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What is hip-hop and why does it matter?

Want to study hip-hop? Apply for our HND in Music or our free short course (for Scotland residents only).

Our brand new Hip Hop and Rap HND pathway will kick off next academic year and we want to provide some important context ahead of time. In light of recent #BlackLivesMatter protests bringing to light racial inequalities, it feels vital to highlight hip-hop’s Black American roots. White audiences and society uses and commodifies, co-opts and even steals a Black culture a lot – and it is important we check ourselves wherever we can.

Students on the HND will also get a Hip-Hop Reading List alongside their primary course material, which outlines some great readings on the significance of hip-hop as Black pop culture – how it has been represented, received, and produced. The current Black Lives Matter protests evoke a familiar message that hip-hop has spoke since it began. For decades hip-hop has spoken truth to power and challenge the status-quo. Protest and resistance have been common elements of the music, evoking the fight for racial equality and communicating anger at socio-economic conditions that shaped the lives of many Black people. Today, not a lot has sadly changed and many of hip-hop’s messages are still incredibly relevant. 

Since it emerged in the Bronx in the 70s and 80s, Hip-hop has become hugely influential – mainstream music, a “cultural and artistic phenomenon” and a multibillion-dollar global industry. It’s important to understand how hip hop came about within the historical context of the African American experience but it is also important not to fall into common cultural misconceptions and associations of hip hop. It can be interesting to examine how representations of Blackness operate in American pop culture and vital when approaching the subject as an area of study.

We owe many popular music forms to the Black community. Rock and Roll, Techno, Jazz, Disco – you name it. Some of these genres have been subject to  ‘whitewashing’ throughout history, such as Elvis becoming known as the ‘King’ of Rock n’ Roll which was originally pioneered by African American musicians, or current fears that European electronic music is erasing its Black origins (read about the campaign called ‘Make Techno Black Again’). 

Hip-hop is slightly different. For the most part it’s very much still read as ‘black culture’ – even synonymous with black culture (which can be problematically essentialist). Hip-hop culture is a global culture – we use, enjoy, implement, and borrow from the culture in music, fashion and elsewhere. Hip-Hop was born in New York of Black, Latino and marginalised communities, and hip-hop in the mainstream developed to largely to be seen as Black. Developing an awareness of ‘hip-hop history’ can be important to understanding how the contemporary west treats and represents Blackness and how Black popular culture works in the mainstream.

Born in the Bronx, New York in the 1970s in African American and Latino urban neighbourhoods, hip-hop was a fusion of various cultural forces and influences. It emerged in a period of “urban renewal” for American cities, with a new kind of resegregation happening and white-flight to the suburbs; terms like inner city and underclass were reinventing America’s racial vocabulary. In this midst of what Professor Trica Rose calls the “post-civil rights era ghetto segregation”, a flourishing new youth culture emerged. “Hip Hop is an oppositional cultural realm rooted in the socio-political and historical experiences and consciousness of economically disadvantaged urban black youth of the late 20th century,” as Layli Phillps says.

Hip-hop emerged in part, as a reaction to the socio-economic conditions in Black and Brown neighbourhoods. The culture was broad and not just about the music; beatboxing, DJing, street art, graffiti, dancing, braids, hairstyles all emerged as part of hip-hop culture. ‘Hip hop’ generally refers to the overall culture, while ‘rap’ (or MCing) referred to the rhyme creation and lyricism, originating in the battle raps that would take place on the streets. 

Kickstarted by the likes of Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, music at first was largely party anthems, often played in block parties and in the underground scene (see the 1982 film Wild Style). “It was Herc who laid the groundwork for everything associated with Hip Hop today” says The Independent, “the Jamaican-born DJ would often speak over a rhythmic beat – known within the music genre as toasting, and at parties in his high-rise apartment, he would extend the beat of a record using two players, isolating the drum “breaks” by using a mixer to switch between the two – or as it’s more commonly know: scratching.”

