UB's Fireside Chat series: Hip-hop and pop in the classroom

Professor Judith Goldman capped off final chat of tri-semester fireside series

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The final Fireside Chat of the semester occurred Wednesday featuring English professor Judith Goldman and her presentation on how hip-hop and pop music can be used in the classroom.

Goldman stood among a small, intimate group of students in 306 with a cozy, faux fireplace projected on a TV screen – a humorous jab at the name of the series.

Fireside Chats are held three times a semester and feature a light-hearted lecture from different English professors in the department.

The series opened with a brief introduction from Randy Schiff, the director of undergraduate studies in the English department and organizer of the Fireside Chats.

“The Fireside Chat was started by Andy Stott, who is now the dean of undergraduate studies,” Schiff said. “It’s meant to be an informal talk for both the professors and the students, way for them to talk about stuff they might do on the side, to humanize them to a degree.”

Judith Goldman, a Columbia University grad school alum and an assistant professor in the poetics program here at UB, embodied the fun, casual talk with her discussion about music and poetry.

Goldman, in deciding what to present on, chose pop and hip-hop as a good balance between serious and light-hearted.

“I was trying to think of something that would be fun but still have some intellectual substance,” Goldman said.

The light-hearted tone of Goldman’s lecture was immediately apparent when she started her discussion with Pamela Anderson. Pamela Anderson isn’t just a sex symbol, Goldman said. She is also a perfect example of prosodic sound.

Goldman used Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’” and Pamela Anderson to illustrate sound patterns and how they relate to poetry, writing and language by reading her own poem about the number pi – roughly the equivalent of 3.14.

At the end of the chat, Goldman capped off her section of “Exploring Gender and Race Politics in Hip-Hop through the Trope of Female Sexual Pleasure” using the Kid Cudi song “Make Her Say.”

She connected the themes and ideas in the song with conceptions of gender, sexuality and desire.

“It’s more than a concern for female pleasure as it is an assertion of particularly thorough masculine conquest,” Goldman said. “The ability to give sexual pleasure and to manipulate feminine sexual desire [is] a means of total control.”

Goldman also touched on the use of “vocal drag” in songs, using Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars, a song featuring men in a hair salon with curlers in their hair.

“Gender is going haywire in the assertion of masculinity, it shows how inventive people are with that space,” Goldman said. “The masculine ventriloquizing of female pleasure involves men not just speaking for, but as women.”

Macy Todd, an English PhD student, found the chat very informative.

“Besides getting actual information about literary history, it also asks me to be thoughtful about areas in which I’m not usually thoughtful about when listening to music or enjoying myself and those are skills that are definitely useful when studying English literature,” Todd said.

While Goldman was not able to touch on all of the topics she had wanted to in the hour-long chat, she managed to cover topics like Edgar Allan Poe and Gerard Manley Hopkins, comparing them side-by-side with Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and Enur’s “Calabria 2007” featuring Natasja.

The student group in attendance was smaller than usual, which made the talk more intimate than others have been in the past. This allowed all the participants to get a chance to get involved in the discussion – everyone could create their own gem of knowledge.

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com