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Rinaldo Walcott

Culture critic analyzes rap and hip-hop music

Professor Rinaldo Walcott (MA 1993, PhD 1996 OISE/UT) excuses himself from a telephone interview. A song by the hip-hop duo OutKast plays in the background. The 39-year-old cranks up the music, then returns to his call.

How cool is the life of U of T’s Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Cultural Studies? “It’s absolutely wonderful, because I’m a pop-culture junkie,” says the native of Barbados who came to Toronto as a teen to improve his educational opportunities. “My life is my work and my work is my life. It’s fun, but it’s serious fun.”

In his first book, Black Like Who? (Insomniac Press, 2000), Walcott analysed rap and hip-hop music, film, and literature to discern the differences between African American and black Canadian culture. “In the U.S., you can presume a national black presence, so you have national organizations that presume to speak on behalf of the black population,” says the social scientist who teaches at OISE/UT. “In Canada, groups tend to organize along other kinds of national or black ethnic lines. It poses a challenge to articulate a unifying voice.”

As an expert on contemporary black culture, Walcott has appeared on such TV shows as counterSpin, Studio One and The New Music. Currently, he’s developing a Web-based archive of short films and videos made by various minorities – ethnic, queer and feminist – that have both shaped and contested our understanding of Canadian culture since 1960. “My work is about using blackness and black people as an example to rethink how we can live with multiple forms of difference.”

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