Dr. Maxwell Lewis Williams successfully defended and submitted his doctoral dissertation in Spring 2020 under the supervision of Professors Catherine M. Appert, Benjamin Piekut, Steven Pond, and Fumi Okiji (UC Berkeley). Titled “Hipness, Hybridity, and ‘Neo-Bohemian’ Hip-Hop: Rethinking Existence in the African Diaspora,” his dissertation reads the oeuvre of rapper Kendrick Lamar and his collective, Black Hippy as a set of hybridizing Black cultural responses to the experience of modernity. Analyzing their aesthetic practices within a historical trajectory of Black performance, Dr. Williams shows how these rappers imagine and live out liberating ways of being beyond the West’s objectification and dehumanization of Blackness. The dissertation expands beyond this case study to propose a novel theorization of a Black “aesthetics of existence” in the African diaspora, broadly conceived to encompass contemporary Africa as equally impacted by global anti-Blackness. Reimagining the heuristic value of hipness as a musical and lived Black aesthetic, Dr. Williams intervenes in decades of musicological and Black studies scholarship to offer a new reading of the connection between the aesthetic and the social in African diasporic musical practices.
At Cornell University, Dr. Williams was a 2019 recipient of the Don M. Randel Teaching and Research Fellowship, with which he developed and taught an innovative course on hip hop historiography. Beyond Cornell, he has presented his work widely, including at the annual conferences of the Society for Ethnomusicology, the American Musicological Society, the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and the Pop Conference at the Museum of Popular Culture. The Popular Music Section of the Society for Ethnomusicology awarded him the 2018 Lise Waxler Prize for his paper “‘Stand on Your Own, Rude Boy!’: Rethinking Hybridity and Belonging in Postcolonial London’s Grime Communities.” His work has been published in The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies, The St. James Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Culture, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies.