I took my #BreakBeatLit class record shopping last semester. Actually, we didn’t go record shopping; we went digging. I told them that digging is a competitive, archival practice through which hip-hop DJs and producers discover source material for making music. They search basements, flea markets, record stores, and other locations for vinyl records they can play or sample to make hip-hop music. This practice extends back to Jamaican soundclash traditions where rarity, scarcity, and secrecy translate to cultural capital. It encapsulates a crucial ethos of hip-hop culture: search and discovery. Lucky for us, there is a record store right across from campus.
By going digging, the class practiced this longstanding hip-hop tradition. We sought to hone the skills that make up this larger practice: listening with the eyes, inferring about sounds from artwork, examining the grooves of the record for possible drum breaks, tuning into the names of musicians on the back covers, and listening not only for what the break is but what the break can be. Of course, many of these skills parallel and even surpass in complexity the archival work of the formal academy. (Maybe no accident there’s a record store called Academy Records in NYC.)