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Hip-hop Scholar Grooves to Her Own Mix
How one scholar combined her passions and wound up with an in-demand thesis on hip-hop authenticity
Part of the series Adventures in research: Stories behind extraordinary dissertations and theses
The seeds for Rachel Quick’s research interests were planted in childhood, when she started questioning the representation of African Americans in the media. Her observations came to fruition in a 2011 Master’s thesis called “The Cultural Commodification of Identity: Hip Hop Identity.1”
It was among the most-read theses in the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database in October, November and December 2016 as well as in January, February, March, April, and November and December 2017.
Now Quick is working on her Ph.D. in media studies at the University of Oregon, where she’s discovered passion for a fascinating mix of research areas, including the relationship between media and identity, political and psychological trends emerging in digital media, and the potential for cryptocurrency to disrupt the global economy.
We recently had a lively conversation with Quick to learn more about her extraordinary research journey.
Following her passions
Quick is an “’80s baby” who has always loved media. In particular, television provided companionship, entertainment and education. But over the years, Quick became concerned about the ways African Americans were represented. Watching TV, she didn’t see many people who looked like her, and when she did, they were often portrayed disparagingly. Not always, but enough where it troubled her.
This seemed especially striking in relation to hip-hop, and as someone who counts herself as a part of the culture, most of the depictions Quick observed in mainstream media didn’t ring true.
Fast-forward to Quick’s undergraduate studies in journalism at Georgia State University where she cultivated another passion – for quantitative research. In her program, she received extensive training in research methodology, which suited her meticulous, curious nature.
“I love the details and the process,” she said. “I get so excited about understanding the ‘whys’ of a topic and uncovering information no one else has.”
So, as a graduate student in communications at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Quick embraced the opportunity to combine the three areas that inspired her to analyze hip-hop identity in television advertising. This became the topic of her Master’s thesis.
Researching commodification of hip-hop identity
Quick explained that there is an extremely high use of hip-hop in commercials.
Entering into her research project, she wondered about the impact of this. How authentic are the depictions of hip-hop in advertising? How does using the music to sell products affect perceptions of hip-hop? Does the genre get diluted when it’s essentially co-opted by corporations and sold back to the people who follow the culture?
Quick, along with her team of assistants, looked at 150 commercials featuring hip-hop artists to see what kinds of identity were portrayed. These ads included a Kodak campaign featuring Drake and Pitbull, a Magnum condom campaign featuring Ludacris, a malt liquor ad with Snoop Dogg, and a Dorito’s commercial with the Black-Eyed Peas. Quick’s study applied a nine-point system developed by scholar K. McLeod2 for determining hip-hop authenticity.
For example, under McLeod’s system, Quick explains the Politic-Economic dimension “addresses the anomaly of underground success versus commercial success” while the Cultural dimension “addresses hip-hop’s status as a rich culture, rather than as a commodity that can be marketed to a mainstream population.” Using this system, Quick’s thesis sought “to understand how hip-hop artists are represented in advertising, in either an authentic or inauthentic manner.”
A series of serendipitous events
Quick submitted her thesis in May 2011, and as part of the university policy, it was published in the ProQuest Dissertations and Thesis Global (PQDT) database. Then, nearly 5 years later, “I received a message from ProQuest saying that mine was the most-read thesis in October 2016, and I thought, wow! Then it was the most-read in November and December 2016, and January, February, March, April, and November 2017, too!”
The timing of this sudden demand for her research just happened to coincide her applications to Ph.D. programs. The success of her Master’s thesis in part inspired Quick to continue with her studies. Adding to her excitement, she received a scholarship and teaching assistantship from the Graduate School at the University of Oregon. In fall 2017, she started working on her doctoral degree in media studies.
“I’m in the right place,” Quick said. “Everyone I’m working with is so open and understanding.”
Quick is the kind of person who, like many of us, as she delves deeper into her research, discovers even more avenues she’s eager to explore. Like the politicization of digital media. And psychological trends related to social media. And the oil-backed cryptocurrency just launched in Venezuela. And…
Recently, she mentioned to her advisors concerns that she has five different research areas she wants to focus on.
“They told me not to worry about it,” Quick said. “They told me, ‘That’s why you are here, to figure it out – you’re only in your first year! Just keep doing what you are doing, and it will all come together.’”
Quick is looking forward to finding out where this next leg of her journey takes her, and she’s not the only one. We can’t wait to find out what creative and original research discoveries she’ll have to share when her doctoral dissertation is published in PQDT.
Thank you, Rachel, for letting ProQuest be a part of your adventures in research!
1. Quick, R. K. (2011). The cultural commodification of identity: Hip-hop authenticity (Order No. 1521019). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1114898348).
Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global, the largest commercial repository of graduate dissertations and theses containing over 4 million works from across the globe, and with more than 130,000 added to the database each year. A recent ACRL/CHOICE review hailed the database as “highly recommended for beginning students through professionals/practitioners.”
2. McLeod, K. (1999). Authenticity within hip-hop and other cultures threatened with assimilation. Journal of Communication, 49(4), 134-150. Indexed in ProQuest Central.