The music was a product of its socio-economic conditions and it grew to actively express these too, giving it a political edge. Protest rap or conscious rap grew in the 80s and 90s with the likes of Public Enemy, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, NAS, Mos Def, and N.W.A. – and would often make reference to the Black Power movement of the 50s/60s. It was a reactionary response to mainstream culture – an oppositional force. In the 80s early gangsta rap also emerged, (N.W.A., Ice T, KRS One, Eazy E, Westside Connection) and often crossed over into the political or protest.

Rappers have been criticising the violence of the police and law enforcement on Black people, particularly Black men, since the emergence of political conscious rap in the 80s. Hip-hop reflected and responded to various racial inequalities such as the American Prison Industrial Complex, where Black men are disproportionately incarcerated (what Michelle Alexander calls quite convincingly the ‘New Jim Crow‘), white police brutality against Black bodies, and the socio-economic conditions of Black urban communities leading to factors like Black on Black crime. 

Once hip-hop entered the mainstream it became increasingly commoditised and increasingly consumed by white audiences. The ‘gangsta image’ was seized on in pop culture, and in this became a popular and essentialist way to view this generation of Black youth. 

Hip-hop has a lot of important things to say. But as the culture became commodified and popular to the masses, certain things – like references to violence, ‘Thug’ or ‘gangsta’ lifestyles, and even misogynistic lyrics – were heightened in order to sell more records. Problematically these were often taken as literal representations of Black life and Black people often too got seen as synonymous with hip-hop. Many have argued that there is a lot more to be taken from hip-hop than these base-level assumptions and stereotypes. 

“Many critics of hip hop tend to interpret lyrics literally as a direct reflection of the artist who performs them. They equate rappers with thugs, see rappers as a threat to the larger society, and then use this ‘causal analysis’ (that hip hop causes violence) to justify a variety of agendas: more police in black communities, more prisons to accommodate larger numbers of black and brown young people, and more censorship of expression. For these critics, hip hop is criminal propaganda. This literal approach, which extends beyond the individual to categorise an entire racial and class group, is rarely applied to violence-oriented mediums procured by whites,” says hip-hop scholar Tricia Rose.

Aspects of rap lyric and video content are continually criticised in the mainstream for its representation and treatment of women, although several critics (such as Tricia Rose and Imani Perry) have worked to reclaim black women’s positioning within the genre. There are many female participants in hip-hop culture – and have been since it first emerged. Studying the work of female artists can open up a space for more transgressive and nuanced interpretations of hip-hop culture, they say.

It is true that much of hip hop’s sexual politics (from male producers) involve demeaning representations of women, but the dialogue and interaction of the sexes in hip-hop is complex. Moreover, black female rappers have asserted a prominent space in hip hop and this deserves particular attention. From the start rappers like MC Lyte and Queen Latifah exploded onto the scene with empowering, assertive tracks like Ladies First and U.N.I.T.Y.

Conscious artists like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu have been hugely acclaimed and work to celebrate Black womanhood, and even the ‘female Gangsta rappers’ like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown arguably created some transgressive space for Black female performers in hip-hop. Overall several scholars have argued for a articulation fo women’s role in early hip-hop and for highlighting the oppositional and empowering stance many of them hold. 

In her book Black Noise, Tricia Rose explores rap’s sexual politics, looking at the ways black women rappers negotiate—either by resisting or unwittingly perpetuating—dominant sexual and racial narratives in American culture. She puts female rappers in dialogue with black male rappers, and argues that there is a conscious and race-specific negotiation of cultural terrain taking place. 

Literature by black female writers such as Hazel Carby, Angela Davis and bell hooks also speaks to the complexity of black female expression and specifically the black American female experience – Rose sees this complexity as operational in mainstream hip hop spheres, and argues black female rappers have a voice worth exploring critically.

Since hip-hop has become such a global entity, it’s produced some of the world’s biggest stars. Many prominent artists like Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Jay Z, Kanye and Will Smith have become what we could call a ‘mogul’ often crossing over into other industries like fashion or Hollywood and creally creating a brand out of their star identity, becoming incredible successful business people . Other creators in hip-hop like Russell Simmons (Def Jam) have become known as hip-hop moguls – entrepreneurs who are understood as coming from the ‘hip hop generation’.

