The Study of Hip Hop

Textual Analysis I: Final Revision

April 18, 2014

A Tug of War of Black Authenticity, Political Power and Culture in Hip Hop Revisited

A classmate once told me, “Authenticity in Hip Hop is what the artist chooses to present. They control their spectacle and what their message is, that is what is authentic. That experience and moment in time”. I thought about this. To a certain extent, I did not necessarily agree but rather felt his response was lacking another understanding of hip hop today and the true authentic nature of what hip hop is and what it represents.

I first made a post about the controversy of the Macklemore win at the Grammy Awards and the overlay of authenticity within the hip hop community. Revisiting that topic and the authenticity debate, I have decided to also pull in the significance of the cipher. Defined within the hip hop community, and then also brought back to light in Check it While I Wreck It by Gwedolyn D. Pough, is a concept which emphasizes understanding, and figuring out while people shape and build knowledge together (41-42). Pough says, the cipher is in constant motion and the public space in which artists create for themselves. This however plays into the role of corporate and the limits within the public sphere available for Black artists in hip hop. While there are plenty of artists, rappers, and DJs out there bringing wealth in the sphere of influence through public space, their stories, that cipher is sometimes overlooked for a more mainstream ideal.

What I forgot to add was a single primary source that I analyzed in accordance to the Black Authenticity debate. The primary sources I have chosen to analyze and discuss in this analysis are Macklemore’s “Same Love” song and music video and Tech N9ne’s “Fragile” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Kendall Morgan, and MAYDAY. And so in relation to this whole debacle I wanted to refresh the reader with what I had analyzed and what I argued in the first post (which after, I will include my new analyzed material of an article written about “Hip Hop Realness and the White Performer”.

same love

Fragile

The two songs I have analyzed display mainstream experiences that are not only unique in a way to hip hop but was crafted to reach wider audiences. Macklemore’s success for one, in various arguments, do not adhere to what is traditional or authentic to the roots of hip hop but it describes a man experiences with understanding the concept of homosexuality and how homophobia is prevalent in the United States. The Tech N9ne song, “Fragile” on the other hand, discusses bullying, raw human emotion, and disconnects with youth. Both are experiences that are widely relatable but also stem from a place of expression. Though I will not knock what Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made, I think there are still other artists that do not get recognized despite their raw expression.

Some have argued that Macklemore’s big win at the Grammys implied the underlying issue of the Grammys not being inclusive or even respectful to the Hip Hop generation and of the black audience. As India Arie recently posted on her Tumblr page, “If the hip hop community voted on hip hop — R&B COMMUNITY the same —  same for each category — we’d see winners that reflect the MUSIC ITSELF. We all know that’s just not the way it goes. NOW the BIGGER losers, are ALL of black music. Where was the black music community represented in last nights #Grammy show?” –Taken from the Official India Arie Tumblr site

That is the underlying issue and that situation is very similar to the recent frustrations over, Hip Hop’s up and coming artist, Kendrick Lamar’s loss. Therefore I will analyze this particular issue of race, politics, and culture within Hip Hop by arguing that “authenticity” in Hip Hop stems from strictly the community that it derived from which is the African diaspora and the Black youth subculture and when analyzing what makes Hip Hop authentic, one can better understand the rising tensions between the politics of respectability, limitations of the public sphere, and the appropriation of Black culture in today’s contemporary society.

 

First I would like to utilize this analysis with, in accordance with the readings, the information found in an article I found called “Hip Hop Realness and the White Performer” written by Mickey Hess (2005). Hess argues that the new age white performers such as Eminem and Vanilla have paved the way for white performers to identify within the hip hop industry and comprehend their “whiteness”. He states that Eminem in particular has shown and presented a new model of “white hip hop” that can now turn over the notions that hip hop is explicitly black- owned. Of course, other scholars such as Kitwana would be turning the other way at this broad statement but Hess tries to clear the air of what whiteness is to white rappers.

For one, white rappers will always have a privilege and the author is aware of this. For those who control most of the music industry are white, they have the advantage to sell their craft. Sure, Hess argues that “authenticity” in hip hop is “experiences (Hess 2005) but Kitwana would say that it is much more deeply rooted than that. In Macklemore’s case, experience was enough to snatch multiple Grammys? Then what about Kendrick Lamar’s experiences? Were those not genuine or “authentic” enough. It is difficult to automatically make race a factor, but it is. Hess tries to assimilate white rappers into a rap industry which already is a fault. Hess theorizes hip hop as black American music but also provides a separate space for white authenticity and white hip hop. This however should be an indication for why Macklemore won all those awards because it is catering to a “white audience”, a majority opinion and though hip hop is classified by many as “Black” music, it is the white man’s “experience” that will be more relatable to the audience.

