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Aafje de Roest: ‘As an expert in Dutch Studies you have the right skills to research hip hop’

Aafje de Roest turned her hobby into her job. She went from a teenager who enjoyed listening to hip hop music to a PhD candidate who focuses on how Dutch hip hop music shapes the cultural identity of young people in the Netherlands.

‘A friend of my sister’s was a big fan of hip hop, because of them I started listening to it too as a teenager,’ says De Roest. ‘101Barz session on YouTube, for instance. Even then, I thought the sound was cool and interesting. I kept this interest in hip hop music during my time at university.’

When De Roest was a student, she was especially fascinated by the popular album New Wave, which includes the hit song Drank en Drugs. She decided to delve deeper into the subject for her master’s thesis. ‘When the world became more and more Anglicised, young people flocked to Dutch hip hop. I wanted to understand why. What characteristics of Dutch hip hop made it possible for these young people to express themselves and feel heard? As an expert in Dutch Studies, it’s easier to research hip hop, because you have the right skillset to analyse the stories told in hip hop music and understand the linguistic side of things.’

Building bridges

A few years after graduating, De Roest applied for NWO funding, again to research the New Wave generation. ‘I was a little nervous to defend hip hop being worth researching in front of eleven professors, but at the end of the discussion one of them said, “I know another track you can add to your research.”’ And this professor is not the only one who is excited about the research subject. ‘People in academia recognise the social and scientific need for this research, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.’

It took some searching to find a place for science in the hip hop scene. ‘I am a white, female researcher from academia. It’s important that I am aware of those characteristics. It helps when young people and artists can see that you’re trustworthy, invested in hip hop and willing to give something back to the scene. In my opinion, it’s also crucial that the scene feels heard in my research. That’s why the young people I talk to for my research contribute by thinking along regarding terms and concepts. This way we’ve created a two-way street of knowledge and respect.'

Analysing relationships

Anyone who thinks De Roest spends her free time rapping, has got it wrong. ‘I’m really only a listener of hip hop music.’ The skills she does often use in her daily life are her ability to analyse and interpret. ‘I like reading and watching films, but I’m a linguist, so I naturally end up analysing things. After watching a film, I always ask my friends what their interpretation was.'

This urge to interpret and analyse is not limited to art. ‘I love cooking and drinking wine with my friends. When we talk over a glass of wine about relationships, I always find it incredibly fun to figure out the overarching storyline. I'm afraid that’s a kind of occupational hazard.’

For the Spotify playlist

De Roest has some recommendations for anyone who wants to broaden their musical horizons.

Abel – I really love his work. His album A was very anarchic. It was full of criticism of societal classes and racism, with a bit of an Amsterdam-Noord flavour.

Ronnie Flex – He’s always been a great artist, especially in his earlier work. There’s real poetry in an album like Rémi.

S10 – She’s really open in her music, and the music videos are gorgeous too. She’s taking new steps by participating in the Eurovision Song Contest, so I’m super excited to see what the future looks like for her.

Ray Fuego – I’m really looking forward to Ray’s new album; he’s a real punk rap sensation.

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