These producers emerged during the period in which hip-hop became mass commodified, which eventually coincided with a political context of Neoliberalism. America’s Neoliberalism also introduced the concept of a post-racial society (prominently in the US, but also mirrored in the UK) – reinforced and/or determined in America by the election of President Obama, the first Black president. Illusions of a post-racial society worked alongside successful Black figures to creative an illusion that the US was rid of racial injustice – systemic or otherwise. In fact, long-standing racial inequalities still exist and many of hip-hop’s original arguments are still very much relevant.

“Many academics have argued that hip-hop was ‘complexly determined by some of the worst social trends associated with neoliberalism: soaring inequality, extreme marketisation, mass criminalisation, and chronic unemployment.’ While many political rappers adopted oppositional stances to these trends, mainstream hip-hop culture often celebrated materialism and enterprise with all the gusto of individuals who have ‘made it’ against terrible odds” says hip-hop scholar Eithne Quinn.

Today, hip-hop still has a political edge, arguably continues a return to the consciousness and resistance of some early protest hip-hop, and a step away from the hyper-commodified, hyper-sexualised versions of the music in the 90s/00s. Hip-hop is and was more than a music form, and has an enduring and particular significance. It became the voice of a generation – a generation who now lead the way with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“The hip-hop-savvy radicalism of #BlackLivesMatter has liberated commercial rap from its default modern setting — the one that birthed the breezy millennial perception that “hip-hop” was a synonym for a consumer market where rowdy, rhyming negro gentleman callers and ballers sold vernacular song and dance to an adoringly vicarious and increasingly whiter public – a fair portion of whom are undeniably apathetic to race politics and the New Jim Crow, per Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking study of present-day judicial abuses,” commented Rolling Stone in 2015.

There’s so much to unpack in hip-hop, it’s impossible to cover it all in a short article – be it whiteness in hip-hop, it’s sexual politics, prosecuting rap, a hip-hop education or hip-hop filmmaking, we hope this has provided a small start to doing just that. While hip-hop must not been seen as the ‘blueprint’ for ‘describing’ the Black community or all African American people collectively, however it can be important to understand the impact and production of hip-hop in these specifically racial terms, and connect it to it’s history – and the arguments hip-hop has been making about the treatment of African Americans and Black people in the U.S (and UK) for decades. 

This article was written by Isobel Trott, our social media editor. Isobel has an MA Degree from the University of Manchester where she specialised in hip-hop culture, African American representation and film. 


From Black Power to Hip Hop: Racism, Nationalism, and Feminism – Patricia Hill Collins
Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional”: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America – Robin Kelley
Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop – Imani Perry
Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America – Tricia Rose
The Hip-hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop and Why It Matters – Tricia Rose
Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement– S. Craig Watkins
That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader – Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, ed
“Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap” – Jeffrey Ogbar
“Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap– Eithne Quinn
“Occupy Wall Street, Racial Neoliberalism, and New York’s Hip-Hop Moguls” – Eithne Quinn
A Furious Kinship: Critical Race Theory and the Hip Hop Nation – Andre Douglas Pond Cummings
“Oppositional Consciousness within an Oppositional Realm: The Case of Feminism and Womanism in Rap and Hip Hop” – Layli Phillips, Kerri Reddick-Morgan, Dionne Patricia Stephens
Representing: Hip-Hop Culture and the Production of Black CinemaS. Craig Watkins,
The Spike Lee Reader – Paula Massood, ed.
Black Talent and Conglomerate Hollywood: Will Smith, Tyler Perry and the Continuing Significance of Race – Eithne Quinn (2013)
What is this ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture” – Stuart Hall
Reel to Real – bell hooks
Wild Style (1982 film, Dir Charlie Ahearn)

Lockdown learning: Staff and students' share their music staff students self isolation sessions

Lockdown learning: Staff and students' share their music

Lockdown learning: Since the start of lockdown we’ve been encouraging our students (and staff for that matter!) to share with us their clips of their musical jammin’ sessions at home. We’ve be sent some great clips, and shared them to our social media weekly since the start of lockdown. Students from our Exeter centre, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Gateshead and even AMSonline have been busy producing and creating during lockdown. More than lockdown learning, this is lockdown jamming!

