Excursion 2: Hip Hop is cultural misrepresentationPosted on Feb 5, 2010 by Aloxe |
The principles of true hip hop have been forsaken
It’s all contractual and about money makin’
Pretend-to-be cats don’t seem to know they limitation
Exact replication and false representation
The Roots feat. Raphael Saadiq – What they do (Geffen Records, 1996)
Call it a comeback. I’ve been away for a few weeks but now I’m back with more excursions. In my previous post, I talked about how Hip Hop represents a continuous struggle with race, gender, ethics and identity. This ongoing struggle with what Hip Hop is, can and should be cuts straight to the heart of the movement, namely a concern with authenticity, a concern with “keepin’ it real”.
In a 1999 paper, Kembrew McLeod examines the meanings authenticity has in a culture that is caught “between being both outside mainstream (U.S.) culture and very much inside it as well” (McLeod 1999: 136 – I’ll talk more about this apparent contradiction in Excursion 10). Based on interviews with hip hop artists, entrepreneurs and fans and analyses of hip hop press releases, magazine articles and online discussion groups, McLeod finds that “keepin’ it real” has six distinct meanings:
Screenshot taken from McLeod 1999: 139
Without questioning the validity of McLeod’s findings, the point I’d like to make in this excursion is that these meanings fly below the radar. Instead, what we find all too often are representations of Hip Hop that lean more toward the ‘fake’ than to the ‘real’. There are of course exceptions (a reference to the legacy of James D. Yancey seems mandatory here), but overall I would attribute the cultural misrepresentation of Hip Hop to:
1. the market value of rap music. Rap is Hip Hop’s most successful commodity and this commercial success has backgrounded the other three elements that define the culture: tagging, breakdancing and dj-ing (with graffiti still widely considered as illegal, destructive and marginal behavior);
2. cultural stereotyping in rap music. A lot of rap music projects a very narrow-minded and short-sighted ideology that glorifies heteronormativity, materialism, misogyny, sexual braggadocio and violence. While there is certainly a market for this kind of music (raise your hand if you’ve never danced or sang along to Mystikal’s “Shake ya ass”), I applaud a real Hip Hop band like The Roots for taking the piss out of these stereotypes and couldn’t care less about ‘artists’ that produce this crap.
McLeod, Kembrew (1999) Authenticity within hip-hop and other cultures threatened with assimilation. In: Journal of Communication, 49 (4): 134-150. Available as a PDF document at kembrew.com.
Picture by Stijn Coppens