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By Jaylin Paschal & Nicole Hutchinson, Culture & Sports Staff Writers
It’s no secret that Howard University has a special place in Hip-Hop’s heart.
Howard has shoutouts in several hip hop songs, like Drake’s “Make Me Proud,” The Game’s “Celebration,” J. Cole’s “Grown Simba” and so on. It’s not uncommon for a Hip-Hop artist to dedicate a line to the real HU, recognizing the school’s reputation in academics, style or attractive students.
Mentioned even more frequently than the university itself is Howard Homecoming. As this year’s homecoming slogan related to the celebration of the past, present and future of Howard, celebrities–alumni or otherwise–make their way to the Mecca to celebrate Homecoming. As Ludacris explained in his song “Pimpin’ All Over the World,” some of the biggest Hip-Hop artists, influencers, and enthusiasts in the music industry treat Howard Homecoming as an annual holiday: “Then jump in the car and just ride for hours/ Makin’ sure I don’t miss the homecoming at Howard.”
A large Hip-Hop presence has been a monumental aspect of Howard Homecoming since Notorious B.I.G. performed one of his first shows at International Yardfest in 1992. Jay-Z and Kanye West are other artists who made Yardfest appearances before their careers exploded into the cultural phenomena they are today. Previous homecoming appearances have also included performances from huge names in the industry such as Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Pusha T, Big Sean, T.I. and Drake.
This year, on Friday, October 21, this tradition of Hip-Hop continued as performances were from music artists Faith Evans, Common and Fabolous. Fabolous, who took the stage with surprise guest Lil Uzi Vert, also shocked the crowd by bringing out Wale as the second unannounced appearance of the event.
The shock of these guests invigorated the crowd, almost to the point of rowdiness. The many of the thousands of attendees put their attention and energy towards rapping or dancing along to the performances. Local artists and DJs also performed short sets in between the larger performances.
Yardfest is not only a huge musical event, but also a chance for music to prompt socialization between current and previous Howard students. It’s not unusual to see alumni telling younger students about the Yardfest performances from “back in the day,” nor is it uncommon to see younger students teaching alumni new dance trends. Current and previous students bonded over classics and new hits. These conversations were sparked by everything from Greek letters to long food truck lines, and it is likely that members from both “old Howard” and “new Howard” left with new insight on all that it means to be a Bison and “one Howard.”
“I feel that it’s great because of all the alumni that return to show Howard students what they’re capable of. It shows students what they can achieve in life. It’s very motivating,” said Hawkins Owens IV, a junior biology major.
Yardfest had high expectations, as previous years lead to disappointment in regards to the event. It seemed as if the reinstatement of Yardfest and its traditional customs met these expectations, or at the very least offered hope for the future Yardfests to come.
“I went to Yardfest my freshman year and last year it rained. It’s kind of of getting back to where it used to be; it being free, for one, and it being like a carnival,” said Natalia Christian, a junior french major chemistry minor.
Though battling doubt, presumptions and rain, Yardfest had an amazing turnout and, in many cases, surpassed relatively low expectations. The success of the event punctuated the statement “Yardfest is back.”
International Yardfest is a central part of Howard Homecoming, and therefore has a meaningful contribution to each student’s Howard experience. To be a part of a community which wholeheartedly embraces your Blackness and encourages your academic endeavors reminds many of us why we chose Howard in the first place. Yardfest is a manifestation of Black unity, love, and excellence, embodied in one massive festival-style celebration.
But Howard’s relationship with Hip-Hop is more intimate than Yardfest, or even than Homecoming week. Several entities of Howard culture document the ongoing love story, from Hip-Hop legends like Sean “Diddy” Combs creating scholarships for Greeks strolling to rap songs. Few events are more unifying than a school-wide collaborative performance of F.L.Y.’s “Swag Surfin’.” First Friday’s are nothing without the latest hip hop chart toppers. Campus DJ’s are widely known and respected. The Howard Showtime band performs covers of Kanye West songs. Hip-Hop courses are also offered to enhance students’ curriculums.
Just as one can argue that Howard’s cultural influence has impacted the course of hip hop, from completing lyrical punchlines to catapulting music careers, it can also be argued that hip hop has impacted the course of Howard culture.
All of this is evidence of the fact that although hip hop loves Howard, the feeling is mutual.