Here’s a round up of some of the videos we’ve been enjoying these past few months…

Chloe Noel covers Childish Gambino’s Redbone

Edinburgh alumni Cameron Brown joins Brian May in the ‘Hammer to Fall’ challenge

Calder Houston jams along to Harry Styles

Ella Crossland’s uplifting cover of a Disney classic….

Exeter student Olive Whitmore covers Adele’s ‘Skyfall’

Exeter tutor and 1/3 of Pattern Pusher Alex Johnstone covers an Oasis track…

Jake Holt does Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were here’

Glasgow’s Marina Rolink performs her original track ‘In Turmoil’

Exeter based student band Shake the Geek shake it up with this feel-good ABBA cover…

Last but not least, this great cover of Eric Johnson’s ‘Cliffs of Dover’ from our AMS Online tutor James Gordon!

james acaster perfect sounds podcast podcasts lockdown listening

Lockdown listening: The 8 best podcasts about music

The podcast represents the perfect light-form entertainment – the easy-going listen, the pop-on in the background and zone out. We’ve picked out some of the best which centre on our favourite topic – music.

Who isn’t going podcast-crazy during lockdown? We’ve certainly been enjoying our fair-share of lockdown listens these past few weeks, and it’s true, there’s a lot out there to get lost in. Back-to-back podcasts on a lazy afternoon is a great way to shut off, relax, de-stress, or indeed help you to calmly focus on your tasks at hand. There’s some excellent music-related shows out there so we decided to pick out some of the best. Whether it’s deep-dive music analysis, a round up of the week’s best new songs, comedian Romesh Ranganathan on hip-hop, or music and mental health with George Ezra – we’ve hand selected the very best podcasts for lockdown.

All the below podcasts are readily available on all the usual platforms. Enjoy!

Desert Island Discs 

First up, it’s an old favourite. Desert Island Discs has been going strong on BBC Radio 4 since 1943, first hosted by the likes of Roy Plomley, Michael Parkinson, Kirsty Young and now Lauren Laverene. The show has become a national ‘buried’ treasure and is listened to by millions. 

The format is simple: well-known and successful figures pick the 8 tracks, a book and a luxury item to take with them on a remote desert island. It’s an inherently musical format but invites guests from all walks of life – writers, musicians, activists, actors, producers, chefs, comedians, festival organisers, farmers, fashion designers and more, to pick the tracks that are important to them, the music that moves them, or has had significance to their lives. Their picks are surprising, enlightening, moving and uplifting, and there’s some great life stories to get lost in here. Perfect to whack on in the background on a lazy afternoon.

Where to start: Bruce Springsteen, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Graham, Thom Yorke, Emily Eavis, Bob Mortimer, Jack Whitehall, Stephen Fry, Naomi Klien, Lily Allen 

Listen on: BBC Sounds, Apple. 

James Acaster’s Perfect Sounds

Much-loved comedian James Acaster is convinced 2016 was the best year for music, ever. In this podcast he attempts to explain to other comedians why this is the case. His new podcast series is based around the concept of his recent book ‘Perfect Sound, Whatever’ which makes a compelling case for the year as the best for new music. It releases an episode every Friday – so keep an eye out during the coming few weeks.

So far James has chatted to Romesh Ranganathan about Beyonce’s album Lemonade, Phil Wang on Eurosceptic experimental hip-hop album United Diktatürs of Europe, by Anarchist Republic of BZZZ and Sophie Ducker on the samba-punk fusion album MM3 by Meta Meta. Other albums which featured on Acaster’s 2016 list – and could be the focus of upcoming episodes – include David Bowie’s Blackstar, Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Moor Mother’s Fetish Bones and James Blake’s The Colour In Anything.

