Written by Ari Roth | January 16, 2017

"I present Hip Hop as a new way to listen to a community and really hear the frustrations that community has. - Michael Ford"


Watch Wednesday's Keynote conversation between the Director of the Arts Council in New Orleans, Bryan Lee Jr., the Hip Hop Architect Michael Ford, and Forbes Senior Editor, Zack Greenburg. — Keynote Conversation: Designing a Just City - Hip Hop Architecture. Mr. Lee is currently the Place + Civic Design Director for the Arts Council of New Orleans. He is directly tasked with creating, advocating for, and contribute to, the creative intervention of public art and social impact design in civic spaces across New Orleans. Michael Ford also known as The Hip Hop Architect, is an architectural designer, born and raised in the city of Detroit who has spent his career focusing on the social and cultural implications of architecture and urban planning on a city's inhabitants. Currently Ford is an instructor at Madison College and the Director of BrandNu Design, where he is leading the design of The Universal Hip Hop Museum in The Bronx. Zack O'Malley Greenburg is the senior editor of media & entertainment at Forbes and author of two books: "Michael Jackson, Inc" and the Jay Z biography "Empire State of Mind."

Focusing on the intersection of theory and practice, Bryan Lee, Jr., Michael Ford, and Zack Greenburg explore hip hop as a revolutionary approach to understanding, conceiving, and generating architecture for a just city.

The Hip Hop Architect's Playlist

To get the full experience, listen along as you watch, and read Michael Ford's description of each song and its connection to architecture below.

Biz Markie, Just a Friend

I had the entire audience sing the chorus to this song, as I described the relationship Le Corbusier sought after with Josephine Baker.

Rob Base, It Takes Two

Le Corbusier and Robert Moses together created the environments which necessitated the birth of hip hop culture.

KRS One, R.E.A.L.I.T.Y

"Rhymes Equal Actual Life in The Youth" If you want to hear a critique of the environment from which the music is made, listen to the music.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Message

Describes the Urban Reality of Urban Renewal. His opening verse contradicts the utopias often described by modernists architects and the chorus is a reflection of the sociological effects of the built environment on its inhabitants.

It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under
It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under

Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don't care
I can't take the smell, can't take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice

Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away, but I couldn't get far
'Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car

Don't push me, 'cause I'm close to the edge
I'm trying not to lose my head

Snoop Dogg - Life in The Projects

Describes the dismal environments resulting from the Le Corbusier's modernist vision, Towers in a Park. The monotonous superblocks failed to provide the lush green environments once envisioned by Le Corbusier.

"Ain't no trees, the grass ain't green, And when I say it's all bad, you know what I mean."

Wu Tang Clan, S.O.S

Wu Tang member, Street Life’s contribution to the ‘S.O.S” call reveals a deep frustration and level of tension between public housing authorities, architects and the tenants about the cyclical fostering and implementation of injustices upon African American communities.

"Street chronicle, wise words by the abdominal
High honorable, rap quotable phenomenal
Seniority kid, I speak for the minority
Ghetto poverty fuck the housing authority"

West Coast All Stars, Same Gang

In the song "We're All in The Same Gang", produced by Dr. Dre in 1990, featuring the top hip hop artists and rappers from the West Coast, Shock G eludes to John B Calhoun's research during his verse below. If investigated, he exposes how the built environment influences social behavior:

"I'm in a rage
Oh yeah? Yo, why is that G?
Other races, they say we act like rats in a cage
I tried to argue, but check it, every night in the news
We prove them suckers right and I got the blues"

Vanilla Ice, Ice Ice Baby

If you can't get with the lyrical dexterity of some of hip hop's greatest MC's, Vanilla Ice made it plain and simple. "Stop, Collaborate, Listen". This is what every architect, designer and urban planner should do when working in communities with people of color to ensure an inclusive process which results in successful projects.

Nas, I Can

Nas empowered hip hoppers by telling them they can be whomever they want to be, including an architect. So if the designers who work in our communities will not collaborate, we should seek to develop architects and designers from within to deal with the issues which plague inner cities.