. One of the scholars, Dr. Ronald J. Peters, Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center, managed a discussion on the effects of syrup with rapper ESG and DJ Lil’ Randy of the S.U.C. The topic was first introduced with a definition of the drug, how rappers and individuals were using it, and the results of using the drug.
“Syrup” is a recreational drink based on prescription cough syrup made with codeine promethazine. Both S.U.C. members considered syrup an addictive drug, the use of which was a secretive act initially. However, due to the spread and popularity of syrup, consequences soon emerged, and law enforcement began investigating the drug. Lil’ Randy and ESG expressed their feelings and reactions, saying that they were somewhat surprised by the spread of its popularity. This type of information about the evolving culture of hip hop is important for understanding the African American community and the individuals who have shaped that community.
The Hip Hop conference was an experience that I will remember for a lifetime. I was enlightened by the conversations and discussions that were associated with the growing music empire. As a minor in African American Studies, I have learned to appreciate and acknowledge the Hip Hop culture that has extended throughout the world. Hip Hop has made a contribution to our society as a means of expressing and documenting the truth about ourselves.
Janai Smith, today’s guest writer, was the first Special Collections intern in a new partnership with African American Studies. Throughout the Fall semester she worked on the exhibit DJ Screw and the Rise of Houston Hip Hop as well as contributing to other projects related to Houston Hip Hop. Janai will graduate from the University of Houston in 2012.
For the past four months I have spent at least one day a week in the Special Collections department of the library. It has been an experience to say the least. This internship is not a mere paper pushing job, as some may assume, but a chance to be a part of the process of collecting and disseminating the beauty of history and all it has to offer. In the world of online searches and “remote controlled research”, the importance of the tangible parts of history often get overlooked and sometimes lost.
One may read this and say to themselves that I am being “dramatic” or even just nostalgic but the truth is that DJ Screw was a major contributor to the hip hop culture of Houston, Texas. Historically, the contributions of African Americans to the “American” culture have been minimized to increases in crime rates, dangerous drug usage fads (i.e. sipping syrup), and other negative aspects that have been unfoundedly correlated with the hip hop culture. But this internship has allowed me to examine the hip hop culture, not only from the stand point of a fan but from an academic view.
As a psychology major I have learned that what appears on the outside is not necessarily a reflection of what is being felt on the inside and that a person’s life is affected by environment as much as it is by innate factors. Through this internship I have gotten a chance to get a more in-depth view of the lives of people who have influenced my life and the lives of my friends through their musical and lyrical expressions and will continue to do so for years to come; not just the commercialized part of their life that was formatted to be on display but also some of the private aspects that made them human.
This has been an enjoyable experience working with the staff of Special Collections as well as being able to be a contributing party to the preservation of a piece of my own culture and in a way being a part of the telling of my culture’s story.