Listen on: BBC Sounds


Great art deserves more than a swipe

Are you ready for a musical deep-dive? The Dissect podcast might be for you. Named “Best Podcast of 2018” by The New York Times, Dissect takes on one album per season, and one track per episode. The podcast aims to dissect – forensically and interrogatively – the cultural and musical significance of some truly great art. Great music can be explained simply – “this sounds great” – but some great tracks deserve a little more attention than this claims Dissect. Cultural significance, what songs and albums embody and represent often gets lost in mainstream culture – and this podcast aims to rectify that.

Specialising in R&B and hip-hop, the podcast is fascinating, soul food for the nerd within you. Some albums the podcast has examined the music, lyrics and themes include, To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar (Season 1), My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West (Season 2), Channel Orange & Blonde by Frank Ocean (Season 3), The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Mini-Series 1), Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator (Season 4), DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar (Season 5) and Lemonade by Beyonce (Season 6).

Listen on: Apple, Spotify, Stitcher

Hip Hop Saved My Life with Romesh Ranaganathan 

This podcast focuses on hip-hop, and everything in-between – but you don’t have to be an expert to dive-in. Hip Hop Saved My Life is perfect for those either new to the genre, or those who hold a special place in their heart for the music and culture. British Comedian Rommesh Ranganathan hosts a regular ode to the genre in this hilarious, deep-dive podcast, and invites a host of guests along with him.

Some highlight shows include a recent episode with journalist Louis Theroux, who chats all about his love of old school, and his strong feelings about the early UK hip hop scene, and early episode with comedian Katherine Ryan who brings up the hot debate of hip-hop and feminism. Plus some proper good artists have joined him for episodes along the way including the legend DJ Premier, UK rapper Kano, Loyle Carner, Ocean Wisdom and Michael Kitawana.

Where to start: Jaguar Skills, Riz Ahmed, Mikill Pane, DJ Premier, Kano, Louis Theroux, Michael Kitawana, Loyle Carner, ocean wisdom, Katherine Ryan.

Listen on: Apple, acast

Check out our free online hip hop and rap short course.

Loud and Quiet – Midnight Chats AND Music Made Me Do it

This podcast is from music magazine Loud and Quiet. First launched in August 2019, it features interviews and rambling chats with some of the best alternative and indie artists. Plenty to tuck into here. 

Where to start: Biffy Clyro, Kim Gordon, La Roux, Jenny Beth, Holly Herndon, Haim, Kate Tempest, Johnny Marr, Mac Demarco, Laura Marling, Mike Skinner, Metronomy.

Listen on: loudandquiet.com, Apple

Another podcast from Loud and Quiet worth recommending is their ‘Music Made Me Do It’ series, where they talk to people working in the industry, from record labels, managers, to promoters, producers, agents, and PR managers, on how they got into working in music. It proudly unpacks the different jobs that make the industry work – it’s just like we say, you don’t have to be on stage to be making waves in the scene.

Where to start: The Festival Founder – End of the Road’s Simon Taffe, The Press Officer – MBC PR Founder Barbara Charone, The Live Agent – Alex Hardee.

Listen on: loudandquiet.com, Apple

Phone A Friend with George Ezra & Ollie MN

Phone A Friend features open and honest discussions about mental health between two long-time friends and musicians, George Ezra and Ollie MN. They share their ups-and-downs of the week, and discuss how to balance mental health concerns with the other stresses of daily life. It’s great to hear a podcast by musicians that puts mental health front and centre. They also encourage listeners to start their own conversations about their well-being. An all-round positive experience. We couldn’t recommend it enough.

Listen on: Apple, Sony, Stitcher

Resident Asvisor podcast / RA Exchange

If electronic music is your thing, then this is the podcast for you. Dance music and events ticket platform Resident Advisor produces two weekly podcasts: one features the best new mixes in electronic music, and the second chats about production, music culture, dance music history and more with some exciting artists of all kinds plus label heads, scene legends, agents and promoters alike. Techno, house, disco, italo, ambient, dubstep, jazz, soul and more – they’ve got you sorted.    

Where to start: Grimes, Jeremy Deller, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, ‘On the Scene: Manchester’.

