A clunky concert speaker blasted music from an aux cord in the multipurpose room of the Piano Row residence hall on Tuesday night. About 10-15 people from Emerson and the Greater Boston area scattered around the room and danced to the rhythm. Some came to teach or share their newfound knowledge about different styles of dance, but most came to learn.
Since Jan. 29, Hip-Hop Society President and senior Elmer Martinez has opened the doors for an event which started this spring called “Society Sessions.” Those who attend freely dance together to music of their choosing or take the mic and rap from 8 to 11 p.m.
Martinez also serves as the dance chair of the organization. He said he started these sessions to bridge the gap between Boston’s underground hip-hop scene and Emerson.
“There were no sessions downtown—they’re all in the outskirts,” Martinez said. “I want to give something back from the school to the people of Boston who live here, who are being gentrified. I also want the Emerson community who don’t really know the street vibe like that to be like, ‘This is what the scene is like outside of a collegiate environment.’”
Martinez said his idea for Society Sessions stemmed largely from his upbringing in Lowell, Massachusetts, where he was constantly surrounded by dance within his community, his Puerto Rican and Dominican culture, and his family.
Martinez attends other weekly dance sessions called “Cyphers” and connects Emerson to Boston’s hip-hop community by networking.
“I want to help other people and I want other people to learn,” he said. “And if you’re interested, then we can keep sparking that fire.”
Martinez said he hopes Society Sessions continue even after he graduates. He hopes the space he forged for the community will continue to ignite a drive in others.
“We don’t do hip-hop in isolation,” Martinez said. “It’s community, so if you don’t have community it doesn’t matter.”
Boston University junior Aidan Malenfant regularly attends Society Sessions. He said he started dancing five years ago.
“A lot of my dancing comes from Cyphers around the Boston area,” Malenfant said. “Since a new one popped up [at Emerson], I figured I’d come by—I never stopped.”
Malenfant said he learned about Emerson’s Society Sessions from their Facebook page. Malenfant attends Cyphers at other colleges, such as BU’s Bulletproof Funk, but he said Emerson offers a different atmosphere.
“This is one of the most fostering groups,” Malenfant said. “A lot of Cyphers can be kind of split apart. Some people will dance in this corner, some people will dance in that corner. But there’s a lot of interaction here.”
Malenfant said he likes attending the sessions because of the wide range of dance styles and the inclusivity that welcomes beginners and experts.
“One of my favorite parts of Society Sessions is that they don’t limit it to a single form of dance,” Malenfant said. “They let people come practice, they share the aux cord pretty liberally,
—so you can go from house to hip-hop to krumping.”
Since its fallout in 2016, Martinez said he revived the Hip-Hop Society by hosting a dance competition called Rebirth Vol. 1 with hip-hop discussions, workshops, and panels in March 2018. Soon after, Martinez fully established the organization and welcomed new members at the beginning of fall 2018. Society Sessions became a household event since the beginning of spring 2019.
Junior Trevor Kelly joined the Hip-Hop Society in fall 2018 and is the organization’s current marketing chair. He said he is grateful for the support he received from students, the school administration, and other cultural organizations at Emerson who wanted the Hip-Hop Society to come back.
“It was because of the passionate people from this group that we’ve had so much success so far—refocusing our mission of promoting hip-hop, having fun, and exploring this genre of music together,” Kelly said.
Martinez said Society Sessions also serve as a response to protests from students of color about the lack of representation on Emerson’s campus. Martinez hopes that Society Sessions highlights the communal aspects of the hip-hop genre and helps students feel a sense of belonging to and connection with their culture.
The Hip-Hop Society holds general meetings on Tuesday nights before the Society Sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. The agenda offers space for discussions about a wide range of topics regarding hip-hop and its cultural significance.
Senior Julio Cesar Villegas is the vice president, rap chair, and emcee for the Hip-Hop Society. Villegas also conducts rap sessions with other members and often freestyles at the Society Sessions. Since the Hip-Hop Society began, Villegas said the organization grew from five members last semester to 30 this spring.
“We’re based at Emerson, but we’re not limited to Emerson,” Villegas said. “We have students who come in from [Berklee College of Music] and that come from [Suffolk University], so we were literally able to open Emerson to Boston.”
On March 1, members of the Hip-Hop Society will host a release concert for a hip-hop album they have been working on since October 2018. Villegas, senior Jonah Free, junior Owen Elphick, and sophomore Dani Jean-Baptiste will perform the full upcoming album in the Cabaret at 6:30 p.m. The group has already released their new single, “Slow Down,” from the album, along with a music video directed by senior Bram Jakob Lowenstein.
Martinez also plans to host the Rebirth Vol. 2 Open Styles Jam on March 23 in the Cabaret at 1 p.m. It will include a display of graffiti artwork and possibly fashion segments.
“The club became something I never imagined,” Martinez said. “It’s [Hip-Hop Society’s] own thing. I don’t feel ownership over it in a way that’s like, ‘I have to run it because I made it.’ It’s multiplying itself. I just open the door.”