A hushed horizon of books, speakers, and vinyl are scattered along the walls of the Race and Popular Culture Lab. Figuring out the science of words is something Adam Bradley has done for most of his life.
“I was taught at home until high school by my grandmother, a tremendous teacher who introduced me to the joys of poetry-Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley,” Bradley said.
“At the time I was reading these poets-around the age of ten or eleven-I was also listening on the sly to Run DMC, LL Cool J, and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five,” Bradley said. “Even then I could sense a connection between the craft of the poets on the page and the MCs rapping from the stage.”
Bradley continued to plant the seeds of his future career, although he did not know it until he went off to college.
“It took going off to college and then to graduate school for me to cultivate a vocabulary for what would become the poetics of Hip Hop,” Bradley said.
During graduate school, Bradley worked with the likes of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cornel West while earning his doctoral degree in English from Harvard University. This was followed by an assistant professorship at Claremont McKenna in California, and then his current role as an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder.
As if being a professor didn’t take up enough of his time, Bradley has also written or co-edited five different books on either Hip Hop poetics or Ralph Ellison. It was unlikely timing that led to Bradley getting the chance to work on Ralph Ellison’s unfinished work.
“I was fortunate enough to take a class from a professor, named John Callahan, at Lewis & Clark College and that professor was Ellison’s close friend,” Bradley said. “When Ellison passed away, Professor Callahan became Ellison’s literary executor, and I became a research assistant. The rest is history.”
Bradley has been working on writing books ever since. His sixth book “The poetry of Pop” is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2017. With all of this on his plate-not to mention leaving out all of the committees he is on such as the Smithsonian and other Hip Hop-related curations-there is one more thing Bradley has put all of his efforts into: the Race and Popular Culture Lab (or RAP Lab for short) on the CU Boulder campus.
The RAP Lab
The RAP Lab is still in its early years, having been birthed in the first semester of 2013. The aims of the Lab are varied and still growing, ranging from topics as different as investigating the poetics of Hip Hop across the globe, to working on creating lesson plans to work with teachers in the classroom for students in middle and high school. Bradley is quite ambitious with what he hopes the Lab can do in the present, and in the near future.
“The RAP lab is a physical place; it’s a place on campus in Cristol Chemistry, but it’s also a virtual place, a place that is a meeting of minds, a meeting of individuals, that can move wherever it is we need to move,” Bradley said. “At any given time we have between eight and two dozen people working on various projects.”
One of the two ongoing endeavors that is spanning across the world is the RAP Lab’s Global Rap Initiative.
“The idea behind this is to collaborate with artists and scholars who study Hip Hop from a number of different places across the world,” Bradley said.
The usual suspects when it comes to global Hip Hop like Australia, France, and China will be a part of this initiative, but there is one partnership that a lot of Hip Hop aficionados might not have predicted.
“Right now, we have a relationship going with a group of folks in Poland, both artists and also scholars who are thinking about Polish Hip Hop and its connections to its ancestral place in American Hip Hop going all the way back to 1970s South Bronx,” Bradley said.
Another project that is being worked on is one where the RAP Lab is able to get into classrooms before students ever come to CU. RAP Lab assistant Dillon Mader is working to create lesson plans that incorporate Hip Hop and pop music into the curriculum.
“Generally speaking these lesson plans are about bringing pop music into the classroom,” Mader said. “Thus a lot of what I do is write lesson plans for instructors to guide students through an analysis of sound and of lyrics, and that analysis can also be centered on gender, or race, or personas.”
Mader has worked on over thirty lessons plans so far, and it has taken working with a number of people ranging from coworkers to students to professors to prepare these lessons plans and to pilot the plans at the middle, high school and the undergraduate level here on campus.
Working with a correctional facility is not something most people expect to happen during their careers. Doing the expected is something Bradley tends to not do, and this collaboration is no exception.
“Right now we are working on a collaboration with a group of inmates from the Arkansas Valley Correctional Institution,” Bradley said. ““It’s a program called ‘Three Keys’, which was designed by inmates, for inmates, and delivered by inmates, which is a powerful, powerful thing.”
Bradley explains that this program is focused on not cutting ties with the gang an inmate may be a part of, due to the dire repercussions an inmate could face for doing so. This program is about learning a toolbox of skills to navigate one’s rehabilitation the best that one can while still maintaining one’s membership.
