UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies

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The UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies 2019

The UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies 2019 Casting an Academic Eye on Rhythm and Rhyme in Britain and Beyond.

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The UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies 2019

An Editors’ Apology for this Annual

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just love words. I just love how to bend ‘em, I love how to break ‘em, I love how to twist ‘em, turn ‘em, make ‘em into couplets.” So said Kendrick Lamar, perhaps the greatest rapper alive, in an interview with Zane Lowe following the release of his latest album, DAMN. Lamar highlights the paradox at the heart of Hip-Hop’s cultural status: despite being entirely dependant on poetic technique, wordplay and language, it is yet to enjoy full recognition as a literature. Whilst it is impossible to divorce Hip-Hop’s words from its music, the words themselves require study from a literary, political and historic perspective. Of course, it does not need the recognition or validation of a stuffy, largely white, somewhat conservative academic industry. It is what it is. Hip-Hop is its own literature, with its own literary tradition spanning four decades, drawing upon a musical tradition far older. It is perhaps the most self-referential of all musical genres, with appreciative mimesis common. It intersects, responds to and creates an original culture. It is surely, aside from sacred texts, the literature that the most people engage with on a daily basis. Perhaps this is all unnecessary, indeed, Hip-Hop could go on very well without the prying eyes of scholars and academics. For the scholars themselves though, this would be a degradation of their critical duty. The 1920’s are commonly termed “the Jazz Age” after the cultural sway held by a musical movement that seemed to capture the spirit of an era. In literary academia, scholars continue to look back at the 20 century, trying to pinpoint exactly when the world moved from the nebulous “Modernist” to the ever-vaguer “Post-Modernist”. In purely numerical terms, Hip-Hop artists, albums and songs far out-strip the writers and works of either of these “movements”. In the future, we may look back at the emergence of Hip-Hop culture as one of the great literary shifts of history, we might indeed be living in “the Hip-Hop Age.” th

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Beyond literature, Hip-Hop’s emergence and continued popularity represents a unique resource for historians and sociologists, with the genre often supplying an avenue of intimate expression for communities marginalised within society. Accessible and so often on the front-line of battles in society, Hip-Hop has, across the last 40 years, documented the changing challenges facing these communities, and the changing attitudes to race, sexuality, and gender. Within the study of Hip-Hop there exists the potential to unearth fascinating first-hand accounts granting greater understanding of individual and societal sophistications. It is clear now that a distinctly British Hip-Hop tradition has emerged: from the forerunners of Garage and Grime, to the cold-edged sparseness of the late 2000’s, to cultural giants like Stormzy – addressing Prime Ministers directly on national television, something has happened. Whether or not British Hip-Hop has “gone mainstream” does not matter, what matters is there is now (and has been) a separate literature that responds to the unique experience of life on these islands. That should demand the attention of literary, historical and sociological scholars. This annual is a collection of postgraduate essays that humbly attempts to offer some critical insight into Hip-Hop in Britain and beyond, collected between the years 2017 and 2019. Many thanks for reading.

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The UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies 2019

Acknowledgements Our greatest gratitude is to Darren Chetty and the HipHopEd community who were early encouragers of the Annual and have offered support since. We are also deeply indebted to Dr. Patrick Turner of Goldsmiths College, University of London, who served as Reader for the Annual and offered invaluable advice. Our thanks also go to Professor Andrew Warnes of the University of Leeds and Alex Stevenson of Leeds Beckett, who helped us greatly as we were setting out. To all who contributed or submitted essays for consideration, thank you for offering your work. Finally, we thank our hard working editors, Dr. Sarah Little, Patrick Shutt, Charlie Jones, Owen Breathnach, Daniel Keane and Libby Lawton, without whom this Annual would not have been possible. Cover image by Lydia Hunt & Charlie Fairs. General Editors, Jack Baxter and Seamus May.