However, in Macklemore’s case, he somewhat to his fans brought another perspective and experience, which was the “same love” concept. In his song, he talks about growing up and being told to act a certain way pertaining to his masculinity. We have all seen the video portraying a young man growing up with doubts of his sexuality and then coming out to his parents in the end and marrying the love of his life. An advocacy for human rights, Macklemore was painted as vulnerable being a rap artist to really show his true feelings against a controversial subject. But in reality, he was like any other. He was marketed well and had privilege in his public sphere. It was not something ground breaking but rather marketable for that time and place.

Author Bakari Kitwana in the article, “The Challenge of Rap Music from Cultural Movement to Political Power” as part of the Anthology “That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader” (Forman and Neal 2012) noted that the evolution of the youth subculture of Hip Hop, a form of self-expression and art, transformed into a struggle for political influence and power over the radios and mainstream avenues. There is the concept that once something from the underground, art that is at first limited and “authentic” to the roles and experiences of persons going through struggles of the Black community, goes on to becoming commercialized it loses its voice and power. Something that I gained after reading this section of the article was that authenticity is something that cannot be easily argued. Like Kitwana says, “ It’s not exactly a chicken –or- egg question, however. Hip Hop as a culture indisputably emerged in the South Bronx in the late 1970s” (Forman and Neal 2012). However to say that Hip Hop could be what it is today without commercialization is also not accurate because without the exposure, it would have not expanded to the degree it is today. This is where authenticity comes in.

The cipher is not cut short or even tainted because it is not displayed or widely distributed. In no way should someone believe that because the artist is not heard enough, that they are not heard at all. In the “Fragile” by Tech N9ne, Kendrick Lamar is featured and in his rap he discusses his fragile state of mind and vulnerability. He brings “wreck” by explaining his emotional vulnerability in the industry and how he struggles to say what he wants:

Tell me that I’m famous
Tell me that my name is
Big as Venus Jupiter and then Uranus
Tell me that your anus got your head in it
I can smell the articles and know you’re heinous
Tell me that you love me, always thinkin’ of me
Unconditional, I’m hoping I’m your favourite
Grab a fishing pole and throw me with the sharks
That’s the feelin’ I get when you’re concentratin’
On this pen, on this pad
Tell me you’re willin’ to diss on my craft
Tell me the feelin’ of pickin’ apart this track
Stop…
Puttin’ my heart and my soul in these lines
Tellin’ me platinum and gold all the time
Lookin’ to bury, a deep hole for mine
Drop…
This is more than you, and this is more than you
And your entire building slanderin’ and abusin’
What I call the realest comin’ from a student
Told myself to use a poem as an UZI
Empty magazine, I seen a magazine
You seen my trigger finger, then I started shootin’
That was nicotine, I’m bout to smoke ’em all
And journalists involved should’ve known my music

 

This speaks volumes in terms of how Kendrick sees himself within the space and the cipher he brings in his music.

 

In this day and age, there is no stopping imitation of Hip Hop because it has become a global phenomenon. However observers and imitators of the culture must understand the respect and knowledge needed to fully understand Hip Hop. Like any other culture, those who imitate or appropriate it have a responsibility to know the social, cultural, and political implications that come along with art and expression behind the culture. I can agree with Kitwana’s article that “authenticity” within Hip Hop is defined and carried by the Hip Hop generation and the youth culture of Hip Hop alone and that those who do follow Hip Hop must respect those concepts, ideas, and rules. In Kitwana’s book, “ The Hip Hop Generation”, he mentions that social and political struggles of Hip Hop generationers, all of whom are African American. The experiences of increased incarceration rates, territorial gang violence, and the disruption of the working class home are unique and exclusive to these communities. That is why in the case of the Grammys one who watches these shows must always keep in mind the authenticity of the music and culture for Hip Hop, I am sure the board who is probably made of rich, white, and self-proclaimed music professionals choose on their standards of commericiality rather than authenticity.

