The HBCU Influence on Hip Hop 

Hip hop may have started out in the Bronx and Run DMC's Darryl MacDaniels may have attended St. John's University, but the influence of HBCUs-their students and alumni- on the industry cannot be denied.  For more than 25 years HBCUs have showcased up and coming stars during their Homecoming weekends, influenced their fashion choices and launched the careers of their own.  Some HBCUs like Coppin State and North Carolina Central have hired artists to teach current students about the music industry. 

From performing at local shows or even in the student union, the following artists and producers have kept students dancing for decades. Their reach is international.  

Where will the next HBCU hip hop star come from?



(Florida A&M University)

Common is an award-winning, multi-faceted entertainer. He has appeared in dozens of movies and tv shows, is a published author and a social activist.  Common first gained recognition as "Common Sense" when his album, "Can I Borrow a Dollar" debuted in 1992.  Since then he has released 10 albums including 2016's, "Black America Again." His collaboration with singer, John Legend, on "Glory" for the 'Selma' soundtrack led to an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Critics Choice Movie Award, a Black Reel Award and an African-American Film Critics Association Award.  It also netted Common his 3rd Grammy. 

(Video-"Come Close ft. Mary J. Blige") 

Tracey Lee

(Howard University, Southern University Law Center)

Lee found fame in 1997 when his single "The Theme (It's Party Time)" was released.  It was on Billboard’s Top 100 for thirty-seven weeks and reached #6 on its Hot Rap Tracks chart.  His debut album, "Many Facez" reached #23 on the US R&B charts.  Lee has collaborated with many with award-winning artists including Notorious B.I.G., Busta Rhymes and Kanye West.  Lee released 2 more albums; the most recent, "Esq: The Revelation" was released in 2014 and is a reference to the fact that Mr. Lee is now an entertainment attorney.  He recently served as a professor at Coppin State University.  

(Video- "The Theme")

2 Chainz

(Alabama State University, Virginia State University)

2 Chainz began his career as half of the duo, Playaz Circle, which was  signed to Ludacris' Disturbing tha Peace label. He signed a solo deal in 2012 and released his 1st album, "Based on a T.R.U. Story" which spawned several top 50 hits.  Since going solo he has released 5 albums and has been nominated for (and won) numerous awards including Soul Train Awards, BET Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards and a 2017 Grammy win for "No Problems" with Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne.


(Hampton University)

Kontihene is a leader in Ghana's hiplife musical style.  In 2000 his song, "Akatasia," won him top honors at the Ghana Music Awards and he followed up with "Aketesea" which subsequently won Ghana's best song of 2002 & helped introduce jama/cheer songs into Ghanaian music.  His album,  "Nyankonton," is considered one of the best hiplife albums.  He released several other albums and singles; his hit song, "Krohinkuro," was nominated for several Ghana Music Awards in 2008.

(Video-"CLAP 4 ME")


(Morehouse College)

Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) was the MC for the hip hop duo, "Gang Starr."  He is highly regarded in the hip hop industry and often considered one of the top 50 MCs of all time. Six well-received albums were released between 1989 to 2003, 2 of them certified gold.  Guru is perhaps best known for his solo "Jazzmatazz" series of albums that featured collaborations with living jazz legends.

(Video- Gang Starr/"Skills")

David Banner

(Southern University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore)

Banner started out as a member of the rap duo, Crooked Lettaz, eventually going solo. His first album, Them Firewater Boyz, Vol. 1, was independently released in 2000.  He released 4 more albums after signing with Universal Records for $10million in 2003, three albums producing top 20 hits.  Banner later released  2 more albums including 2017's 'The God Box' which critics highly praised.  Outside of a career in hip hop, Banner is also outspoken on issues involving race in the United States.

(Video-"Cadillac on 22's")


(Virginia  State & Bowie State University)

Having 1st gained fame in his hometown of DC, Wale began gaining national attention while he was signed to producer Marc Ronson's Allido Records.  In 2008 he signed a $1 .3million joint deal with Allido and Interscope Records and released his debut album, "Attention Deficit." His 3rd studio album, The Gifted,  debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. He has been nominated for and has won numerous awards, including several from African orgnizations (Wale is Nigerian-American).  His most recent album was released earlier this year.