Listen on: residentadvisor.net, Apple

NRP’s All Songs Considered

First launched in 2000, this podcast is now a cornerstone of NPR Music. Hosted by NPR’s Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton, the pair talk audiences through the best new music from emerging artists and long-standing legends. It’s a music discovery platform of the highest order. It includes a regular Friday ‘new music’ show and occasional special editions. Their latest episode promises something different from the day-to-day sameness we’re all facing at the moment: “At a time when every day can feel the same, on this week’s All Songs Considered you can meet someone new, with a mix of memorable music discoveries.”

Where to start: The weekly ‘New Music Friday’ show, ‘Kraftwerk’s Remarkable Journey and Where It Took Us’, ‘The Wit, Wisdom and Awe of Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters’.

Listen on: Apple, npr.org.

Honourable mentions:

Grounded With Louis Theroux – EP. 2 Boy George
Journalist and national treasure Louis Theroux’s latest project – his lockdown podcasts – invites well-known figures Louis has been dying to track down for years, for a digital chat. This episode with Boy George is a fascinating interview from a real pro.

Listen on: BBC Sounds, Apple

George Ezra and Friends: Lewis Capaldi
We couldn’t resist recommending this episode with our very own former student and funny-man Lewis Capaldi. He chats to his good friend and host George Ezra in this hilarious episode.

Listen on: Sticher, Apple.

Do you agree with our list? What podcasts are you loving right now? Let us know in the comments! 

Want more content? Check out our round up of 8 great films about music to watch during isolation and read our Coronavirus and Musicians advice blog here.

new year new lockdown academy of music songwriting

Students! Submit your Self Isolation Sessions to us

Calling all AMS and AMSonline students! This is an open call. We want to see and share the great stuff you've been creating during lockdown.

Been jammin' during lockdown? Made use of some of this free time to write a new song, or cover an old one? We'd love to hear from you. Lately we've been sourcing and sharing some video clips from our students who have been doing some solo-sessions during the pandemic.

Simply email: [email protected] or message our main page on Facebook or Instagram, and we'll re-post and share your self isolation session and include you on our blog post when all this is over!

Happy jammin'





pattern pusher lockdown playlist ams exeter

Feast your ears on our Lockdown Playlist!

Lockdown Listening from our Exeter team.

AMS Exeter's Jemma Sloman has curated an incredible playlist for us – perfect soul food for all your lockdown listening needs. It includes Students and Staff members past and present of AMS Exeter, with all the sounds from our South West centre and hub, buzzing under the umbrella of one perfect little playlist.

So what's in there? It's truly packed full of goodness, featuring tracks like Pattern Pusher's Crazy Enough, and Shakey, Lizzie Kirwan's The Unknown, Shake the Geek's Jenga, and Bad Screens from First Person. Perfect to get tucked into on one of these quiet - or not so quiet - lockdown days.

Plus the playlist also features two tracks from the new band and product of lockdown, Wired Design – made up of two of our Exeter staff members; Jon the Level 3 course leader and Jordan our Exeter technician.

Get locked.



academy of music

8 great films about music to stream in isolation

Words: Isobel Trott

What strange times we find ourselves in. At least we’re learning a lot… Including about how boring isolation can get sometimes, how much TV it’s actually possible to binge at once, and just how much fun snacking really is. To help beat the boredom, we’ve pulled together a list of 8 great films about music for you to stream in isolation. Music can be an amazing escape, but sometimes you just need to chill out and settle into a great, comforting, insightful, heart-warming, or just downright entertaining flick…

By no means a definitive list – these 8 films are viewing suggestions; some nuggets and ideas to watch to help make these socially-distant days a little more bearable. And all have music at the heart and soul. From a masterful Amy Winehouse documentary to Eminem’s Oscar-winning biopic… from Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ to Country music-meets-Glasgow in ‘Wild Rose’ – we’ve got you covered.

School of Rock, Richard Linklater

In the words of AC/DC: We roll tonight… to the guitar bite… and for those about to rock… I salute you.” 