For many years, people of color were never featured on the grand scale Grammys. That is why the avenues for self-expression were created. For Blacks, there were no commercial radio or mediums where their music and art forms were broadcasted, so why is it that still in this day and age in the Grammy awards there is still the idea of ruling who got more radio play and sales over what the authenticity of the art form has to offer. For the Hip Hop generation, Hip Hop was an outlet for political influence. They were able to speak on racial and political issues through music and art. Currently, I do say that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have used those same self expression outlets to talk about issues that affect them such as Gay rights and being broke in the suburbs and picking out clothes at the thrift store to fulfill their “concept of cool” but other than that, they are still and will be imitation of a culture. After reading and analyzing the readings in “That’s the Joint” and in Kitwana’s book, “The Hip Hop Generation”, I am more curious to truly grasp the idea of authenticity within the Hip Hop culture. It is also important to track and signify the history behind what one wants to appropriate. I have especially seen many expressions inspired by Hip Hop without the correct understanding behind what they are presenting as their art form. There is a fine line between straight up copying with ignorance and imitation with respectability. Just like any other academic work, one who agrees with the scholar’s ideas and concepts can write about it but they expected to respect the work produced and where it comes from. The same goes for Hip Hop.

Bibliography

“The Challenge of Rap Music from Cultural Movement to Political Power.” 2012.

Hess, Mickey. “Hip Hop Realness and the White Performer.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 05 Dec. 2005. Web.

That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader, edited by M. Foreman and M. Anthony. 2nd ed., 451. New York: Routledge.

Pough, Gwendolyn. Check It While I Wreck It. 2004. Norteastern Univerity Press.

“India Arie Knocks Grammys.” 2014. Jamaica Observer.

Kitwana, Bakari. 2002. The Hip Hop Generation. New York.

 

Textual Analysis II 

April 20, 2014

Women in the Industry: A Look into Gender Revisited

One of the heated topics in class would have to be in regards to women in hip hop. As a woman myself, I was always curious about how women make way for themselves in hip hop in sexist society. There is no way of getting around this structurally established patriarchal society and though it is slowly evolving it is still highly structured as patriarchal.

 I agree with Rose of The Hip Hop Wars” Pough of Check it While I Wreck it” with respects to what they view hip hop as to women in the public sphere. Pough for example, displays a great amount of honor in the spectacle women create in hip hop themselves instead of what hip hop or corporate will dictate for them. But as Rose puts it, women have always been oppressed and second nature in the patriarchal system, it is not solely hip hop that emphasized this notion.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read a piece featured on National Public Radio (NPR). I had always wondered about the gender issues regarding women when it came to hip hop and through class, it dawned on me that there were conflicting views on how women are viewed within the industry and how female and male artists achieve rising through the charts in diverging ways. I will also apply what I found in this article to what I will be analyzing and discussing. 

I wanted to take that article as well as Pough and Rose’s works in class and apply it to my understanding of some of the lyrics top women rappers such as Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea put out in the charts today. Primarily I want to focus on Nicki Minaj’s new song “Looking Ass” and Iggy Azalea’s “Work”. Sure many will argue with me and say those are not the best representations of what these women have put out in the past years but I wanted to see the evolution, the product of their evolution, and what they are being famous for today. If I were asked to look them up, these are the songs that would pop up first.

Work

Looking Ass

In Nicki’s song, she repeatedly uses her influence and spectacle as something to emphasize how she is the “baddest” and the top of the game. However her image already is a controversy. In the “Looking Ass” Song itself, she actually puts down men, “n*iggas” as she describes. The whole song is an insult to men. Many critics have said how dare she, and how is turning the tables making an anti-male song going to solve anything. I think she does make a point to an extent, sure she could have displayed the message clearer to her audience but instead she conforms to whatever she was limited to do with her label and her spectacle lures her audience in but then she places down the truth on the double standards she notices with men and then criticizes their masculinity and actions.

Moreover, in Iggy Azalea’s song “work”, her emphasis is on women having to reach success by being… “women”. In all honesty and bluntness, I found her song very one note only because her experience is something exploited to tell a narrative of women that is too common used. She goes around and emphasizes working hard to where she wants to be. She recounts discussions with other females stating that they were giving oral sex for Louboutin shoes, something that may be exploited in the industry. Any how despite the blandness of the lyrics, the content remains the same, these tell stories of women in hip hop.