“This is a creative solution that these guys have come up with to foster a sense of self-worth and peace,” Bradley said. “We’re here to support that, not to take it over, but to give them the kind of connection to the outside world that allows them to succeed.”
The opportunity to work on such an important project for people who are incarcerated happened to come about out of the blue.
“My training is as a literature professor who also writes and teaches about popular music and culture, and this all began by virtue of that work,” Bradley said.
“After being interviewed by the local NPR radio affiliate, I got an email from a woman who had founded a prisoner advocacy group, and she said I saw what you are doing with the high school kids and it looks amazing, have you ever thought of doing the same sort of thing with incarcerated populations?”
Bradley had not thought about it, but was more than willing to speak about such an endeavor. After some conversations about getting involved, Bradley was put in touch with two men who had founded a gang awareness program at Arkansas Valley. After speaking on the phone with these two individuals for about twenty minutes, it became crystal clear what Bradley did not need to do.
“The last thing I needed to do was to go down and do a one-off presentation on Hip Hop and salve my social consciousness,” Bradley said. “They had already built something that was tremendous and that needed support from the outside, and so at that point I moved to strategizing about how best to support the work they had already done.”
The program is currently working to train inmates on continuing the work that has been done so far, and while some members have gang affiliations, and others do not, the program welcomes every inmate who is interested.
Transcription of the video:
Video begins with panning shot, looking down a hallway and then panning to the left before stopping on a door that says “Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture. Title flashes across the screen, with the words “Who is Professor Adam Bradly?” Music playing underneath is called “To The Music’ by 9th Wonder
Professor Andrew DuBois,
Co-Editor of The Anthology of Rap:
Well we’re definitely busy, I mean Adam, he’s a hard worker man. He’s the hardest working academic I know, bar none, and there’s some hard-working academics.
But, uh, so I know he’s got a bunch of stuff going on all the time, me personally I got a few things. But yeah, I’d like to collaborate on something down the road, definitely.
RAP Lab Assistant:
So I found myself working for the RAP Lab about two, almost two and a half years ago. I first came into CU in the English program to get a masters.
I stopped in, during the summer, in the English Department office, and I, had a choice to TA a class, and I had heard a little bit about Adam Bradley prior to coming into the English department, and I also have a strong interest in Rap music, and Ethnic Studies.
Uh, So I found his work, his class, which was in Hip Hop cultures, really interesting, and thus I chose to TA for that class, Hip Hop cultures in the fall of 2014, and it’s been history in the making since then.
I should note that during that first semester, one of my recitations was cancelled. So, doctor Bradley being the caring, generous person that he is, ended up giving me an opportunity to work, to supplement those hours in the lab.
Professor Adam Bradley, RAP Lab Director:
I founded the RAP Lab in 2013 and it was a desire to bring together certain elements of my own interests and the interests of a lot of other people I know on campus, to do it thru considerations of popular culture.
Music, film-all forms of popular media that more and more are the places where we most comfortably and most powerfully talk about race.
Alexander Corey, RAP Lab Manager:
RAP Lab was actually not a thing yet.
I started over the summer working with Professor Bradley on a project that he was doing, that’s now being published now- “The Poetry of Pop” volume that he’s working on, that’s, uh, coming out on Yale University Press soon.
I’ve been the manager of the Lab for Race and Popular Culture since I think 2013.
So I got to be part of the team that started putting this together.
Professor Adam Bradley:
We know for instance that one of the projects we wanna see moving forward will involve working with school children, K thru 12, particularly focused, at least in this initial stage, on middle and high school students.
A lot of what I do is writing lesson plans for instructors, to guide students through an analysis of sound and of lyrics.
What these lesson plans do then is give a renewed focus on those rich meanings, on sound, and lyrics, and what we can take from sound and lyrics when we listen
*End credits begin
Title flashes across front of screen, “Who is Professor Adam Bradley?”
Directed by: Daniel Paiz
Interviewees (in order of appearance): Professor Andrew DuBois, University of Toronto
Dillon Mader, RAP Lab Assistant
Professor Adam Bradley, University of Colorado
Alexander Corey, RAP Lab Manager
Music: “To The Music” by 9th Wonder
“Dark Knight” by Rapsody
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this project
Filmed & Edited in Boulder, Colorado*