Hip-Hop And Virtual Jukeboxes Strengthen WFU Community
A unique art project at Wake Forest University is bringing people together musically during the pandemic.
If you’ve walked on campus recently, maybe you’ve noticed three brightly colored wooden boxes. They’re COVID-friendly, virtual jukeboxes, each equipped with quick response (or QR) codes for uploading musical suggestions to the playlist that you can then listen to on your phone.
The concept was designed by senior Rhythm Badal for her public art course, and after collecting several hours of hip-hop content from students, faculty, and staff so far, it’s creating quite a buzz.
Wake lecturer and Assistant Dean Donovan Livingston is a spoken word poet and hip-hop artist who collaborated on the project. He and Badal spoke with WFDD’s David Ford about Jukebox Therapy.
How did Jukebox Therapy come about and how does it work?
Rhythm Badal: So, after seeing how QR codes were used in different ways and having them be site specific, I started to think of something that I could do that was engaging. And music just kind of came to me one day — making a community playlist — when I was listening to the radio and just thinking about the power that music has to change your emotion and also to bring people together.
When they open up the website, the prompt is, ‘As we grapple with the emotional, physical, financial and systemic consequences of the pandemic, hip hop music can offer a source of healing, joy and reflection.’ And then they’re asked to recommend a song that has helped them through this time of divisiveness. And then they recommend this song, and it immediately goes to the playlist and they can kind of browse through the music.
Why the focus on hip-hop in this context?
Donovan Livingston: To Rhythm’s point about creating that space for people to come together, one of the reasons hip-hop acts as a critical genre to sort of do this work is that Afrika Bambaataa and all of the other forefathers and foremothers of the hip-hop movement sort of predicated hip-hop along the lines of peace, love, unity and having fun. And in this particular moment, those concepts are critical to helping us navigate this really tough time.
How are you using hip-hop music more broadly in the classroom?
Donovan Livingston: It's not to be understated that hip-hop is a Black musical tradition. And to be able to embrace or understand hip-hop you have to actively listen to folks whose stories aren’t often told in mainstream narratives. You know, if you were only to listen to mainstream artists, it paints an inaccurate picture of the Black experience and minoritized experiences more broadly. I think hip-hop challenges us to put marginalized stories at the center of our interactions with others.
So, hip-hop challenges us to ask questions about representation, about identity politics, about authenticity, about who’s absent from these conversations where power and authority are being brokered. And I think it’s more than just something that just gets the party moving, right? It’s more than something that gets the body moving. It also makes you think — when you actually strip some of the performative elements away, and you’re left with the words — and I think that’s the beauty of this project because it’s a full-body experience.
*Editor's Note: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.