By Darcie Nicole B.M. ’01
“Let me just soak it in… I don’t even know how I’m standing here…” The opening of the incomparable Missy Elliott’s humble, encouraging commencement address was devoid of egotism. Those who have been at Berklee long enough also needed to soak it in. Missy tapped into the ether. How she came to be standing there was a path forged by her musical bravery, compelling creativity, and groundbreaking innovation paralleled by a foundation that was built—sometimes against the grain—at the college for nearly two decades prior.
Watch Missy’s address at commencement 2019:
When I started in 1995, on campus, The Real Book jazz reigned. Rock and pop had legs. Latin and Middle Eastern music were starting to emerge. The number of African American students, faculty, and staff per capita was small. R&B’s presence showed up in a few classes and a handful of expert faculty. Those classes, plus the Gospel Ensemble (Dennis Montgomery III ’88), were what students of black music had to hold.
Many of the students, myself included, were listening to, composing, and performing hip-hop and urban styles, but hip-hop had not yet gained a prominent foothold at Berklee.
The 15-year journey story of hip-hop’s visibility at Berklee is full of toil; a deeply collaborative effort among forward-thinking, justice-seeking faculty, students, alumni, staff, administrators, and industry guests.
Hip-hop expresses far beyond the genre and subgenres rooted in Black American music. Its culture surpasses superficial trappings and commercial exploitations. The same sociology created the early organisms that multiplied into one of the most multifaceted, multi-ethnic influencers in the history of contemporary music. Hip-hop, like its jazz grandparents, does not seek permission nor external acclaim to possess value and power.
The 15-year journey story of hip-hop’s visibility at Berklee is full of toil; a deeply collaborative effort among forward-thinking, justice-seeking faculty, students, alumni, staff, administrators, and industry guests. The long overdue honor of Missy Elliott, and correlating Commencement Concert tribute, serves as a collective accomplishment of our vision. Many of us invested and this moment was one of our most rewarding returns.
Darcie Nicole is a trusted consultant and publicist, R&B vocalist and songwriter, and cofounder of the Boston Hip-Hop Alliance/Hip-Hop Academic Alliance. A former Berklee staff member, she serves as English Program admissions recruiter and English content writer for External Affairs at Berklee Global Partner Rimon School of Music in Israel.