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Rapping with Adam Krims

Music professor pioneers rap music study in Canada

Seven years ago, when he was in his twenties, music professor Adam Krims first listened to the music that has become a personal and professional passion of his.

He recalls that when he really paid attention to the music, which was playing at the home of an urbane friend, he "was shocked at just what sophisticated music it was, and how different it was from my stereotypes."

Krims wasn't introduced that day to classical or jazz, or any other type of music frequently regarded with lofty pretensions. It was his first foray into hip-hop music —specifically, the music commonly know as rap—a form of popular music in which lyrics are spoken or recited over musical tracks. Since joining the U of A as a sessional instructor in 1993, Krims has made the Department of Music one of only a handful of scholarly bases for the study of hip-hop as a musical and cultural force.

"The University of Alberta music department is one of the few places in North America that would let me do what I do," says Krims, a native Bostonian who has studied at Yale and Harvard. "They welcome and encourage people to study other than Western classical music."

Ironically, it is not music departments that usually study popular music—it's often disciplines such as cultural studies and communications. Krims, whose academic background is grounded in literary and cultural theory, is one of a few scholars in musical academia to study hip-hop as a musical form, as as social commentary.

A small fraction of all hip-hop music—known as hard-core or "gangsta" rap—for lyrics that are sometimes violent or misogynistic. But negative public perceptions don't deter Krims from its study. "That, in a sense, is one of the big reasons that I tend to champion hip-hop," says Krims. "Mainstream society has been successful in demonizing it, and some measure is needed to counterbalance that."

Published Autumn 1996.

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