When fall rolls around, the Triangle’s own Dasan Ahanu will be a Harvard man.
The Raleigh-born, Durham-based poet and MC (born Chris Massenburg) will attend the Ivy League college for nine months as the 2015-2016 recipient of the Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship, granted by the school’s Hip-Hop Archive & Research Institute and W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute.
Ahanu is just the latest Triangle-based hip-hop head to become a Harvard fellow; Duke University professor/cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal and hip-hop super-producer 9th Wonder were granted Harvard fellowships in the past. After consulting with them, Ahanu knew what he had to do. “Honestly, the application was just you talked about why you wanted the fellowship,” Ahanu says, over some iced tea at the Barnes & Noble in Cary. “And then you had to propose a project that you’re gonna work on.”
Named after the acclaimed hip-hop lyricist (many of you know him as Nas), it’s fitting that Ahanu got the fellowship, since he’ll be spending his time there working on a history of hip-hop lyrics. “It’s a literary map of lyricism,” he says. “So, I’m gonna be looking at lyricism as a canon, and the characteristics of lyricists and what makes them unique and, then, looking at movements of lyricism over time.”
Obviously, Ahanu will be covering the icons, from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to Kool Moe Dee to the whole Native Tongues crew. But he’ll also cover MCs like Kool Keith and Ras Kass, rappers whose dense rhymes have made them cult figures.
“The hope is to see connections through each period ... so that you can see across time some of the same techniques being utilized,” he says. “And so, the hope is to set up a conversation that can look at modern-day rap artists in a different way, because there are some things. Even though the music overall – the commercial industry, really – has a stranglehold on what music makes the airwaves, there are still certain things that these rappers are doing that are technical. Some of it purposely, some of it by imitation. But there are things that I think I would like to point out.”
For a guy who’s been loving hip-hop since he was spitting bars around the high-school lunch table, it took Ahanu awhile to officially become an MC. He originally started hitting open-mic nights as a spoken-word artist in the ’90s – and even then, he was so wracked with stage fright he had to go by a different name just to get onstage. (BTW, his stage name is Native American: Dasan means “ruler” and Ahanu means “someone who laughs.”)
“When I got back home from college, the poetry community was where I found a home at first,” he says. “So it was by getting comfortable performing in that community that I felt comfortable then going out and throwing myself into the hip-hop community.”
Eventually, the Triangle’s hip-hop world welcomed him into the fold, as he would release mixtapes of his own as well as collaborate with local MCs like L.E.G.A.C.Y., Azon Blaze and others. But his credits don’t just end at making rhymes. He’s also a resident artist at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center and an assistant professor of English and creative writing at St. Augustine’s College. He’s one of the founders of the Black Poetry Theatre troupe and is the coach of Durham’s Bull City Slam Team.
But to make himself at home once he gets to Harvard, dude needs to make sure he has enough funds. So, Ahanu’s been crowdfunding, recently launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $5,000 he needs to transition from the Triangle to Boston. He’ll also be throwing a “Going Away Send Off Fundraiser Jam” for himself this Saturday at the Pinhook, where he and longtime cohort DJ Whole Wheat will get a turnt-up party going for those who’ll hopefully make some donations.
“I’m just making sure that I have everything I need to make sure I can capture the whole experience, and gather all the research and things that I need, so that I can make sure that once I leave, I can see the project all the way to fruition,” he says.
Well, good luck at Harvard, Mr. Ahanu – and good luck trying to teach these kids that there’s more to hip-hop than Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan.
What: “So Fly: A Going Away Send Off Fundraiser Jam for Dasan Ahanu”
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham
Cost: Donations are welcome
Info: 919-667-1100 or thepinhook.com