UCC music lecturer wins €2 million global hip hop study grant

29 Nov 2018
Professor Griff Rollefson, lecturer in the Department of Music at UCC, who has been granted a €2m five-year European Research Council grant to fund research into hip hop. Photo: Provision.

UCC lecturer in Popular Music Studies, Dr J. Griffith Rollefson, has secured a €2m research grant to undertake the world’s first global study of hip-hop music and culture. 

The award from the European Research Council will fund a five-year project to study hip hop on six continents.

Dr Rollefson and a team of researchers will investigate how and why this highly localised African American music has translated so easily to far-flung communities and contexts around the globe.

“The answer lies in the ways that the art form privileges local knowledge as a key to unlock global truths. Hip hop imagines the world from a bottom-up rather than top-down perspective. What’s more, it’s a form of progressive populism that has the capacity to correct our current path towards bigotry and intolerance, so I think it’s time to listen to these voices that are on the front lines of history," Rollefson said.

Indeed, hip hop resonates with people all around the world. As the Turkish Berliner rapper Chefket said in an interview with Rollefson: "Maybe they didn't know it, but they were speaking to me in my community too."
From Knocknaheeney to Compton

Rollefson sees evidence of this in the resurgent Irish hip hop scene: from the urban critique of Dublin’s Kojaque to Rusangano Family’s reporting on the immigrant experience that connects Limerick to Africa through the trio’s sounds and stories.

“What all this music has in common is deeply local pride that is nonetheless open and collaborative. As such, this global research will have as much to do with Knocknaheeny as Compton, examining hip hop from New York to Cork, Cape Town to Manila," he said. 

He points to the words of Afro-Irish, Limerick-based Rusangano Family in their track, Lights On:

"Thought I had to be American, thought I had to be English, everything else but Irish
Before it's the black boy from Caimans school surrounded by white like my Iris
I just wanted to be Harlem, I just wanted to be London
I just wanted to be Trench Town, now it's time to be Shannon"

“Hip hop has gone global because hip-hop is rooted in storytelling. As the late Dublin singer and song collector Frank Harte often said, ‘Those in power write the history, while those who suffer write the songs.’”

The research initiative is titled CIPHER – an acronym for Le Conseil International pour Hip Hop et Recherche (The International Council for Hip Hop Studies), which is the group of global hip hop experts at the project’s core.

The €1,995,776.03 grant will allow Rollefson to hire four post-doctoral research positions in Ethnography and Digital Humanities and direct two fully-funded PhD students at University College Cork. Application deadlines will be announced early next year.

The project will also include the development of a new Journal and website and will allow for collaboration with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics and Digital Arts and Humanities at UCC.

Professor Anita Maguire, UCC’s Vice President for Research & Innovation commented: “We are delighted that the highly prestigious European Research Council has recognised the unique creativity and excellence of Dr Griff Rollefson’s research, and this award will enable his work to achieve enhanced global impact. UCC Research Support Services look forward to working with Griff to ensure that this impact is fully realised.”

Allen White, Research Officer with the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences at UCC said, “The CIPHER award continues a trend where many of Ireland’s major ERC successes have been driven by Humanities and Social Science researchers. In an era when national research funding is so imbalanced towards STEM disciplines and applied research, it is critical that we recognise and celebrate the significance of the Humanities and Social Sciences in raising Ireland’s international research profile and reputation for excellence.”

Department of Music at UCC
Head of the Department of Music at UCC John Godfrey said, “Dr Griff Rollefson’s extraordinary achievement is a striking affirmation of the quality of his outstanding research. The Department has a long and rich tradition of excellence in both scholarship and practice across an extraordinary diversity of musical genres and disciplines, and the Department’s exceptional wealth in the area of popular music is expanded beyond imagining by Dr Rollefson's global research project in Hip Hop.”

Head of School, Professor Jools Gilson added: “We have just celebrated the 2018 Oireachtas wins of our sean-nós singing tutor Máire Ní Chéileachair who was awarded the coveted Corn Uí Riada, and music student Nada Ní Chuirrín who is the 2018 Buaiteoir Steip, and now this €2 million award for hip hop research. These significant acknowledgements of the work being done in the Music Department at UCC speak deeply to our commitment to tradition as well as innovation.”

Flip the Script
Rollefson is the author of the first monograph on European hip hop, titled Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality (https://europeanhiphop.org/). The seeds for the CIPHER initiative can be found in that 2017 book – as can Rollefson’s love of Irish hip hop. He tweets @cybergriff.

For more on this story contact:

Dr Griff Rollefson: jg.rollefson@ucc.ie.  

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