A Look at the University of Illinois-Funded Hip-Hop Xpress

Primarily due to budget deficits, many schools across the country have been forced to shrink or cut fine arts programs. However, the University of Illinois has a different agenda. In 2018 President Tim Killeen announced the Presidential Initiative to Celebrate the Impact of the Arts and the Humanities.

This initiative consists of a $2 million University of Illinois-funded grant meant to provide several arts and humanities programs with a maximum of $200,000 over the 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. Saturday, September 26, Springfield had their first look at how one program used their annuity.

Hip-Hop Xpress, a renovated school bus that doubles as a mobile production and recording studio, gives communities a chance to put their talent on display. While all are welcome, the program takes special pride in their youth teachings. “The Xpress is a tool for addressing racial and ethnic differences in STEM fields by exposing youth to the necessary skills in a fun way,” said UIS instructor of sociology and African American studies, Tiffani Saunders.

Since 2016, Xpress collaborators have made courses available to Illinois’ youth. In these courses, participants can learn skills, including hip-hop entrepreneurship, dance, and basic engineering from experts.

Due to today’s climate, the teachings offered by the Hip-Hop Xpress are as relevant as ever. “We are relying on the community to partner with us to describe what they’re experiencing, then connecting those experiences to historical context,” said Saunders, pointing out how this took place during the bus’s “What’s Going On?” Marvin Gaye-themed stop in Springfield.

COVID-19 restrictions have limited what Hip-Hop Xpress has been able to accomplish over the last several months. The recent trip to Springfield acted as an introduction to the public, showing what the program is capable of. Saunders said that there is much more to come once restrictions are softened.

Easy cohesion across campuses is a rare occurrence. The Hip-Hop Xpress program serves as a sublime exception. Saunders explains that the Xpress helps UIS learn from and work with their cross-campus colleagues on a mutually beneficial project that serves the community on a broader scale. UIS students are urged to get involved with Hip-Hop Xpress to further their education in interior design, music education, community music programming and community outreach.