Meet Hip-Hop Artist, Advocate, Educator Mahogany Jones — The U.S. Cultural Ambassador for Hip Hop Music
Hip-Hop is truly a global form of creative expression. Even in some remote corners of the world you will find rap lyricists. And Detroit’s Mahogany Jones is discovering this as she travels the world as the official U.S. Cultural Ambassador for Hip-Hop Music, a program organized through the White House. The State Department runs a cultural diplomacy program that sends various people out from the worlds of music and art to engage other cultures through the arts. The State Department added Hip-Hop to the program in 2014, with the first Hip-Hop ambassador being Toni Blackman. Mahogany Jones is the second.
Jones was hand-picked by the U.S. Department of State, American Music Abroad program from 100s of applicants to take on this role to represent the United States. In her role the Hip-Hop artist has gone to various countries to perform and discuss the art of Hip-Hop. Her travels include 13 countries including Botswana and Pakistan.
Jones is also a poet and an educator with three Detroit in-school programs that use music to teach Life Skills to troubled youth. She is also an Adjunct Instructor with the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME). A 2016 Kresge Fellowship Recipient for Music and Film, Jones is also the co-director of Women in Hip Hop, a national organization uniting women in music. She’s more than busy, but right now she is concentrating on spreading the message of Hip-Hop worldwide and promoting her new CD Sugar Water. She has the chops. In fact, she is the 4-time Undefeated BET 106 & Park, “Freestyle Friday” Champion.
Mahogany Jones tells more about her hip-hop journey.
Parlé Mag: So how does one become the U.S. Cultural Ambassador for Hip Hop?
Mahogany Jones: The U.S. Cultural Ambassador for Music started back in the day with people like Dizzy Gillespie and the form of music that they have used to build diplomacy has always been jazz. They then added in Hip-Hop and the first Ambassador of Hip Hop was Toni Blackman, she was my mentor. So I applied and I was selected.
Parlé Mag: What do people in other countries ask you the most about Hip-Hop?
Mahogany Jones: I do get a lot of people asking if all American rappers are gangsters, but mainly there are questions about the history of Hip-Hop, and we talk about how Hip-Hop has always been an outlet for marginalized people not just in America but worldwide.
I would go to that country and not speak the language, but the concept of the cypher… it connects us all. It’s really a culture of people who have been marginalization.
Parlé Mag: Why Hip-Hop for you?
Mahogany Jones: I think was was drawn to Hip-Hop because my first love was poetry and spoken word. Thought I was going to be the next Maya Angelou. Then while I was in college, I heard some underground artists and OMG, they were saying something I could really relate to. Something I could do.
Parlé Mag: How do you feel about the current state of Hip-Hop?
Mahogany Jones: I think Hip-Hop is at a very interesting stage. There was a time when Hip-Hop heads had a lot of options—the tree huggers had De La Soul, if you were into hardcore you had your artists. But today we have no options as listeners. We need to cultivate Hip -Hop and and take care of it and take care of each other.
Parlé Mag: Tell me more about your new CD, Sugar Water?
Mahogany Jones: I am excited about my new CD and I will go on a national tour soon. I want to use my music to talk about issues, social issues. I think music can educate and I am an educator.
Parlé Mag: There have been more and more college courses being created around Hip-Hop. How do you feel about that.
Mahogany Jones: Yes, higher education is embracing Hip-Hop. It’s interesting but not interesting to me. People of color create and then they are dissected and then others want to recreate it.