From the Valley to the Mountaintop: Hip Hop in Appalachia
By Crystal Good, BlackByGod
A panel discussion took place on Thursday, February 16, 2023, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Shawkey Dining Room of the Memorial Student Center at Marshall University. The two-hour session examined hip hop music, Black culture, and Appalachian identity through a discussion featuring scholars, educators, and hip hop artists.
The keynote address was delivered by Eric Jordan, known as Monstalung, whose day job is coordinator of the West Virginia University Center for Black Culture and Research. Jordan is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, but was raised in Ansted and Morgantown, West Virginia. He has been performing since the age of 7, then as a percussionist during his father, the late Norman Jordan, poetry performances, and later as an actor in his father’s plays. Upon graduation in 1991, Jordan performed as a musician, releasing two albums and becoming head music director at Fat Head Records, and worked with many top recording artists in the hip hop genre. In 2000 he returned to Morgantown, where he and his brother, Lionel, started the group 304 Reconz, and the independent record label Soundvizion Recordingz.
“We are delighted to have Mr. Jordan as our keynote speaker. Not only is he an accomplished hip hop musician, performer, and producer, he is a native son who is deeply steeped in Black Appalachia and hip hop culture,” said Dr. Cicero Fain, assistant provost of inclusive excellence and diversity, equity and inclusion fellow at Marshall.
During the panel discussion, Dr. Amy Alvarez, an associate professor of English at WVU, moderated the conversation. The panelists included Dr. Angie Luvara, sociologist from Frostburg State University; Deep Jackson, a native of Welch, West Virginia, and veteran of the state’s hip hop scene; Duke Johnson, a native of Huntington and producer, and performer in the music scene for three decades; Scantag, a native of Huntington, and performer; and Shelem, a native of Charleston, Marshall graduate, a producer, performer, and civil engineer.
The group offered an in-depth look at hip hop music, Black culture, and how those work in Appalachia. “This panel serves as a platform to showcase local artists, discuss culturally based responses and entrepreneurial strategies used by Black Appalachian musicians and producers as well as examine some of the challenges encountered in that process,” Fain said.
Deep Jackson emphasized the importance of recognizing the roots of hip hop in African American communities and how it has evolved over the years. “Hip hop is a Black cultural expression, an extension of African-American culture, and we want to make sure that we are using this platform to showcase that culture as well,” he said.
Scantag, a new artist who gave an emotional performance, shared their experience of being a Black hip hop artist in West Virginia. “I was so happy to be part of this panel discussion because I think it’s important for people to know that hip hop and Black culture exist in Appalachia. Being a Black hip hop artist in West Virginia has its challenges, but there is a community here, and it’s important for us to be recognized,” she said.
Duke Johnson, a veteran hip hop producer and performer, spoke about his experience working in the music scene in West Virginia. “I’ve been making music in Huntington for over 30 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes in the hip hop scene here. But what’s remained constant is the talent, the passion, and the drive of the artists in this community,” he said.
Myles T., a producer who hails from Charleston, WV but is now based in LA, expressed his sentiment by saying, “This event brings back memories of home. I really wish I could have been there to witness it in person. Monstalung and Deep Jackson were my inspiration during my formative years, and now it’s heartwarming to know that there are WV kids out there who grew up listening to my beats. It’s amazing to see how the tradition lives on!”
The panelists agreed that hip hop music and black culture are thriving in Appalachia, and that it’s important to continue to create spaces for these voices to be heard.
To see more photos from this event visit Shelem Instagram and please be sure to like and follow these Hip Hop legends.