Ben Cohn ’08: Renaissance Alum on a Quest for Public Purpose

This year, LWHS welcomed back a new member to its admissions staff: Ben Cohn ’08. Mr. Cohn, a man of many talents, has devoted himself to spreading his extensive knowledge and love of music around the world.

After graduating from the University of Puget Sound in 2012, Cohn traveled to Yangsan, SouthKorea to teach English for one year. After returning to the United States, Cohn created the hip-hop music Mecca of his website, da-what.com. This website features interviews with local musicians, and serves as a platform for hip-hop enthusiasts to share their own music, as well as discover others’.

Cohn has also won a Fulbright scholarship, and he will soon travel to Accra—the capital of Ghana—to create a program that facilitates access to music education for children in local communities. The Paper Tiger (kinda) sat down with him to talk about his experiences.

When did you create da-what.com?

I started Da-What at the end of 2008 with a couple friends of mine. While they have moved onto other ventures, I have continued to maintain the site to this day.

How has the website evolved since then?

Well, we originally had no idea what our goal was for Da-What. We were all hip-hop heads who read other sites, listened to a lot of music and enjoyed some of the online communities that had developed. Some of the early posts I can remember included a “Top 10 Albums of All Time”, various spotlights on artists I didn’t hear on the radio and information on different types of hip hop production.We definitely also had links/uploads where people could download music that shouldn’t have been available for free and that was one of the first changes we made. As huge music fans, we didn’t want to promote piracy and quickly changed policy to only upload free music.

A second major change was the first time I received a “music  submission”—an email from an artist/ management/PR person requesting coverage on the site. That fundamentally changed how I viewed Da-What because it allowed the site to represent more than just my view/opinion. Da-What could represent and provide a platform for artists that couldn’t find it elsewhere.

Skip ahead to today, almost everything that is found on the site was sent to me with a request for coverage. I do write about things without solicitation too, but a majority of my time is spent listening to emails and looking for the good ones to post. I have also been able to build upon one of the early additions to Da-What, the slogan “Hip Hop. More than Music.” As I get better and meet more people, I have introduced a number of original series that step beyond hip hop as a genre of music and tend to focus on the culture as a whole.

What do you hope will happen to your website in the future?

First thing, I hope that I can build a team to help grow. As is, I spend way too much time on daily maintenance on the site to move forward with the types of things I would like to do. I hope Da-What continues to build a presence as a place for good hip hop, with a buzz or without, I hope it contributes to hip hop culture as a whole in a positive way and definitely inform people.

What do you intend to do in Ghana?

I am trying to stay open and flexible to whatever will be thrown at me. Ideally, I will work with local musicians and educators to help provide music education to those who may not have had access. However, I feel very strongly that I should not show up with an attitude that ‘x is important’ or ‘y needs to happen’. Instead, I want to bring as many skills and resources to the table as I can, find out what needs to happen and what is important, then try to achieve that.

My undergraduate degree is in International Political Economy. Throughout my academic career, I had the opportunity to write about music’s role in society from a political economist’s perspective. Focusing on systems and the interconnectivity of a country’s make up, music finds its way into culture, politics and even the economy. Similar to the music program I plan to set up, I do not want to be inflexible about my research topic and will try to allow it to flow naturally. I intend to learn as much as I can about the roles that music plays in Ghanaian culture, history and contemporary life. I will be working directly with Dr. John Collins, a professor in the music department at the University of Ghana-Legon and the chairman of the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation (BAPMAF).

What’s next for you after Ghana?

I’m not crazy enough to try to predict the future! I have a few goals, plans, ideas, paths that I will be investigating, but who knows! A year before I left for Ghana, I had no idea that is where I would end up so… Hopefully I will be back in San Francisco again, I think that would be ideal. Only time will tell!

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About Cole Crawford

Cole Crawford is a senior in his third year with The Paper Tiger; he currently serves as the Tiger's Managing Editor and Centerspread Editor. Crawford primarily writes about the Lick community, sports, and politics. He is 6' 4".

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