Monday, April 21, 2014

Hyperlinking Hip Hop: Creating within a Culture

Tricia Rose's "Hip Hop Wars"  

 Below are some big points that I pulled out of the Tricia Rose talk for today. I'd like to discuss a little bit about this experience however. I honestly don't believe that hip hop is talked about enough in American culture, despite commercial Hip Hop being extremely pervasive. The broadness of this topic is also incredible. So for my post, I think I'd like to focus on the race relations of hip hip as well as what meanings are derived from this art form, for both white youth and youth of color. I think that understanding hip hop in a historical and racial point of view is extraordinarily important to our discussion of hip hop in general. Without a cultural context, we view race, racialized prejudice, media, and consumer culture in separate boxes when they are actually points of intersectionality.

 First off, I'd like to start with the video of the Tricia Rose talk at Brown and some basic points: We don't share lived experience, but popular culture.

  • Cultural knowledge is spread through popular culture and the media. This knowledge comes to us in complex, mediated ways. Things are constantly reformed and moving. 
  • Hiphop was first brought about, as Rose argues, on basketball courts. People would freestyle during the instrumental B-Sides of tapes. This was not supposed to originally be viewed as a form of art.
  • Prerecorded technology - like CD's and track players - helped for the first time in the of making new songs. Sampling. This access to new technology helped "create" hip hop 
  • A culture of versioning - Prerecorded tapes and tracks that could be edited together and taken apart. This is creating within a context already present. Hip Hop's creation acted as a sort of conversation which is characteristic of the Black communities (according to Rose).
  • Decline and despair in urban America in Black culture as a source of creativity - working class , low-tech jobs that people were funneled into (auto repair, etc.) gave rise to a multicultural mix of people who are able to reinvent technology to their own benefit, despite downtrodden economies. A theme of hip hop and black musics is often hope despite despair.

This is a video about the controversy of hip hop that is a common debate in many cultures, but especially American culture. Dr. Rose is on the panel in this debate. The common view is that hip hop is more misogynist, more violent, more degrading, more criminal, than any other stylized form of music. It is then interesting that this is considered the last black music that has not - yet - been reappropriated for white culture. What is constantly discussed is the economic struggles which gave rise to the views of criminality and hip hop. While the video is really long, it is worth watching at the very least the first 15 minutes.

Here is a link to the Notorious B.I.G. lyrics that Michael Eric Dyson quotes about the economic and socio-cultural events within the black community.

Wu Tang Clan - C.R.E.A.M.
Here is an example of what I would consider (with me not being an expert by any stretch of the imagination) an example of non-commercial hip hop. The beat and kick pattern is simple and catchy with the lyrics deep and based on lived experiences of the artists in the group. The pattern in the background is a sample, something taken from some other song or melody or elsewise. This video also talks about how difficult it was in urban culture to stay clean, get money, and stay out of jail. The lyrics give a narrative of this form of hope and despair that Rose discusses in her talk at Brown University. There is even a discussion of how youth are effected by the events in black culture, the despair, as Rose calls it.  

Lil' Wayne - 6 Foot 7 Foot (Ft. Cory Gunz)

Here is a popular hip hop song that I would consider commercial - made for entertainment, shallow content, catchy, and was made to make money rather than be an expression of true art or experience. This is an example of what people often refer to as the rampant misogyny, criminality, and violence that hip hop is often blamed for. This song follows much of the pattern of what Tricia Rose discusses in the form of hip hop - the sampling and conversational tone of the song - while appealing to the masses by using imagery from Inception, a film that had come out around that time. The pattern in the background repeats so much that the words and content of the song almost become intelligible. The only important thing then becomes the glimpses of phrases that can be heard, rather than the full message. There is no real narrative written here, only a song of rhyming which follows a predictable pattern of popular consumption.

Jay-Z - "Hard Knock Life"

Like the Lil Wayne video, this song also samples and in fact makes its appeal off of the hook from the Broadway musical Annie. In this song, the underlying kick patterns of Hard Knock Life, sung in the musical by the orphans of the orphanage as they are doing chores and being abused, makes up the basis of the melody which Jay-Z raps over. While he discusses certain topics that are discussed by Rose, this is a for-profit video that is geared at making money rather than expressing content. This video does however demonstrate Rose's idea of versioning with the repetitious pattern of the hook from Annie overlayed by references to popular culture (like Biggie - the Notorious B.I.G.) and displaying this "hope through despair" kind of "rags to riches story".

Lupe Fiasco - "Bitch Bad"
This video also falls under the context of commercialized hip hop, but varies from some of the other videos that we have examined. In this song and video, Lupe Fiaso - like many artists (Frank Ocean, Lauren Hill, Queen Latifa, among others) within the hip hop community which we typically don't recognize - makes a critique of the language and visual stimulation we use in order to construct ideas about what and who is acceptable through hip hop and other sources of media. He has something strong to say about the rampant misogyny, violence, and racial stereotypes which other artists use to sell their works. While he doesn't specifically say hip hop - because we can apply this critique to many forms of music which promote similar ideas - the audience is made to understand that this is a situation that is being driven not only by white supremacy, but also by internalized racism and other forms of structural oppression. Last year, I made the mistake of saying that Lupe Fiasco was the only commercialized artist to make such a stance, but a fellow student, friend, and colleague pointed out how I was playing into some of the stereotypes which Lupe Fiasco and many other artists who were discontent with the present state of hip hop were discussing.

I end with this last note on Lupe Fiasco as a catalyst to our discussion of how media affects teenagers and the perceptions which we have of black youth. Lupe Fiasco talks about how the contexts of these conversations, images, and stereotypes become coded in our understanding of ourselves from a young age and why this cycle continues. I am in no way an expert on this topic. However, it seems to me that the portrayal of negative stereotypes in commercial hip hop has lead to a cultural understanding of black youth as analogous with the popular black musics which are becoming more and more commercialized. Youth are therefore told to spend, to adopt a certain image in order to be black, to understand relationships to each other and the world at large in a specific and limited way. And while there are artists who are constantly fighting for not only recognition but a change in the systemic oppression of black youth, these stereotypes are encoded and subscribed to by society - including white and non-black societies - as a whole. Black youth are therefore seen as different from white or non-black youth - an alien culture - who adopts this mode of expression through the numerous negative representations presented by artists who are being marketed by larger cultural as having only one stereotypical situation. This proves that media matters not only to teenagers but to our growing perception of who youth and marginalized groups of people are.

1 comment:

  1. JACKI, thank you so much for this post. This is intelligent, well-thought, and well-organized. I love that you analyzed a group of different music videos, ending with the Lupe Fiasco music video. I had completely forgotten about that song, so I'm so glad you brought it back to my attention! I always admired how Lupe's lyrics addressed not only the son's impression of women because of negative language, but the impression women get from themselves as well. Thank You for this post:)