This morning I learned that hip hop icon Dr. Dre and co-founder of Interscope Records Jimmy Iovine, both co-founders of Beats by Dre, donated $70 million to the University of Southern California (USC) to create the Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts and Technology and Business Innovation, a four-year program that blends liberal arts, graphic and product design, business and technology. I came across this information in an Los Angeles Times op-ed written by Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, a liberal arts black college in New Orleans. Initially, I rolled my eyes. I hate when people tell others how to spend their money, and honestly, I just assumed Kimbrough was jealous. Then I read the article…and it was GREAT! (Go read it now and then come back. Yes, go, but you MUST come back).

Kimbrough presented a logically persuasive argument. He discussed why it made sense for Dr. Dre to present the gift to USC, highlighted why it was needed at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and addressed critics who may assume that HBCUs would not have the faculty or student population to support such a program. (I told yall it was good. Go read it!). But what  intrigued me most was this one line: “A hip-hop icon is now the new black higher-ed philanthropy king.” Wow! Who knew that hip hop would take it this far…and why haven’t HBCUs made it standard practice to cultivate gifts from hip hop artists and entrepreneurs?

I’m assuming that HBCUs have been afraid to accept hip hop’s money. Over the last 35 years, hip hop has definitely become its own entity. It has been embraced by mainstream America, celebrated international, and holds a significant portion of Black wealth. However, some of the common associations with hip hop are still negative: violence, alcohol and drug abuse, hypersexualization, misogyny, materialism, and superficiality…all things HBCUs position themselves against. So to actively pursue hip hop money could be a public relations (PR) nightmare for HBCUs. Truthfully, had Dr. Dre donated $35 million (his half of the $70 million) to an HBCU, many media outlets would’ve began asking if it was appropriate for an institute of higher learning to accept a gift from a gangsta rapper. However, when a predominately white institution (PWI) accepts such a gift, that conversation never occurs because then hip hop is just music and/or culture. And it wouldn’t just be the media with these questions. Many alumnus would be in an uproar over their alma mater’s financial dealings with hip hop. Do you think Bennet or Spelman students and alumnae would sit quietly as their schools accepted money from Nicki Minaj?

But let’s say an HBCU decided to navigate this complex terrain. Who would be the top hip hop artists/entrepreneurs on their list?

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According to Forbes, the top hip hop money makers in 2013 were Diddy ($580 million — y’all really like Ciroc, huh?), Jay-Z ($475 million), Dr. Dre ($350 million — he gave 10% of this to USC), Birdman ($150 million), and 50 Cent ($125 million). From a PR perspective, three, maybe four, of these five individuals could be considered “safe,” but they all come with public baggage that could bring an abundance of criticism to a financial contribution that could significantly enrich an HBCU.

As a hip hop head, this bothers me. I want to see hip hop philanthropists in higher education. Personally, I feel it’s their responsibility to support these institutions and assist in developing our youth, a demographic that supports them unwaveringly. But I worry that we will never learn to navigate the complexity of this issue. I’m concerned that our own community won’t stop being overly critical and closed-minded. And I fear that we will never garner the courage to dismiss the few, but loud, negative opinions of others. I will make one promise right now…the first HBCU to court and publicly accept major funds from a hip hop philanthropist will be getting a gift from me as well. It will be small though. I’m not on any Forbes lists……yet! 🙂

Disclaimer: I’m not dismissing or belittling the voices of students, alumnus, or the media on this issue. I’m just provoking thought in hopes that we all can become a little more open-minded to the possibilities.