Jazzmyn RED brings hip hop deep dive to Harvard

Jazzmyn RED walked into the United African Alliance Community Center in Tanzania and the first song she heard was Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Then a student at Bridgewater State University on an academic study tour, RED had traveled halfway around the world to hear a DJ in Arusha spin a hip hop classic from the States.

“I am in a whole other part of the planet and they’re playing Common, and not only Common, but old school Common,” RED told the Herald. “It was the first time I had been to Africa, returned to the motherland so to speak, and hip hop followed me there.”

Since college, Jazzmyn RED has become one of Massachusetts’ smartest, sharpest, boldest MCs — listen to recent single “The Feminist” to hear her spell it out as she booms, “brain, beauty, and bars, that’s a deadly combination.” But she’s also an activist and educator who has spent years digging into the history of hip hop. Over the next few weeks, RED will present a series of workshops, “The Hip Hop Experience,” at Harvard Art Museums — the Sunday series begins Oct. 29 and wraps up Nov. 12.

“In the first one, Music of the Movement, we go through the backdrop of hip hop and talk about the Jim Crow era and the music that pertained to that part of history, the ’60s and Gil Scott-Heron and James Brown,” she said. “Then we identify socio-political issues in the ’80s and ’90s and listen to the songs that pertain to them. We get the history context behind how we got to here.”

“The second one, The Roots, we talk solely about hip hop, how it came to be, the founding fathers, the elements of hip hop, the principles of hip hop,” she continued. “The third, The Art of 16 Bars, is the MC portion, and that’s the part I can speak to the most.”

While RED is a stunning MC, she can speak to all of this with wisdom and passion.

This century, hip hop has become a global force. RED has seen that — in 2021, she participated in the U.S. State Department’s Next Level Program and taught the history of hip hop in the United Arab Emirates and how to be an MC at Berklee School of Music in Abu Dhabi. She also knows that the roots of hip hop shouldn’t get lost as it goes global.

“It used to be that you had to discover hip hop through cassette tapes passed around communities, and now breakdancing is about to be at the Olympics,” she said with a laugh.

RED has been rapping since she was 7. But it took her a few years to realize the enormity of hip hop.

“Incrementally, piece by piece, the more I got involved in the culture and not just the craft, the more I started to see, ‘Oh, I’m part of this culture, this culture inside of the American culture, that is mine,’” she said. “We have food that’s associated with this culture. We have clothing, we have artwork, we have dance, we have storytelling. We have all the things that create a culture and it’s looked at as a music genre.”

No other “genre” has hip hop’s reach, or history, or art. And RED is the ideal person to help the world understand why this is.

For details or to book Jazzmyn RED for a workshop, visit jazzmynred.com

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