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The UK Annual of Postgraduate Hip-Hop Studies 2019

Table of Contents

An Editors’ Apology for this Annual .............................. 2 Acknowledgements .......................................................... 4 ‘Do you see a lot of guys like me? Because a lot of people think we don’t exist’: Erasing the Queerness Within Hip-Hop, by Charlie Jones ................................... 6 ‘I AM A GOD’: WEST, RELIGION, AND CAPITALISM. By Harry Bainbridge. ............................ 26 ‘I used to roll hard with tons of bitches’: Women’s Rap Collaborations in the 1990s and 2010s. By Charis Dishman. .......................................................................... 38 Play on Any Platform: Between Hip-Hop Beatmaking and Video Games, by Michael Philip Bridgewater ....... 51 Hip Hop and Religion: Keepin’ it Real, Keepin’ it Religious. By Kauser Husain. ......................................... 70

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‘Do you see a lot of guys like me? Because a lot of people think we don’t exist’:1 Erasing the Queerness Within Hip-Hop, by Charlie Jones Speaking to filmmaker Alex Hinton in the 2006 documentary Pick Up the Mic, rapper and activist Juba Kalamka, co-founder of the now-defunct ‘homo hop’ collective Deep Dickollective, referred to the ‘homo hop movement’ Hinton was documenting as ‘more than just a footnote or some little thing that happened’. Simultaneously a subgenre of Hip-Hop music, a Hip-Hop community and subculture, and an activist movement, depending on the context within which one discusses it, ‘homo hop’ is perhaps the most prominent example of queerness existing and operating within Hip-Hop music and culture. This determines the ‘homo hop movement’ extremely important, for queerness has often been excluded from Hip-Hop discourse and history. Reiland Rabaka’s recent study, Hip-Hop’s Amnesia: From Blues and the Black Women’s Club Movement to Rap and the Hip-Hop Movement, claims that ‘currently accepted discourses and histories of Hip-Hop render invisible and utterly erase the queer presence in and queer elements of rap music and Hip-Hop culture’. Support for Rabaka’s assertion is not wanting, with scholars D. Mark Wilson and Rinaldo Walcott both agreeing that academic scholarship, for the most part, has hesitated to address queerness within Hip-Hop. Accepting Juba Kalamka and Tim’m West’s contention that the history of Hip-Hop ‘is incomplete until the presence of Queerness within is acknowledged’, it seems appropriate to examine the claims of Rabaka and others, investigating precisely how, to what extent, and why accepted discourses and histories of Hip-Hop 2

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Pick Up The Mic: The Revolution of Homohop, dir. by Alex Hinton (Planet Janice Films; Rhino Films, 2006) Pick Up The Mic: The Revolution of Homohop, dir. by Alex Hinton (Planet Janice Films; Rhino Films, 2006) Reiland Rabaka, Hip-Hop’s Amnesia: From Blues and the Black Women’s Club Movement to Rap and the Hip-Hop Movement (Maryland: Lexington Books, 2012), p. 201. D. Mark Wilson, ‘Post-Pomo Hip-Hop Homos: Hip-Hop Art, Gay Rappers, and Social Change’, Social Justice, 34, 1 (2007), p. 118; Rinaldo Walcott, ‘Boyfriends with Clits and Girlfriends with Dicks: Hip-Hop’s Queer Future’, Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2, 2 (2013), p. 168. 1

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erase queerness. Samir Meghelli’s ‘Remixing the Historical Record: Revolutions in Hip-Hop Historiography’ makes clear that the continually growing body of Hip-Hop scholarship has primarily relied on secondary and tertiary sources, such as Houston Baker’s Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy and Tricia Rose’s Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, which, coupled with Murray Forman’s suggestion that academics function as ‘gatekeepers of discourse’, renders an assessment of the literature which has defined – and continues to define – the narrative of Hip-Hop not only justified, but necessary. bell hooks’ notions of ‘community’ versus ‘communities’ in Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black heavily informs this essay’s explanations as to why accepted discourses erase queerness, and has been applied to Hip-Hop and its historiography as the scholarship currently available does not take hooks’ ideas into consideration. 5

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In his subsequent publication, The Hip-Hop Movement: From R&B and the Civil Rights Movement to Rap and the Hip-Hop Generation, Rabaka’s claims extend more firmly to include discourses and histories of Hip-Hop outside of the academy. Rabaka contends that discussions of Hip-Hop in the media and society also refuse, be it consciously or unconsciously, to acknowledge the presence of queers and queer culture within Hip-Hop. D. Mark Wilson concurs, accusing the media of portraying Hip-Hop as overly homophobic, hyper-masculine, and heteronormative. Rabaka’s studies, however, seem to lack serious investigation into the representation of queerness in Hip-Hop by the media. Therefore, this essay will also explore how, to what extent, and why particular nonscholarly discourses and histories of Hip-Hop erase queerness. The discourses examined will consist primarily of newspaper and magazine articles, for these are the most substantial media discourses available related to Hip-Hop 7

