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December 6, 2019
Authentic: Kashi Johnson
Authenticity has always been the cardinal rule of Hip-Hop. The mantra of “keeping it real” was an expression of both street solidarity and being true to oneself. For Kashi Johnson, Chairperson and Professor of the Department of Theatre at Lehigh University, it’s also a way to introduce students to the world of the performing arts—and to help students find their authentic voices.
A Lehigh University alumna who has now been a professor there for twenty years, Kashi does this through her course titled “Act Like You Know: Hip Hop Theatre.” Students in the course don’t just read articles and discuss Hip-Hop, they actually do it. They learn acting techniques and rehearse performance projects rooted in the foundational pillars of Hip-Hop culture: MCing, DJing, graffiti writing, and breakdancing. The class culminates in a final show open to Lehigh and the surrounding community.
“I grew up in New York City in the early 1980s when hip hop culture was being born,” Kashi says, “so I get my love for the culture honestly.”
One of the early assignments in the class is for students to come up with their own Hip Hop alias. In Hip Hop culture, nicknames are sometimes assumed, sometimes given by others. Kashi’s alias is the alliterative, double entendre of “Queen Kash.”
“I did not call myself Queen Kash!” Kashi says, with a laugh. “All of my students started doing it, and it’s very lyrical. But that’s Hip Hop, that’s respect, so I accept that crown.”
But the “Act Like You Know” course isn’t about the Queen Kash experience. It’s about a bridge of connection between student and educator, built to help students find and unapologetically speak their truth.
“It works because everybody brings their true self to whatever it is that they do,” Kashi says. “My job as the teacher is just to make sure it stays authentic.”
To learn more about Kashi, visit KashiJohnson.com.