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Collection celebration highlights hip-hop culture, history

{{youtube:medium|57YULzuUemI, Hip-hop goes live at Swem.}}
It wasn’t long ago that Jerome Waller ’13 was a fixture on William & Mary’s campus, attending classes, studying in the library and relaxing in the Sunken Garden. While keeping his focus on his studies – or else disappoint his education-minded mother – he always found time to attend hip-hop events on campus, even performing at a few.

“I wasn’t as much of an artist while I was here because I was trying to grind out a degree. Now that I finally got the degree, I can maybe go dream chasing a little bit,” Waller said.

Raised in Virginia Beach, Waller first realized his passion for music in the church. Starting off by playing a number of instruments, it wasn’t long before he found himself obsessed with hip-hop. Although he always considered a career in rap, it wasn’t until his years at William & Mary that he decided to pursue his dream. In 2011, Waller linked up with long-time friends Stephen Archer (aka Ceazthekid), and Keith Taylor '13 (aka Adum West) to create the hip-hop group the Mile High Club.

Now known in the music world as J.B. da Pilot, Waller has been collaborating with artists such as Cyhi the prince, Phil Ade’ and Skyzoo. He recently returned to his alma mater to perform during Swem Library’s Second Annual Hip-Hop Collection Celebration.

“It wasn’t that long ago that I was in Swem pulling all-nighters,” Waller said. “As an alum, I always feel like it’s important to come back. This was an experience, to say the least of my time here, so it’s just nice to come back and reminisce a little bit and also look forward to all of the great things that are coming.”

{{youtube:medium|evxmN7bn7qc, Waller '13 and Taylor '13 rap at their alma mater.}}
The celebration, sponsored by Swem Library, Alma Mater Productions and the American Studies Program, was designed to not only bring attention to W&M’s Hip-Hop Collection, but to highlight issues surrounding hip-hop culture and history. Two panel discussions were held during the day, bringing together musicians, professors, entrepreneurs, producers and radio personalities such as Mark Anthony Neal of Duke University, Cymandye Lady C, Zulu Queen MC Lisa Lee and M$ Blendz.

Other event activities included live outdoor performances, mural art by W&M visiting instructor John Lee, a reception and a display of collection artifacts.

J.P. Aleman ’16, co-captain of W&M’s S.M.I.L.E.S. Crew, joined his fellow crew members dancing to the sounds of DJ Bee of Fresh Radio as he spun records in the library’s Botetourt Gallery.

“We’re here today because b-boying is hip-hop. It’s one of the five elements of hip hop, which are DJ-ing, MC-ing, graffiti, b-boying and then knowledge,” said Aleman. “Asked if we would like to perform here, we were like, ‘Of course! It’s for hip-hop!’ We were pretty excited.”

Joining Waller for the outdoor performances were J’sar, Intalek, the Virginia Grind Family and Handles.

J’sar, or Justin Saar, attended last year’s celebration and was eager to return to William & Mary. He credits Kevin Kosanovich, the curator of the collection, with giving Virginia hip-hop a home. 

“Hip-hop is like the red-headed stepchild of music, and to see William & Mary, such a prestigious college, actually honor our culture, I just had to be a part of it,” he said.

Last year, the College officially launched the William & Mary Hip-Hop Collection, thefifth national hip-hop collection and the only one devoted to chronicling Virginia’s hip-hop culture and history.

The idea for the collection came from the research of Kosanovich, an American studies doctoral candidate and a student employee at Swem Library. In preparing his dissertation, which examines the history of hip-hop in the Bronx, Kevin used the resources of Cornell University’s hip-hop collection. His involvement with Cornell’s archive sparked a desire to see more of hip-hop’s wider history preserved.

“Two years ago, Kevin brought his vision to us and since then he has worked tirelessly to build this collection. We are so very thankful for all of his efforts and for recognizing Swem Library as the perfect home for this collection,” said Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries.

Included in the collection are items such as S.M.I.L.E.S. Crew’s first boombox, a cassette tape of Mighty MCs recordings and a Blendz award. The collection includes contributions by Magoo, Larry Live and Big B of the Boodah Brothers.