Since we’re a music and rock school, let’s start with the obvious shall we?! It goes without saying, this 00’s comedy is an absolute must-see; you’re dad’s favourite movie, right? You’ve got to admit on this one, he might be right. Chellooo, you’ve got a bass!”….  “Now raise your goblet of rock”…. “You’re tacky and I hate you”…  You know the quotes; probably know the songs off by heart too, right? Why not dive back into this Jack Black classic as part of your isolation viewing. 

For those who don’t know, Black stars as wannabe-try-hard rocker Dewy Finn who isn’t quite making music work for him financially (know the feeling, right?). Out of work, dumped by his band, and trying to pay rent, Dewy takes the place of his flatmate as a substitute teacher at a local prep school… Only to turn his unsuspecting pupils into a larger than life rock group – with himself as the show-stopping frontman. 

If you haven’t seen it – you should, and if you’ve already seen it – you should definitely watch it again.  

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s 2019 documentary focuses on the legendary Bob Dylan and his 1975 small-time ramble of a concert tour called Rolling Stone Revue. The tour went exclusively to small venues (Dylan fancied a break from the limelight) and brought along a rather motley crew; Allen Ginsberg, Sam Shepard, Ronee Blakley, and other bohemian figures joined the tour. “It wasn’t a success”, one interviewee comments, “not if you measure success in terms of profit”. Dylan had, quite revolutionarily, arranged the tour to be filmed at the time, that film never got made. Until now….

Scorsese uses this archived footage to paint a fascinating, never-before-seen picture of Dylan in concert, arguably, at his “most gnarly”. This digitally restored, and impeccably edited film is more than just a concert film – it’s a retrospective portrait of the cult figure, and a unique visceral slice of 70’s backstage life; of a dying beatnik generation… of poets, artists, rockers and dreamers…. According to Variety, it is an “audaciously alive 2-hour-and-22-minute Scorsese feast of a 1970s verité sprawl” – and we highly suggest you get stuck in.

Where to find it: Netflix

Wild Rose, Tom Harper

Country Music heads to Glasgow in this heart-warming story about Rose-Lynn Harlan – a budding country artist with a troubled past, two kids to look after, and the conviction that she’s destined for stardom in the states.

Fresh out of prison in Glasgow, Rose is talented, and aiming high – with the aspiration and sheer cheek to try and make it as a country singer in the United States. But fiesty ambition faces fierce opposition in the form of Rose’s mother played by (a convincingly Scottish) Julie Walters, who reminds Rose of the biting sting of reality and forces her to take responsibility with a cleaning job in her small town-hometown. However with some unlikely support, sheer talent and just a little bit of luck, the pull of a wild country scene (and real success) across the pond soon comes calling. An original soundtrack matches this heart-warming, raw story about finding hope in the most unlikely of places. A heart-warmer and spirit-lifter for these strange days in lockdown, that’s for sure!

Where to find it: Amazon Prime, Google Play (rental)

Fancy studying with us in Glasgow? Find out more.

, Damien Chazelle

There are no two words more harmful in the English language than ‘good job‘”.

One for the percussionist’s out there. This film drums up the tension pretty excruciatingly. Whiplash, from director and one-time aspiring-drummer Damien Chazelle (La, La, Land), is a tense, painful at times, formidable, and yet inspiring and plentiful uplifting (in the end) film that you should really, really watch.

Andrew (played by Miles Teller) is trying to make it as a jazz drummer – nay jazz legend –  at an elite music school. His new instructor/conductor, and absolute battle-axe, Terance Fletcher (played by the formidable J.K. Simmons) reluctantly spots some potential, and begins to test Andrew in a way that pushes the very bounds of sanity and reason. Blood, sweat and tears is poured into Andrew’s drum coaching – Fletcher’s harsh training is designed to test Andrew, to see if he has what it takes to become one of the greats – a Charlie Parker (as is so often mentioned), a Buddy Rich or Jo Jones – not simply a “good” or “nice” drummer. It’s a fascinatingly detailed look into the precision of this kind of music – making us question the practices of what it takes to get the ‘legendary’ status.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube