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Juba Kalamka and Tim’m West, ‘It’s All One’, in Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip-Hop, ed. by Jeff Chang (New York: BasicCivitas Books, 2006), p. 198. Samir Meghelli, ‘Remixing the Historical Record: Revolutions in HipHop Historiography’, The Western Journal of Black Studies, 37, 2 (2013), pp. 94-95; Murray Forman, ‘Introduction’, in That’s the Joint!: The HipHop Studies Reader, 1 edition, ed. by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 4. Reiland Rabaka, The Hip-Hop Movement: from R&B and the Civil Rights Movement to Rap and the Hip-Hop Movement (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013), p. 6. Wilson, p. 117. 5

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and queerness. The newspaper discourses explored include articles from national and international news outlets to more regional and localised news outlets, in an attempt to cover as wide a range of discourses as possible; equally, magazine discourses included for analysis range from covering mainstream popular culture to outlets specifically addressing Hip-Hop music and culture. Furthermore, two documentary films are also included in the analysis. Although these documentaries feature and/or are directed by figures who are considered academic scholars, as documentary films fall outside of the traditional, literary scholarship to which Rabaka refers, they will be considered as part of media discourse. According to Forman, the ‘gatekeepers of discourse’ in Hip-Hop are not only academic scholars, but Hip-Hop journalists as well, and so an exploration of media discourses is as justified and necessary as an exploration of academic discourses. This essay intends to consider whether there is any relationship between academic discourses of queerness in Hip-Hop and media discourses of queerness in Hip-Hop, for this is an area of investigation that has yet to be thoroughly explored. As many Hip-Hop scholars and academics began their careers in the media, and continue to traverse between the arenas of academia and the media, any disjuncture between them becomes all the more intriguing. Central to this essay is Forman’s thesis that ‘research and writing, whether in journalistic or academic contexts, is absolutely part of the wider hip-hop culture’, which, alongside hooks’ notions of ‘communities’, will be considered when explaining why discourses of Hip-Hop erase queer presence. 9

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This essay briefly outlines what the accepted academic discourses and histories of Hip-Hop are, before addressing how, to what extent, and why queerness is erased in academic and media discourses of Hip-Hop through an exploration of a preoccupation with Hip-Hop’s homophobia, a display of ‘dis/ease’ with queerness from within discourses themselves, and the problematic ways in which accepted discourses have sought to address the queer presence within Hip-Hop.

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Forman, ‘Introduction’, p. 3. Forman, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.

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Both Samir Meghelli and Murray Forman’s discussions of Hip-Hop historiography, in ‘Remixing the Historical Record’ and That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader respectively, highlight many of the scholars whose studies have become the earliest examples of accepted discourses and histories of Hip-Hop, with Michael Eric Dyson, Tricia Rose, Mark Anthony Neal, and Robin D.G. Kelley among the most commonly cited ‘Hip-Hop intelligentsia’. The efforts of such scholars are considered pivotal in elevating Hip-Hop to a subject worthy of serious historical and cultural study. Nevertheless, the works of these scholars have contributed in solidifying a narrative of Hip-Hop which Meghelli justly criticises as partially simplified and guilty of leaving several erroneous assumptions of Hip-Hop unsatisfactorily unexplored. It is scholarship which maintains this simplified and erroneous account of Hip-Hop that defines an ‘accepted discourse’. One such mutual assumption in this scholarship is that Hip-Hop music and culture is homophobic. For example, Michael Eric Dyson, writing in 1995, comments on the ‘vicious’ and ‘depressing’ nature of Hip-Hop’s homophobia, offering the ‘gangsta rap’ subgenre as HipHop music’s most prolific offender. This notion has persisted in Hip-Hop scholarship, remaining a staple of academic criticism throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and into the 2010s. Neither is this conjecture exclusive to academic discourse; many media discourses also suggest that HipHop culture is uniformly homophobic, mirroring their scholarly counterparts. There is, certainly, much evidence 11

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Meghelli, pp. 94-95; Forman, ‘Introduction’, pp. 3-7. Meghelli, pp. 94-95. Michael Eric Dyson, Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture (New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. xii-xiii. Edward Armstrong, ‘Eminem’s Construction of Authenticity’, Popular Music and Society, 27, 3 (2004), pp. 335-355; Dyson, Between God and Gangsta Rap: Bearing Witness to Black Culture; Mickey Hess, ‘HipHop Realness and the White Performer’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 22, 5 (2005), pp. 372-389; Mickey Hess, Is Hip-Hop Dead?: The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Most Wanted Music (London: Praegar, 2007); Michael P. Jeffries, Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Kembrew McLeod, ‘Authenticity Within Hip-Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimilation’, Journal of Communication, 49, 4 (1999), 134-150; Ted Swedenburg, ‘Homies in The ’Hood: Rap’s Commodification of Insubordination’, in That’s the Joint!: The HipHop Studies Reader, 1st edition, ed. by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 579-591. BBC, ‘Hip-Hop Star Attacks Homophobia’, 29 August 2004 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3602936.stm> [accessed 1 February 2015]; Michelle Dagnino, EVERYDAY PEOPLE: 11

