Catch the Blast of a Hype Verse: Hip Hop as a LIS Professional Ethos (Guest Post by Alex Carroll)

Hip hop has become a part of the academy – Bun B is a frequent guest lecturer at Rice University, Questlove teaches at NYU, and, it turns out that there are more than a few hip hop heads in this library game. After going back and forth for the last couple months about how the lib game reminds us of the rap game, Kevin invited me into this space to share some of my thoughts on what lessons a librarian can learn from hip hop, and how this education might fill in some gaps in the current LIS curriculum.

1. Self-Promotion and Self-Confidence

You can’t talk about hip hop without talking about self-promotion. Previously, I’ve heard critics zero in on self-promotion as one of the most odious aspects of hip hop music: “all these rappers do is talk about how great they are and how rich they are.” I don’t want to dismiss this critique out of hand, because self-promotion can be annoying. Like many things, self-promotion falls flat when it feels inauthentic. For example, I’ve never found the Rick Ross’ flow or his tales of moving bricks particularly compelling, and that was even before he was revealed as a former corrections officer.

But in spite of examples like the Teflon Don, the narrative of self-promotion as a major problem for hip hop has always seemed totally misguided to me. One of the things that I find most compelling about hip hop is how insanely self-assured these dudes are, even when all evidence suggests they shouldn’t be. It took an insane amount of hubris for Jay-Z to drop a track in 1996 called Brooklyn’s Finest. Here you’ve got a guy on his first LP, putting himself on a track with Biggie Smalls and calling himself one of the best two rappers in Brooklyn. And here’s the crazy part: people actually believed him! Reasonable Doubt went certified platinum. No wonder Nas and Mobb Deep were so pissed.

Why were listeners so captivated by Jay-Z’s seemingly empty boasts that he was the King of New York? Because he actually believed it.Whether Jay-Z was actually better than Nas, Prodigy, or Havoc didn’t matter – this isn’t sports, so there’s not some scoreboard we can use to rank them. Jay-Z presented himself as the best over and over again, and did it so convincingly that people eventually just started to agree with him. That was Jay-Z at his finest: a hustler that could sell water to well, with self-confidence so irrepressible that he kept grinding until he became the G.O.A.T. more through sheer force of will than through talent.

What does this have to do with librarianship? Well, this library game can beat you down man. It can be a cold world out here, and the streets are undefeated. Real success doesn’t come easy in any walk of life, and librarianship is no different. Setbacks and resistance from colleagues can make it really easy to start feeling like a failure and a fraud. That’s why it can be useful to remember the first commandment of hip hop – if you don’t believe in you, ain’t nobody gonna believe in you. Self-confidence is the only thing that will enable you to do great, interesting work, instead of just doing the same old wack shit everyone else has done before you. An authentic sense of self-confidence will empower you to try a new approach to teaching an old topic, or to write blog posts on existentialism and Carolina basketball. More than anything else, self-confidence is what moves our profession forward. As an added benefit, self-confidence also is what’s going to get you interviews for jobs you want, and get you hired.

2. Branding

While I was in in library school, I was frequently told how important “creating and managing my brand” is. I was told to create a sharp looking professional portfolio on a personal website, and to create a presence for through social media that stays “on brand.” Unless you want to grow up to be Darren Rovell, this is terrible advice. Being “on brand” is the antithesis to authenticity, which makes it damn near heretical in this corner of the Internet.

“Branding” is terrible corpro-speak, an awful idea born of marketing account executives; buying into branding will turn you into a post-human who interprets everything within the twisted perspective of a marketing drone. Want to know what being “on brand” does to someone? It transforms the hungry artist that was early career Jay-Z into late career Jay-Z, a guy more interested in selling phones than making hit records. Creative, interesting people are rarely “on brand.” Being “on brand” will make you unhappy, and will transform you into a miserable person to work with. Despite what late career Jay-Z would have you believe, the real philosophy of hip hop is this: if you believe in yourself and the work you do, you won’t have to worry about branding – real recognize real, and good work sells itself.

3. Haters

The LIS curriculum doesn’t prepare you for haters.  When I say haters, I’m not referring to colleagues who professionally and cordially disagree with conclusions you’ve made. A disagreement based on different interpretations of evidence is not hating. Real haters don’t rely on evidence, or theory, or any best practices – haters base their professional worldview around their own professional intuition, and exclusively use their personal experiences and opinions to try to tear down you work. While librarianship probably is more collaborative than most professions, nevertheless there are player haters out here. The fact is, in any creative endeavor or profession, if you’re doing great, disruptively innovative work, you’re going to ruffle some feathers and attract some shine blockas. Any time you’re doing something great, there are going to be people detracting from what you do. When you ball so hard, motherf**kers will want to fine you.

This is where hip hop can help you the most – it can give you the kind of mindset you need to handle haters. Hip hop reveals what haters really are:  halfway crooks, scared to death, and scared to look. Haters, simply put, are shook. Haters are jealous that even though you started from the bottom, you’re now here, and they’re still there. So how should you deal with the haters you’re going to encounter? You keep grindin’. You keep dropping tracks and murdering bars. You let ‘em know that if they ain’t running with it, then they best run from it. So go ahead, switch the style up, and if they hate ‘em hate and watch the citations pile up.

Alex Carroll is a science librarian at an academic research library in the Mid-Atlantic. He earned his M.S.L.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2013, and holds a B.A. in History from James Madison University. His research interests include improving information literacy instruction for undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences. In his spare time, he enjoys IPAs and watching the Tar Heels. He can be contacted at alexanderj.carroll at gmail dot com.

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2 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts, On Being Human, The Library Game

2 responses to “Catch the Blast of a Hype Verse: Hip Hop as a LIS Professional Ethos (Guest Post by Alex Carroll)

  1. Kevin Michael Klipfel

    Although there are so many substantive, excellent points in this post, I’d like to put in an added +1 for the following point specifically:

    “When I say haters, I’m not referring to colleagues who professionally and cordially disagree with conclusions you’ve made. A disagreement based on different interpretations of evidence is not hating. Real haters don’t rely on evidence, or theory, or any best practices – haters base their professional worldview around their own professional intuition, and exclusively use their personal experiences and opinions to try to tear down you work.”

    This is way too often overlooked. One place where this is most obviously talked about in the profession is in resistance to conceptual change and, especially, with the stuff you hear people talking about w/r/t this so-called divide between “older” and “younger” librarians. Substantive disagreements are not what young librarians are complaining about when they think that colleagues who’ve been in the profession for longer than they’ve been are resistant to new ideas; it’s when old ideas are presented as fact in absence of any actual reason to believe what’s being asserted that is at issue.

    What is strange about this, to me, is that we put ourselves forward as having some degree of expertise in research, and what this means, in part, is that we’re supposed to be people who do believe things and do stuff in accordance with the best available evidence. This is what information literacy librarians are supposed to be teaching their students, but then we tend to relax this criterion when it comes to our own cherished ideas.

    This is contrary to evidence-based practice, or to put it another way, it’s way too easy to fail to practice what we preach: “You (student) should believe the stuff based on the best evidence; but I (all knowing, professional librarian) will continue to follow my intuitions in my own professional practice, *even when* those intuitions conflict with what the evidence suggests.

    It ain’t about young or old, having grown up with technology or not, or anything else that people put out there: to me it’s about whether we hold ourselves to the intellectual and professional standards that we profess when in front of the classroom, but don’t always adhere to in our own working lives.

  2. Pingback: Open-Mindedness and the Role of Evidence in Belief-Formation and Practical Decision Making in Library Practice | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

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