Photo Credit: Carrie Rosema Photo Credit: Carrie Rosema Photo Credit: Carrie Rosema Photo Credit: Jonathan Godoy

Associate Professor

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 work explores African diasporic ritual cultures, popular cultures, representations of race, and negotiations of racial, gender, and national differences.

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, 2022). 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 Alif, Women & Performance, and the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Hip Hop.

Dr. Johnson held positions Postdoctoral Fellow in History at East Tennessee State University, Postdoctoral Fellow in Performance Studies, and dramaturg in the Theater Department at NYU. Dr. Johnson is also a former Ford Dissertation Fellow. 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.  Dr. Johnson was also a 2016-2017 Woodrow Wilson Career Enhancement Fellow.  Dr. Johnson has also chaired four Show & Prove Hip Hop Studies conferences, and will continue to collaborate with others to expand on it at UCR and beyond.