The rise of hip hop culture in Athens has been ongoing for several years now, and many people say this is much due to one particular artist by the name of Lingua Franca. Franca is her name in the hip hop community, but she wears two other hats where she is referred to as Mariah Parker. This staple of the hip hop scene in Athens is actually a doctoral student, active political advocate, and local rapper all at once.
Parker goes by Lingua Franca because in linguistics a lingua franca is language that is used to communicate across cultural boundaries.
“I feel like that’s what hip hop is. Hip hop is global and it touches peoples hearts across all sorts of cultural boundaries which is why I feel like my music is a lingua franca.”
Parker also embodies the name lingua franca as a doctoral student, and TA of linguistics at the University of Georgia. She comments that her time studying linguistics has been a large part of her development as a local rapper and writer.
“Linguistics has taught me a lot about the constraints of the English language and also what it offers us. It’s like this ingredient list of things that can possibly go together in my music” she says.
Parker’s history of music in Athens began before she moved here. Her love for words and meaning branched into an appreciation of poetry and then transitioned into a enthusiasm for hip hop – but when she got to Athens, she noticed the hip hop scene was lacking. As a result, she started Hot Corner Hip Hop, one of the initial movements of hip hop culture in Athens.
“When I moved to Athens in 2014 I didn’t really see a very unified hip hop scene where it was celebrated or elevated. That’t why I started Hot Corner Hip Hop and I was able to see many lovers of the genre were drawn out of the distant corners of Athens by the mere whisper of hip hop. That really solidified for me that there wasn’t a place for this in Downtown Athens before.”
Hot Corner Hip Hop is a hip hop movement in Downtown Athens that “pushes back against racism and classism by building a creative multicultural community” According to Parker. Its aim is to celebrate the Athens hip hop community, support its presence downtown, and facilitate collaborations between performers, patrons, and everybody who loves hip hop.
Initially, there was some push-back for bringing hip hop into Athens because of local fear of the music bringing rowdiness and crime into the city. Parker thought it unfair for there to be resistance because it results in a whole group of people feeling unwelcome in the downtown area.
“I started thinking about policy and how it created these conditions where people didn’t feel welcome and that was a transition for me” Parker said.
This movement led Parker to realize that making a change in Athens could go further than just the addition of hip hop.
“I then became really involved in electoral politics by using the skills I learned from hip hop organizing to help organize political campaigns. Its interesting to see how the two work together” says Parker.
Parker is now actively involved in volunteering recruitment, and most recently helping former rap activist Tommy Valentine to get elected to the county commissioners office for district nine in the race May 2018.
She also modified her music writing after the recent presidential election to create a call to action for people to participate in politics through voting.
“I want to create music that inspires people to do something and feel obligated to get involved.” Parker said.
Parker is proud of how hip hop has manifested in Athens thus far, and glad to see local businesses and breweries now supporting the genre downtown.
“Even though we initially faced push-back, hip hop nights can now be found downtown in local breweries such as Creature Comforts, and venues like the Georgia Theater. That is definitely the progress we need to see.”
The next large hip hop event in Athens will be December 22nd at 40 Watt called Fundraiser Jingle Jam. It is being thrown with Tommy Valentine to promote political discussion and show how politics and hip hop both bring people together.