Nov 9, 2008

Hip Hop is Gentrified

I went out dancing for the first time in a long time, and we ended up at a spot that was pretty popular and overwhelmingly white. In a city that's got a good amount of color in it, it's easy to end up the only color in the room, which is a little odd. More odd is that other people of color in the room are often other Asians. That model minority thing isn't always wrong, particularly in the young middle class / gentrifying force in America's cities.

But I was in a good mood, with mine and some friends, and I wasn't looking to start any trouble or have a mood. The DJ was playing all the big hip hop singles of round about the late eighties, but it was really odd to see these white kids sing along with every word. First, most of them were in diapers when these songs dropped, second were these all really that big as singles to cross over that long ago, and third: I was embarrassed that while I can name the songs and sing individual lines, these folks were singing the whole damn joints. I did think it was funny that when the D threw out "Bring the Noise" by Public Enemy (I would have loved any number of other songs), I was the only one shouting out lines. Maybe I got caught up in the hope of the week to think they'd spin Dead Prez next.

So what does this any of this mean? I have conversations with conscious friends about authenticity all the time. The question of who "owns" hip hop is out there, and there's the comment on who buys hip hop, of course. But then there's this other question - if the kids know the songs so well not because they were trying to appropriate the culture but because they just heard and knew the songs from years of growing up and going to parties, is that something to hate on them about? I don't really know. It was just awkward for me - I had a great time, but I guess just like so many other situations, I was far more self-conscious about how I sang the songs and what the dynamics of being brown and singing songs about black experience (mindless party songs are different of course) than most of the white folks around me.

Was I over-thinking it all? I decided not to give a shit and just lay back and enjoy the night, which I did. But it seemed kind of ironic that I ordered Son of Nun's new CD earlier that day, and was considering putting out a little more for a shirt with the slogan that I borrowed for the title of this post. The universe tells us in funny ways, enit? We just have to keep listening.

Tune out the radio
throw out the tv


fathima said...

i've had identical thoughts myself, but i've often been accused of overthinking things so i can't provide much reassurance there. still, i think they're valid issues to raise, particularly because sometimes i forget that being brown means i can't claim to knowing what it means to be black (an issue that i realised too late into the obama election -- re. my lacking the almost visceral kowledge of slavery, lynchings, assasinations, etc). (i say all of this with the usual disclaimers about non-essentialism and the lack of any absolute existential definitions of blackness/brownness)

re DP -- were you thinking of Politrikkks? that song almost single-handedly ended my unofficial hiphop hiatus. it feels good to be back. i have to check out this Son of Nun.

Rage said...

Being brown means i can't claim to knowing what it means to be black

Yeah - that's exactly right. We can speak about these things in a theoretical way and even offer empathy and solidarity, but we can't claim personal knowledge. But if we're bucking against essentialism (and of course we should be!), then what experiences belong to a "people" and what belong to people who are conscious of that history? Who knows.

I actually don't know much of DP's work. Yet. I didn't realize their politics were so strong - I figured it out when I saw Dave Chappelle's Block Party. I guess the lesson there for me is that if we're open to all kinds of inputs, you never know what you may learn.

Suggestions of tracks/albums/guest spots would be awesome - including other artists. I've been listening to a lot of radical/revolutionary Filipino American emcees, and I think it's time to expand. Son of Nun is awesome!

fathima said...

music talk!

the DP track i was thinking of is "Politrikkks" --
of all the music that's come out of the US elections, this is the one song that i can really get behind, politically speaking.

if you like DP, you might also like Immortal Technique. his insights into US foreign policy is searing (esp on his album The Third World), to say the least. his mysogyny and homophobia, not so much. so i feel mixed about him. he's a lot harsher on the ears than DP, though. "Crimes of the Heart" is pretty good

my most recent find was Akala, a british guy whose work i can't get enough of. his work is somewhat less overtly political, but still conscious. maybe "Welcome to England" to start off? it's not his best track, but it'll give you a measure of his quality.

ok, i go now.

Rage said...

Fathima, definitely dug the DP track - thanks for that! I'll check out some of Immortal Technique and Akala too. Thanks and keep dropping by!