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of homophobia on display within Hip-Hop, with many scholars and media critics pointing to those lyrics in rap music which contain homophobic epithets and sentiments. Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (1979), widely regarded amongst historians as the record responsible for Hip-Hop’s breakthrough into mainstream American music culture, sees Big Bank Hank ridicule a love interest’s partner as a ‘fairy’; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ (1982), among Hip-Hop’s most influential and successful tracks, disparages the ‘fag[s]’ and ‘Maytag[s]’ of their community; and on ‘Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy’ (1989), Big Daddy Kane, admired as one of the greatest rappers Hip-Hop has ever produced, describes his attitude as ‘anti-faggot, that means no homosexuality’. Such lyrics demonstrate that 16

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The Message of Hip-Hop in Everyday Life (Bloomington: Trafford Publishing, 2013); John-John, IV. Williams, ‘The lyrics may be ugly, but gays like hip-hop: Despite its gibes, hip-hop appeals to gay men, women’, McClatchy-Tribune Business News, 4 November 2007 <http://0search.proquest.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/docview/463717587?pqorigsite=summon> [accessed 23 January 2015]; Earl Ofari Hutchinson, ‘Rapper 50 Cent’s Gay Problem’, AlterNet, 17 March 2004 <http://www.alternet.org/story/18164/rapper_50_cent%27s_gay_p roblem> [accessed 12 February 2015]; Rosie Swash, ‘Trends of 2012: The year hip-hop’s attitude to homosexuality changed?’, Guardian, 20 December 2012 <http://www.theguardian.com/music/musicblog/2012/dec/20/tr ends-2012-hip-hop-homosexuality> [accessed 12 February 2015] Mickey Hess, ‘Hip-Hop Homophobia’, in Icons of Hip-Hop: an Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture (Oxford: Harcourt Education, 2007), pp. 568-569; Swedenburg, p. 587; Russell A. Potter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995); Jeffries, Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop; Tricia Rose, The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop – and Why It Matters (New York: BasicCivitas, 2008); Joël Barraquiel Tan, ‘Homothugdragsterism’, in Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of HipHop, ed. by Jeff Chang (New York: BasicCivitas Books, 2006), pp. 209218; Marc Lamont Hill, ‘Scared Straight: Hip-Hop, Outing, and the Pedagogy of Queerness’, in That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, 2 edition, ed. by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal (New York: Routledge, 2012), p. 385; Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Hanover, N.H.; London: Wesleyan University Press: University Press of New England, 1994), p. 104; BBC, ‘Hip-Hop Star Attacks Homophobia’, 29 August 2004 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3602936.stm> [accessed 1 February 2015]; Dagnino, EVERYDAY PEOPLE: The Message of Hip-Hop in Everyday Life (Bloomington: Trafford Publishing, 2013); Williams, ‘The lyrics may be ugly, but gays like hip-hop: Despite its gibes, hip-hop appeals to gay men, women’, McClatchyTribune Business News, 4 November 2007 Sylvia Robinson, Henry Lee Jackson, Michael Anthony Wright, Guy O’Brien, Bernard Edwards, and Nile Rodgers, Rapper’s Delight, The Sugarhill Gang (Sugar Hill, Sugarhill Gang, 1979); Melvin Glover, Sylvia Robinson, and Edward Fletcher, The Message, Grandmaster 16

