Hip Hop & Higher Education: Honorary Doctorates


This month colleges and universities across the nation are celebrating their graduates. Graduations have been a big deal in academia since the first classroom was introduced. Hip Hop has not always been big on graduating since a lot of artists left school for whatever reason(s). Some are lucky to be able to leave school in order to pursue dreams and success beyond the classroom but in certain impoverished areas going to school was the least of your worries. In some places where gang violence is the norm staying home from school buys you another day in the land of the living. A lot of poor people within Hip Hop Culture have to quit school and work. They are forced by adults or life circumstances to quit school and spend their time doing something to generate income for their family. We see a lot of students staying home from school to raise younger siblings while mom and/or pops is at work. Hip Hop music is the score to that movie. We’ve all seen it whether we wanted to or not. So how do you go from dropping out of school to becoming a Common or a Kanye West earning honorary doctorates?

First let’s educate ourselves and those who don’t know what an honorary doctorate really is. Doctor, what is it and what does it really mean? A PhD is a doctoral degree however a doctoral degree isn’t always a PhD. You have all kinds of doctors; MD (medical doctor), JD (juris doctor), PsyD (psychologist) the list goes on. What it isn’t is a free degree or the right to call themselves a doctor. An honorary degree can be a Masters or a Doctorate degree but it’s usually a doctoral degree. However most of the time when a speaker is giving a commencement speech at a graduation they will receive their honorary doctorate at that time. Last year we saw P. Diddy get his honorary doctorate at his alma mater Howard University. Even though he didn’t finish to pursue his entrepreneurial spirit he is still considered an alumnus of that institution because he is a former student. There were other honorary degrees awarded by Howard that year but Diddy was the face of the ceremony.

This past graduation commencement weekend Kanye West received an honorary doctorate from Chicago University while Common received his honorary doctorate from HBCU, Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. Both Diddy and West had negative backlash from the student body for being honored but I believe they deserved it and they both displayed a great deal of humility. Hip Hop deserved it. When our artists are in the limelight for something so positive that has a direct reflection on Hip Hop because their contribution to Hip Hop is why they’re being honored. Imagine how many Hip Hop artists actually deserve honorary doctorates. It’s funny because Harvard, Duke, William & Mary, and other predominantly white schools have Hip Hop archives and collections but I have yet to hear them honor any artist with an honorary doctorate. Chuck D already has a Bachelor’s degree so why wouldn’t you honor him with a doctorate degree in politics or sociology, I mean anything! Killer Mike is making his way up the ladder now surely he deserves a degree.

Hip Hop should continue striving for such distinguishing honors but at what cost? We as a people have always looked to the oppressor for acceptance and looked down upon our own. If we our artists continue to be honored at high academic levels will they seek the predominantly white institutions or will an honorary degree from an HBCU hold the same weight as a high school diploma?


2 comments on “Hip Hop & Higher Education: Honorary DoctoratesAdd yours →

  1. I genuinely enjoy the fact that more artists are able to use music and their celebrity as the primary vehicle for making positive contributions to society and/or culture. I feel that the increase in public recognition of this is a good thing. However, personally I have always viewed honorary degrees, for the most part as payment in lieu of monies for someone famous to give a commencement address. It annoys me when those who receive honorary doctorates use the title “doctor” as though they have done advanced research and made a significant contribution to the generation new knowledge in a given field. It diminishes the efforts of those who have given four to ten years of their life to study, research, attending conferences, writing hundreds of pages in essays, papers, proposals, and a dissertation which has to be approved and defended amongst a panel of experts in the field. While it can be perceived as “cool” for a high profile entertainer to have a piece of paper that one institution gives as payment for a commencement address or for something the individual has done in practice, the scholarly reference of “doctor” should never be used, in my opinion, by someone who received an “honorary” doctorate. Not without the caveat be noted that it was given as an “honor” and not earned. Just my opinion.
    Kanye is definitely in my top 5 or 6 hip-hop artist and I dig his IDGAF attitude (most times), but at what point does the narcissistic mindset come into play? Winning Grammys, AMAs, Billboard awards, being one of TIME magazines most influential people, etc. not enough? Guess I’ll be looking for my pal Kanye to expect a Nobel Prize nomination for peace, economics or literature next year or else there will be hell to pay!

    1. They discourage the honorees from using the term Dr. in that way but maybe they should just call it an honorary degree to separate itself from the real deal

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