How pop music helps define our cities

What does Petula Clark's classic hit Downtown have in common with 50 Cent's rap tune In My Hood? Quite a lot, according to Adam Krims, keynote speaker at Trinity Western University's upcoming conference beginning May 4.“These popular songs characterize cities as places of opportunity and adventure at times, and at other times, as places of entrapment and danger,” says the author of Rap Music and Poetics of Identity.

In fact, Krims, a music analysis professor at the University of Nottingham (U.K.) argues that popular music reflects ideas about the changing character of urban life. “We can tell a lot about public perceptions of cities by listening closely to popular music, and watching videos,” he says. “In a way, music helps urban dwellers project and try to reinforce their identities, a sense of themselves.”

To make his point, Krims points to 50 Cent's song In My Hood. “That song only came into possibility as jobs flowed out of American cities, ghettos formed, and the influx of crack exacerbated urban violence,” he says. “A sort of moral panic overtook cultural producers, with fantasies of danger and domination, and a mixture of envy, desire and contempt.”

Krims will present his ideas of what he calls an “urban ethos” at an upcoming conference, (Be)longing: Art and Identity in an Age of Anxiety, at Trinity Western University (TWU). From Thursday May 4 to Sunday May 7, 2006, this interdisciplinary conference will gather artists and thinkers from around the world to explore what the arts can say to a world searching for identity.

Krims will be joined by other conference keynote speakers—M.A. Greenstein, an art critic from Los Angeles, and Graeme Chalmers, an art education professor from UBC—and more than 30 other presenters who will look at how art, music, theatre and literature offer a point of connection or distraction in a fragmented world.

“The themes and ideas presented at this conference are fully universal, and yet fully personal,” says Linda Schwartz, dean of TWU's Faculty of Professional Studies and Performing Arts. “Because of that, the conference provides a place for people of all backgrounds and beliefs to speak to key issues of art, identity, and ourselves.”

Conference guests are welcome to attend for one day, or for the entire weekend. For detailed information and online registration visit

Last Updated: 2007-10-11
Author: Erin Mussolum