Allison Park

Since its emergence as a distinct musical form in the 1960s and 1970s, hip-hop has quickly become one of America’s favorite genres of music. Aisha Fukushima, a self-described “raptivist” who led a raptivism workshop at the Law School last week, is pioneering efforts to use hip-hop music to enact social change.

With verses like “ICE still after me” and “what is the price of a life?” Fukushima broaches topics like global citizenship, empowerment and feminism in her music. Fukushima presented a workshop, “Freedom Song: Social Justice Storytelling,” on Saturday as a part of Yale Law School’s Rebellious Lawyering Conference, the nation’s largest student-run public interest conference. At the event, she performed and spoke about her music with about 40 students and New Haven residents and, toward the end, asked those in attendance to create a song with her.

“[Hip-hop] is a means to challenge oppression with expression, apathy with awareness and ignorance with intelligence,” Fukushima said.

Fukushima coined the term “raptivism” — or rap activism — in 2009, and has since traveled to more than 20 countries to speak about her music and about the larger raptivism movement. Although the countries she has visited have disparate cultures, she found communities interested in hip-hop everywhere she went and realized that hip-hop is an “incredibly powerful venue to connect people from all across the globe and to continue to foster social change.”

Tom Chu ’19, who attended the workshop, said Fukushima succeeded in making the event both welcoming and engaging.

“She did a really great job making a space where people could feel comfortable in their bodies,” Chu said. “She had people moving and expressing themselves in ways that makes them feel confident, which I think is really important.”

Fukushima said her workshops are meant to “shift frameworks of how we see each other and give us points of connection to see how we are interconnected.” She added that “music and art are a platform for people to build solidarity with each other … and work collectively across different struggles, backgrounds and aspirations for freedom and justice.”

Fukushima said her interest in the themes that define her music now blossomed in high school. At that time, Fukushima said she saw many of her peers going through “different instances of prejudice and discrimination,” and felt that differences among her peers were not discussed and addressed. She began writing poetry, stories and hip-hop verses about topics related to identity, and her interest in those topics later served as the foundation of her raptivism efforts.

Her thoughts and writings about identity have also been influenced by her mixed Japanese and African heritage. Fukushima said she has led workshops in Japan that center on her thoughts about her “Blackanese” identity.

Dianne Lake, a first year student at the Yale Law School, invited Fukushima to Yale. As an artist interested in social justice and human rights herself, Lake said Fukushima made an immediate impression on her when they met for the first time at a conference in Berlin last summer.

“I was moved by the way she combined those two interests of mine,” Lake said. “It touched me to see the different ways in which you can infuse music and the arts into social justice movement work.”

As a graduate affiliate with the Afro-American Cultural Center, Lake collaborated with the Asian American Cultural Center and Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking to bring Fukushima to Yale.

Fukushima said she chose hip-hop over other musical genres because of its capacity to “cram a bunch of information into very little space.” She added that she hopes raptivism can inspire young people to “create a united front for the more free and just world we want to live in.”

This was Aisha Fukushima’s first workshop at Yale.

Allison Park | allison.park@yale.edu