Thus I came across an article written by University of Richmond Professor, Erik Nielson called “Where Did All the Female Rappers go?” Nielson begins his article claiming that every year people consider that year to be the year when female rappers make a large impact on the industry. However, stating that 2014 is the year that will happen has proven false to Nielson. He claims that out of the new up and coming female artists out there, Nicki Minaj with her exposure in the industry has been an exception to the drought concerning women in the hip hop industry. This in turn, supplies the recurring narrative of women not being able to keep up with the “elite” male rappers a new perspective to reconsider. The author goes back in time and informs the reader of other various artists in the 90s to early 2000s where females dominated parts of the industry including Lil’ Kim, Salt n Pepa, Da Brat, Missy Elliot, and Lauryn Hill. Despite the success of females in that time, big award shows dropped female rap categories from their lists and is what remains now a drought for female rappers and artists. Thus, the author’s argument stands at claiming that the industry for women artists looks precarious and should be looked at with genuine concern. Moreover, I wanted to critically analyze this article in accordance with the materials in That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader that discuss gender within the hip hop industry and discuss the significance of women emerging and remaining consistent in hip hop.

Establishing identity against the “voyeuristic gaze” or voyeurism, a term frequently that was used in That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader and in discussion was a central idea pertaining to section IV and  chapter 33, “Imani Perry’s Art, Community, and Consciousness” (Forman and Neal 2012) is a hard concept to overcome within gender normalities of the hip hop industry. The male gaze, something that is frequently discussed between feminists is a way of understanding the societal constructs that makes women believe they perform, act, and achieve according to a male dominant view of them.

The gaze is inescapable. For Imani Perry, it is argued that there is a highly problematic way of looking at women, specifically black women. Even in culture and communities within hip hop, women become a commodity in that particular space (Forman and Neal 2012). Of course, this section pertains to the messages of hip hop but this example, I found to be very significant to the explanation of how gender plays into the messages but also the division between genders. In relation to Nielson’s article, voyeurism or a predominant represenation of gender, class, and race is expressed through market. For women, Nielson says there is a horrifying assumption among women in the industry and that is that “what they look like is as least as important as their musical talent” (Nielson 2014). For decades, women who are musicians and entertainers have been subject to this box where they are put in to define themselves and commodity figures and central of the male gaze.

Moreover, further argued in Nielson’s article is the interview with MC Lyte whom expressed concern with female rappers today. She claimed that “We’ve gone backwards,” noting that her achievements in opening up a space for women to freely express themselves in the industry has been terminated. Further stating that “This is pretty much what it was like when women weren’t able to get major recording and release opportunities” (Nielson 2014). What is troubling about this statement is that it is evident that for women in the industry, it has been inconsistent. Nielson brings up the point that women emerge and then fall countless amounts of times in the industry. One year, there will be someone coming out releasing platinum records and the next year there will be none. That is why Nielson emphasizes a strict recurring expression from women or else they must start over again year after year. The voyeuristic gaze takes full effect and in section IV of “That’s the Joint”, black feminists such as Joan Morgan try to establish a space for women out and inside the hip hop industry.

These patterns extend way out into society where women are constantly trying fulfill a socially constructed representation of the woman. In agreement to this argument, I found an article in the Communication and Cultural Studies Journal uploaded by Vanderbilt University called “Voyeurism and Resistance in Rap Videos” in which author Jennifer C. Lena argues that commodity culture and hegemonic concepts are not restricted to only economic based patterns but to social classes. She also argues that rappers are in a way defenders of culture against cultural hegemony. Unfortunately there are some entertainers that taint this position and feed into the hegemonic structure but outside of that, there are people who resist that image such as Missy Elliot who painted the picture of the anti-video hoe but rather a fully clothed and thriving artist. Lena furthermore states that the aspect of voyeurism for gender and class must not go on unnoticed because it highly influences what consumerism demands from hip hop artists. In the rap videos, there is the space to express freely but within the confines of the voyueristic gaze and hegemonic assumptions, one’s freedom to express and which was considered “authentic street journalism” (Lena 2008) then feeds the mouths of the people feeding the industry itself. There must be a division between the economic endeavors of these people if there is any hope for women to escape the representations that have been created for them.

What I gather from these resources and especially from the article in NPR by Nielson is that women are so heavily placed in social confines that it is difficult to be empowered by empowerment can be twisted into something for the male gaze. Nicki Minaj’s commercial look today is far more different than her pre-debut days and of the women that paved the way for artists that are looking to debut big such as Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, and Iggy Azealia. These women are not empowering if empowered, if that makes any sense. For now it is evident that messages and gender politics intersect one another in the hip hop space. Women find empowerment in themselves when they can leave the voyeuristic gaze by rebelling in their art. Lena’s article spoke true to what Nielson was trying to prove in the inconsistency of women in the industry but that being said, class plays a significant role in what influences the hegemonic view.

