Associate Professor & Vice Chair

Dr. Imani Kai Johnson is an interdisciplinary scholar, specializing in the African diaspora, global popular culture, and Hip Hop. She was born and raised in Northern California, but comes to UC Riverside from her adopted home in Brooklyn New York. She has attended UC Berkeley (BA), New York University (MA), and the University of Southern California (Ph.D.) where she received her doctorate in American Studies & Ethnicity.

Dr. Johnson’s book on the ritual circle in international Hip Hop dance communities is titled Dark Matter in Breaking Cyphers: the Life of Africanist Aesthetics in Global Hip Hop (Oxford University Press, 2023). This work examines the political, cultural, and spiritual nature of Hip Hop dance through a close examination of the ritual practice of cyphering—collaborative and competitive dance circles. Using the metaphor of “dark matter” (a physics concept about non-luminous matter comprising the majority of the universe), the book addresses histories of exclusion, marginalization, and invisibilization that fundamentally shape the aesthetic sensibilities of breaking culture, and the ways that such aesthetics inform the current circulation of Hip Hop dance transnationally. She has published articles in Dance Research Journal, Alif, Women & Performance, and the Cambridge Companion to Hip Hop. She is also co-editor, alongside Mary Fogarty, of the Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Dance Studies, the first collection of peer-reviewed research on Hip Hop streetdances, including work by practitioners, practitioner-scholars, and scholars of dance, music, sociology, and the hard sciences.

As the founder, chair, and sole Artistic Director of the Show & Prove Hip Hop Studies Conference Series, Dr. Johnson’s work on Hip Hop extends to cultivating sites for Hip Hop scholars to speak to one another and to a knowing Hip Hop community to foster the growth of Hip Hop Studies as a field that is responsible to communities beyond the academy.

Dr. Johnson is a former Ford Dissertation Fellow (2008-2009), and has held positions as a Postdoctoral Fellow in History at East Tennessee State University, Postdoctoral Fellow in Performance Studies and dramaturg in the Theater Department at NYU. Additionally, she has participated in several noteworthy institutes including the 2014 NEH Summer Institute on Black Aesthetics & African Centered Cultural Expressions, the Mellon Dance Studies Summer Institute, Decolonizing Knowledge & Power Summer School, the Summer School on Black Europe, Experimental Critical Theory, and the Advanced Oral History Summer Institute at UC Berkeley.  She was also a 2016-2017 Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellow.