A self-described scholar, artist, and writer, Shanté Paradigm Smalls, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Black Studies, Affiliate Faculty for the St. John’s Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) program, and Founding Codirector of the University’s LGBTQ+ Center. Now, Dr. Smalls can add “acclaimed author” to a growing list of accomplishments with the release of the book Hip Hop Heresies: Queer Aesthetics in New York (NYU Press, June 2022).
“The book is a culmination of my lifelong hip-hop fandom, my work as a hip-hop artist and performer, and my scholarly investments in hip-hop,” they explained. “It’s a product of all of those parts of me.”
Hip Hop Heresies, according to Dr. Smalls, is an expansion of their doctoral dissertation. It explores the ways that hip-hop cultural production in New York City from the 1970s through the early 21st century produced film, visual art, and music that offer queer articulations of race, gender, and sexuality. In 2016, it was honored with the Center for LGBTQ Studies (CLAGS) Fellowship Award for best manuscript in LGBTQ Studies.
“I always knew I was going to write about LGBTQ hip-hop historiography, but when I got to grad school and started taking all of these amazing classes, my ideas expanded,” they recalled. “I really wanted to show the breadth and depth of hip-hop arts and performance.”
Since penning the original dissertation, Dr. Smalls made several revisions to Hip Hop Heresies, resulting in a tome with a broader appeal.
“The dissertation was for my committee—but the book is for the world,” they explained. “I am a much more facile thinker now than in grad school, which makes sense. I have benefited from so many conversations, reading, and viewing, and that has made its way into the book.”
Hip Hop Heresies was recently named one of Ms. magazine’s “June 2022 Books for the Rest of Us” picks.
A classically trained singer, Dr. Smalls has been performing since the age of five and has been surrounded by musicians throughout their life.
“My family is very musical,” they explained. “My mom was a gospel singer, and my dad is a ‘jazz head,’ so I grew up listening to gospel and jazz and some blues. My paternal grandfather played the piano, my older brother was a very serious hip-hop artist, and my younger brother is a classical guitarist.”
Outside of their family unit, Dr. Smalls has drawn inspiration from an eclectic mix of musical talent. “I have been influenced by everyone from Marvin Gaye to Led Zeppelin to Bjork and Ms. Lauryn Hill. I love a lyricist, a storyteller, and someone who knows how to think and perform musically.”
While Dr. Smalls hasn’t performed in some time, there is hope that they will return to the studio to complete an unfinished recording project. “Maybe now that I’m done (with Hip Hop Heresies), I can finish this solo album I have been in the middle of for over a decade,” they said. “I actually had one of my producers come to my Hip-Hop Aesthetics class (via Zoom) last fall and he was a hit. He’s also a professor and a father of young children, so he’s been busy, too.”
An enthusiastic and visionary member of the St. John’s community, Dr. Smalls played a key role in the creation of the University’s Institute for Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, which opened in the Fall of 2021.
“I’m so happy that we now have both a CRES bachelor’s degree program, as well as an interdisciplinary minor,” they said. “The road to this was long and nonlinear. I have been a part of the development and brainstorming from the beginning. I’m proud to support the tireless hard work that (CRES Founding Director) Natalie P. Byfield, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and (CRES Assistant Director) Rev. Jean-Pierre M. Ruiz, S.T.D., Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, are doing.”
In 2021, Dr. Smalls and Candice D. Roberts, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Division of Mass Communication, founded the LGBTQ+ Center as a place to organize, coordinate, and innovate LGBTQIA+ issues in the St. John’s ecosystem for LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and employees. Together, the pair formed a small task force and invited undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrators, and staff to collaborate on policies and projects to help integrate LGBTQIA+ community members into University life.
Dr. Smalls is also an Associate Professor of Black Studies in the Department of English, where they most recently taught Global Literature in Context, with a focus on hip-hop aesthetics. They also teach a course in Methods in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies.
“I never want my courses to be dull or self-contained—they should always be in engagement with the wider world. I also want students to create something they can take with them into their postcollege life,” they said. “My main aspiration is to get students to value the preciousness of their own minds and what a privilege it is to be a human who can think, ask questions, create, dream, and collaborate.”