Bibliography

Lena, Jennifer C. (2008) “Voyeurism and Resistance in Rap Music Videos”,Communication and Critical/CulturalStudies,5:3,264 — 27

Nielson, Erik. “Where Did All The Female Rappers Go?” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.

That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader (2010), edited by M. Foreman and M. Anthony. 2nd ed., 451. New York: Routledge.

Textual Analysis III

April 20, 2014

Bringing Wreck with Real Explicit Content

Before I begin this section, I would advise my readers to first watch this video.

Lupe Fiasco ILamborghini Angels (ITAL Roses) & Audubon Ballroom

A relatively minimal product of imagery and symbolism created to emphasize a bigger picture of hip hop glorifying capitalist aims, gains, and the torturous mind set rappers and artists are put through to have exposure through the public sphere. Lupe Fiasco, my friends, illustrates this real picture of hip hop today and does it very well in this production.

I name this analysis “Bringing Wreak with Explicit Content” because through this source, Lupe’s music video, the explicitness is displayed and it is not mistakenly mixed with “exploitativeness”. Through this analysis, I want to highly signify the importance of Tricia Rose’s outline of the arguments regarding hip hop. One side stating that hip hop has contributed to the ongoing negative representations of Blacks and the ongoingness of stereotyping. The other side, stating that hip hop is part of a failing society of racial, sexist, and economic divides. What Lupe symbolizes are aspects of both arguments. He starts the songs with the explanation of hip hop artists having to conform to an image already illustrated for them. An image created for them so they can at least receive exposure. The images replaying again and again almost like a brain washing device. He also talks about how hip hop emphasizes these stereotypes without the thought of how it reflects Black Americans as a whole.

Don’t let these lying images up in hip-hop here conquer you
The TV’s not your father fool, that video’s not your momma
Try your best to be a man and your worst to be a monster

In ITAL Roses for example, the first song featured in the video, Lupe emphasizes “lying images up in hip hop”. Sure arguments against hip hop would also agree with this statement, as Rose explains in her book. That the experiences are not necessarily true for the individual but rather exploited as a representation of Blacks when it really is not the case. Contrasting arguments state that those images and experiences are “real” whether or not they are subject to the person who is presenting the images, they were once someone’s experiences and ignoring that narrative would be worse for the Black community. If anyone really knows Lupe, his biography centers around a troubled childhood being surrounded by gang related activity and a broken household in the city of Chicago. In an interview in 2008, the rapper broke out in tears when asked about whether or not he thinks about the neighborhood he came from. He said that he knows a lot of the people he grew up with are no longer alive. Despite living these experiences, Lupe raps about other issues that face the community but is he really relevant to the public scene? In reality, not as much as he should be.

I know you’re sayin’, “Lupe rappin’ ‘bout the same shit”
Well, that’s ‘cause ain’t shit changed, bitch

And please don’t excuse my language
Cause I would hate for you to misrepresent
The true expression of my anguish

Furthermore, Lupe brings wreck in this video by signifying the explicit nature of his emotions. Rose on a number of occasions, signifies how removing the explicitness and truth out of lyrics and censoring rap would only halt the progression of hip hop. Lupe in these lyrics explains it perfectly, he says to not excuse or censor his work but rather let it be free, to truly express how he feels about the underlying issues of his community and the images that he constantly sees in the media. Lupe brings cipher, a whole new knowledge of people, a narrative of all kinds of experiences hindering Blacks. He speaks of ghettos, intercity, jail, racism, economic disparities, etc. All in one video he displays a passion for bringing these issues to the surface.

I am just mesmerized with the media in this video. The constant repetition of things we see on the screen everyday. An image of a woman hardly clothed, the amount of drugs, the room full of people from different social groups yelling. These songs break the rules of polite social discourse. Without being politically correct, Lupe brings to light the harsh realities that these images become imbedded into the minds of the young. When the young little black boy gets arrested it is as the foreshadowing of events was inevitable. That once exposed, one cannot go back.

Bibliography

Lena, Jennifer C. (2008) “Voyeurism and Resistance in Rap Music Videos”,Communication and Critical/CulturalStudies,5:3,264 — 27

Pough, Gwendolyn. Check It While I Wreck It. 2004. Norteastern Univerity Press.

Rose, Tricia. The Hip Hop Wars. 2008. Perseus Book Group.

That’s the Joint: The Hip Hop Studies Reader (2010), edited by M. Foreman and M. Anthony. 2nd ed., 451. New York: Routledge.

 

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