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Hip-hop history: 'Getting Down' with Tony Frazier

By Sydney Hawkins

The Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design has created a new $25,000 prize to advance the project of one graduating senior.

Students in Frazier’s hip-hop history class perform on the diag. Photo by Hans Anderson/Michigan News.

On a sunny afternoon in late September, Magasco’s song “Sokoto” fills up a prominent corner of the University of Michigan’s diag where N. University ends at State St. Passersby stop, watch and groove along with several students who are synchronously performing a dance routine.

It’s a welcome sight this fall, as students are finding ways to connect and engage safely in-person during the university’s public health-informed fall semester.

The dance was choreographed and filmed by Krisilyn “Tony” Frazier as part of a “Hip-hop history” dance class that she is currently teaching as a lecturer in the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. According the Frazier, the class covers the history of the genre, including Afrobeat and the influence of African music and culture, the “golden age” of hip-hop and current trends. Students explore different threads of the art form, including politics, the representation of women, and mainstream vs. underground artists.

According to Frazier, who has been teaching at SMTD since 2019, students in “Dance 303” are given the opportunity to learn this history through movement.

“When I tell them to ‘get down’ it means to get down close to the earth and to our roots—it’s about connecting with our ancestors, about getting humble and staying grounded,” she said. “But I also mean it in a literal sense, to get low so that they can encompass the movement.”

She said that teaching this particular class overlaps with her work on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement during recent months.

“The music, the MCing, the graffiti, the culture, the movement—all of these are aspects that make hip-hop an important part of our culture, and it’s an honor to me to create a space for students to be able to learn about it,” she said. “We need people to learn about what it is and how it connects us to our past and to our future.”

Frazier received her BFA in dance from the U-M in 2007 and is currently pursuing a Masters in Fine Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State University. She is known for performing and choreographing in a variety of dance styles, including Contemporary, Jazz, Dunham, Hip-Hop and Afro Haitian.

Frazier recently created a protest-inspired playlist for the U-M’s Spotify account.