Western Stars, Thom Zimny and Bruce Springsteen

I’ve spent 35 years trying to learn how to let go of the destructive parts of my character

The Boss’ latest album Western Stars gets the big screen treatment in this epic visual album. Springsteen’s orchestral new record is filmed live in Bruce’s old barn on his ranch in New Jersey.  The entire album, including great tracks like The Wayfarer, Sleepy Joe’s Cafe, and the emotional Hello Sunshine, are performed in full, with the stunning and enchanting visual backdrop of a vast American western landscape, and an old ramshackle barn; while Springsteen himself is “undoubtedly magnetic, his voice a honeyed growl” as narrator and star of the show.

Interspersed with Bruce’s rumbling narration about his ‘Glory Days’, the demons of his past and meditations on aging – these “nuggets of cowboy wisdom” add a hypotonic, poignant and poetic dimension to the Boss’ expansive, endearing, and every-growing body of work. This might just be the perfect film to put on in the background on a lazy, chilled evening, and get lost in the romantic pull of a western fairytale.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Amy, Asif Kapadia

Recently, we interviewed 4 female students for International Women’s Day, and a few of them noted the late, great Amy Winehouse as a key inspiration. Therefore we must, must MUST, suggest this film. Although it’s slightly less light socially-distanced viewing, this gritty documentary is a powerful, impactful, and important gaze into the life and death of the singer, putting her raw talent above sensationalism.

The 2015 documentary film dives into the life of Amy Winehouse, who sadly died at just 27 years of age in 2011. As a study of a very public life and death, Amy is a hard watch at times – but the film shines new light onto what’s commonly depicted as a dark, and troubled tale in the mainstream media. It arrived in 2015 to some controversy; naturally the film opens old wounds about her treatment by her management, the pubic gaze, other public figures, telling a sad story and ultimately questioning our relationship and reliance on tabloids, the press and the idea of ‘celebrity’. Without narration, Amy’s lyrics are left (quite rightly) here to tell her story. It’s “sober, unsensational, and overwhelming sad” according to Mark Kermode – but it’s an important watch, so if you haven’t already seen, we suggest allocating a quiet hour for this sombre masterpiece, and you can appreciate the talent of this extraordinary artist, all over again.

8 Mile, Curtis Hanson

Eminem stars as ‘Rabbit’ in this passionate, semi-biographical flick – with Eminem winning the 2003 Oscar for the film’s soundtrack song ‘Lose Yourself’. 8 Mile is a rags to riches tale of a symbolical-Eminem – a talented white rapper living in Detroit, in a primarily black community. Rabbit is “white trash”, living in a trailer park in the outskirts of the city with his erratic mother, and little sister; yet he professes a lyrical prowess that gains him acceptance in the black community, and ultimately a way out of his trapped life.  

This classic, hip-hop flick is an interesting portrait, in part, of the complex racial politics within hip-hop and tells the subtle tale well of how an impoverished, white kid from Detroit became one of the most successful, and respected rappers in the world. Hard-hitting, gritty, and gloriously empowering. If you’re looking for something a little different in lockdown, this could be it.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Check out our free online hip hop and rap short course.

Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe

“One day, you’ll be cool”.

You don’t need to be on stage to make it in music. This story, of a budding young music journalist, based loosely on director Cameron Crowe’s experiences as a young music enthusiast, shows just how cool it can be behind the scenes. A feast of late 60s/70s rock and roll nostalgia, this is the story of William, a 15-year-old kid who flukes his way into going on the road with up-and-coming rock band Stillwater, and writing about it for Rolling Stone Magazine. 

Starring Billy Crudup as Stillwater’s scruffy frontman, Frances Mcdormand as William’s protective mother, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs, a rock journalist who takes William under his wing. It’s a greatly sentimental and feel-good, with some great tracks on the soundtrack – Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, as sung by a busload of longhaired rockers, The Beach Boys’ Feel Flows and The Allmans’ rock/blues hit One Way Out.

Where to find it: Rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube

Want more content? Check out our International Women’s Day blog and read our Coronavirus and Musicians advice blog here.