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UMass Boston unveils hip-hop archive

November 20, 2016 GMT

The forgotten music of Boston’s early hip-hop and rap scene is being revived by two unlikely heroes: a local college and the public library.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston have been working with the Boston Public Library to compile an online archive of demo tapes by the city’s top hip-hop and rap artists of the 1980s.

The Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, which opened to the public yesterday, was created in part to reclaim the city’s role in the genres’ history.

The archive aims to connect new audiences to early rap artists such as the Almighty RSO, Guru and others who have faded from memory even in Boston.

But the project is also intended to spark academic interest in the city’s rap and hip-hop roots. Like a growing number of U.S. colleges, UMass is encouraging students to approach hip-hop as a scholarly subject. Several students have already started research tied to the archive, and the university launched a new course on hip-hop in 2014.

It joins dozens of other schools nationwide that have added classes on hip-hop in recent years, analyzing its value to fields from sociology to women’s studies.

At Bowie State University, a historically black college in Maryland, students can earn a minor in hip-hop studies. The University of Arizona says it offered the nation’s first hip-hop minor in 2012. A year later, the rapper Nasir Jones — known as Nas — established a fellowship at Harvard University for scholars of hip-hop.

Other schools with major hip-hop archives include Harvard and Cornell University. Four historically black colleges in Atlanta house the notebooks and letters of rap icon Tupac Shakur. The new archive at UMass features almost 300 demo tapes, along with audio from a local radio show whose host was credited with discovering many of Boston’s biggest acts.