Thursday, February 25, 2016

Dr. Raphael Travis Jr. on the Social Healing Power of Hip Hop Culture

Dr. Raphael Travis talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by about his book, The Healing Power of Hip Hop (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture).

“Hip hop is a fuel for life.” ~Dr. Raphael Travis 

Dr. Raphael Travis is presently an associate professor of Texas State University, in the School of Social Work, in San Marcus, and is a licensed social worker who received his doctorate in public health from UCLA. He grew up in Rosen, New York, and for him, hip hop had always been a part of his environment and his life, without having the identity it is presently given. Back then, it was an underground culture, and only a few radio stations, such as college radio stations, would play hip hop music, and later on hip hop music would be played only at particular times.

Dr. Travis wrote the book, The Healing Power of Hip Hop (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture), with two audiences in mind: those who are immersed in hip hop culture and those whose only exposure to hip-hop is what they hear over the media. He also had three main goals in mind: to help people understand how hip hop changes life, and that hip hop is a fuel for improvement; to introduce people to a new generation of leaders who he calls “cultural ambassadors” or people who understand how hip hop can be used positively, appreciate the research and celebrate the richness and the empowering aspects of hip hop as a culture.

As a researcher, Dr. Travis’s line of work revolves around positive youth development rather than preventive measures, focusing on the things that people would want to see, rather than the things people don’t want to have happen, and he notes that what is measured is different, depending on the point of view that one takes: “less violence” is different from “what skills do you have,” for example. He also notes that, at the time he worked on the book, people’s discussion on the music fell into two categories - the assumption of potential negative effects of engaging in hip hop music, such as increased risk-taking; and the good things that come from engaging in hip hop - but there was rarely a discussion where both categories were covered at the same time, and this kind of discussion was what Dr. Travis was interested in. He also wanted to introduce a quantitative approach (statistics), as the qualitative approach (stories) doesn’t give the whole picture, and also noted that a good conversation springs from acknowledging both the positive and negative aspects of hip hop.

Dr. Travis clarifies that hip hop is an umbrella term under which have several different core elements - dance (B-boying), graffiti (mural art), MCing (rapping), DJing (which introduced the use of the turntable as an instrument, such as extending the “break” and scratching) and knowledge of self (continuous self-reflection), and that all these values essentially surround the values of self-improvement and community improvement, which is core to hip hop culture. He also notes that DJ Afrika Bambaataa created the idea of bringing all of these elements together in the spirit of “doing something different” under the umbrella of hip hop.

Dr. Travis notes that most people’s image of hip hop comes from what they hear on the radio, which gives a limited idea of what hip hop is about, since what is presented in the mainstream media is very narrow compared to the entire culture. He notes that, based on research, there has been a qualitative increase in the glorification of substances and violence presented in mainstream media, and also remarks that, while there are more empowering hip hop songs out in the market today, these might not be as accessible as those released in mainstream media.

Dr. Travis notes that there are five narratives, all of which correspond to the idea of self and community improvement, in which music is presented: esteem (trying to feel better, which includes affirming oneself through positioning and status); resilience (doing better, overcoming adversity); being better as a person (turning over a new leaf, taking a positive path); community improvement and empowerment (a better sense of belonging); and change (better conditions for the community’s revaluing). He notes that these five narratives provide the basis of using hip hop to learn and grow, and he mentions using Twitter to have conversations that revolve around using hip hop to educate and connect people.

In education, Dr. Travis notes the two ways in which hip hop can be used: creating a rhyme to help people memorize something (the most common type); and using hip hop itself to help people learn about the world (the newer generation and the method used by Dr. Christopher Emdin).

Dr. Raphael Travis’s book, The Healing Power of Hip (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture), can be found on

Purchase on Amazon: The Healing Power of Hip Hop The Healing Power of Hip Hop (Intersections of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture)

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