(Video- "Matrimony ft.  G-Usher)

Little Brother

(North Carolina Central University)

After meeting in college in 1998 rappers, Phonte and Big Pooh, and DJ/producer 9th Wonder named themselves 'Little Brother' because they felt they were the 'little brothers' of the hip hop movement started by groups like Tribe Called Quest,  De La Soul and Public Enemy. Their 1st album, The Listening, was released in 2003 and was a word-of-mouth sensation.  The trio gained praise from hip hop notables like Questlove and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Four albums were produced before the group decided to disband. 9th Wonder has served as artist-in-residence at NCCU since 2014.  

(Video-"Curtain Call")


(Virginia State University)

Two East Coast natives- Dray from Brooklyn and Skoob from New Jersey, met at Virginia State University in the late 80's.  After participating in a talent show, they were signed by EPMD.  Between 1992 and 2015 DAS EFX released 6 albums together, including their platinum selling debut album, Dead Serious.  

(Video: "They Want EFX" )

Metro Boomin

(Morehouse College)

"If young Metro don't trust you..."
Metro Boomin started his career as a producer in high school.  He would often commute between his hometown of St. Louis and Atlanta to collaborate with artists. Since that time he has worked with artists like Migos,  Ludacris, DJ Khaled, Drake, Lil Wayne ane Juicy J.  He has also worked extensively with Future.  In 2016 and 2017 he won Producer of the Year at both the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards and the BET Hip Hop Awards.


(Grambling State University)

California-based E-40 began rapping in high school and released his 1st song as part of the group 'The Click'.  After a successful Grambling talent show performance, he and cousin, B-Legit decided to pursue  rap as a career.  E-40 has released more than 20 studio albums and appeared on numerous soundtracks.
(Video-"Choices (Yup)"

Lords of the Underground

(Shaw University)

The group came together as students- two MCs Mr. Funke/Funk Machine and DoItAll/ DuKelly and DJ Lord Jazz- when all three were undergraduate students at Shaw University.  Releasing their 1st single, "Psycho" in 1992, the trio followed with three top 20 hits, including "Chief Rocka" which was #1 on US Rap charts from their album, "Here Come the Lords."  The Lords were BET's 1993 Group of the Year and produced two more albums during rap's "golden era" and another in 2007.
(Video-"Chief Rocka")

Don Cannon

(Clark Atlanta University)

Cannon is a DJ and record producer who has worked with a wide range of hip hop artists including Lecrae, Jeezy, Busta Rhymes, G-Unit, Ludacris and Lil Uzi Vert.  He produced songs for two Atlanta sports teams and served as Vice President of A&R for Def Jam Recordings.  The Grammy-nominated producer founded Generation Now with DJ Drama, the label to which Uzi is signed.  

MC Ride

(Hampton University)

MC Ride is the frontman of Sacramento-based "experimental" hip hop group Death Grips, which he formed with a neighbor in 2010.  He'd previously rapped with a group called Frye that included his brother Swank Daddy and Young G. His style is considered aggressive, cryptic and dismal. A visual arts major at Hampton, he also sells acrylic paintings on his personal website.

(Video- Death Grips "The Fever (Aye Aye)")

Charlie Heat

(Clark Atlanta University)

Charlie Heat is a platinum selling producer signed to Kanye West's Very G.O.O.D. Beats.  He was nominated for three Grammy Awards for his work on West's alum, "The Life of Pablo". He has worked with  Madonna, Lacrae, Kehlani, Sevyn Streeter, Gucci Mane, D.R.A.M., and Travis Scott.

(Video: Charlie Heat featured on 'Rythm Roulette')  

Sean Combs

(Howard University)

With a networth of nearly $1billion Combs (or Puffy of Puff Daddy or P. Diddy or Diddy) is a man of many names and many lives.  The Grammy winner is a producer, a rapper, an actor and business mogul.  As founder of Bad Boy Records, he launched the careers of Faith, 112, Craig Mack and Notorious B.I.G.  His own debut album "No Way Out", released in 1997, has been certified seven times platinum.   Though Combs left Howard after his sophomore year, he has donated more than $1million to the college and in 2014 received an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities.

(Video- Notorious B.I.G. "Mo Money Mo Problems")


Photo & video credits: All videos from artist's YouTube/VEVO channel except Little Brother-"Curtain Call" from Audible Treats channel, DAS EFX-"They Want EFX" from BVMUndergroundHipHop channel, LOTUG-"Chief Rocka" from VintageHipHopSeattle channel, Charlie Heat from Mass Appeal/Rythm Roulette,  All images from artist's Instagram account. 

October, 2017 

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