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homophobia was prominent within Hip-Hop during its early years, contradicting Tricia Rose, who, in The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop – and Why It Matters, seems to suggest that homophobia has not always been so pronounced by stating that it ‘has become one of rap’s calling cards’. Rose accepts that homophobia has long featured in rap music almost as an irregularity, but in proposing that Hip-Hop is undergoing a ‘crisis’ implies that it is much more definitive and destructive after the turn of the millennium, at the time of The Hip-Hop Wars’ publication, than it was during HipHop’s more formative years. The notion of Hip-Hop experiencing a crisis is an area of debate for scholars, but to insinuate that homophobia was less profound and damaging then than it is now is somewhat revisionist. Still, homophobic rap lyrics are not confined to the earlier music of Hip-Hop’s ‘golden years’; in ‘Nag Champa’ (2000), Chicago-born emcee Common raps ‘it's rumours of gay emcees, just don't come around me with it/You still rockin’ hickies, don't let me find out he did it’; Mos Def’s 2004 remix of Jay-Z’s ‘Takeover’, ‘The Rape Over’, equates homosexuals to ‘old white men’ and ‘corporate forces’ who ‘run’ and ‘rape’ Hip-Hop music and culture; and the use of the phrases ‘pause’ and ‘no homo’, intended to reaffirm one’s heterosexuality when this might unintentionally be called into question, persists in contemporary rap music. Interestingly, the music of the artists cited above is not generally categorised as part of the ‘gangsta rap’ subgenre to which Dyson refers, and, in the case of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Common, and Mos Def, is often considered ‘conscious rap’ among Hip-Hop critics and fans, typified by forwardthinking and liberal outlooks. In explaining the rationale behind this seeming ‘dis/ease’ with queerness, the accepted discourses generally explore how masculinity is perceived within Hip-Hop and how this contributes to hostility towards queerness. Academic scholars, media critics, and journalists who characterise Hip-Hop as homophobic contend that there is a unitary notion of masculinity amongst Hip-Hoppers, that of the strong, 18

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Flash and the Furious Five (Sugar Hill, The Message, 1982); Antonio Hardy, Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy, Big Daddy Kane (Cold Chillin’/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records, It’s a Big Daddy Thing, 1989) Rose, The Hip-Hop Wars, p. 2. Lonnie Lynn and James Yancey, Nag Champa, Common (MCA, Like Water for Chocolate, 2000); Dante Smith, The Rape Over, Mos Def (Rawkus/Geffen, The New Danger, 2004); Jeffries, pp. 102-103. 18

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streetwise, and sexually-proficient black, heterosexual male. This perception of masculinity, they maintain, is rooted in African-American male perceptions of masculinity. The immediate and continued denial of traditional, patriarchal markers of ‘manhood’, such as family and property, has forced black men to express masculinity in other ways, predominantly through physical and emotional toughness, and sexual proficiency, displayed in contemporary representations of black masculinity, such as Hip-Hop. This notion of masculinity, Hip-Hop scholars and media critics suggest, is antithetical to perceptions of queerness, resulting in the sentiments exhibited in lyrics such as those described above, in which homophobia not only emasculates others, but, perhaps more importantly, validates one’s own masculinity. 20

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However, the denigration of Hip-Hop as uniformly homophobic constitutes one such way in which the queer presence in and queer elements of Hip-Hop have been erased, for these discourses insist that queerness and HipHop are detached from one another and unable to coexist. Michael P. Jeffries, for example, claims that there is ‘no space within Hip-Hop for affirmation of nonstraight male sexual identity’ due to Hip-Hop’s prolific homophobia. Similarly, Ted Swedenburg’s preoccupation with homophobia results in his separation of the so-called ‘Queer Nation’ from the ‘Hip-Hop Nation’, and blinds him into thinking that ‘there are, as far as I know, no openly gay rappers’. The ‘homo hop movement’ – itself a space of agency and empowerment for queers within Hip-Hop, established six years before the publication of Swedenburg’s ‘Homies in The ’Hood: Rap’s Commodification of Insubordination’ and more than a decade before the publication of Jeffries’ Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop – proves these statements to be false and ill-informed. These discourses erase queerness, through a dichotomisation of Hip-Hop and queerness, partly because they consider Hip-Hop in monolithic terms. To refer back to Samir Meghelli’s contention that the narrative of Hip-Hop has been 22

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Hutchinson,, ‘Rapper 50 Cent’s Gay Problem’, AlterNet, 17 March 2004; Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 58. Hess, ‘Hip-Hop Homophobia’, p. 568; Swedenburg, p. 587. Jeffries, p. 103. Swedenburg, p. 587. 20

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simplified, envisaging Hip-Hop as monolithic comprises one such simplification within Hip-Hop discourse, although Meghelli does not raise this point specifically. Phrases such as ‘the Hip-Hop world’ and ‘the Hip-Hop community’ are frequently employed in the discourses explored above, and an overarching, narrow-minded attitude towards queerness on behalf of all Hip-Hop music and culture is inferred. Hip-Hop, however, is not monolithic. In Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, bell hooks attacks a supposition within certain feminist discourse that presumes that the black community of America is significantly more homophobic than non-black communities; hooks contends that there is not ‘one monolithic black community’, but rather numerous black communities whose attitudes towards homosexuality vary considerably. The age of hooks’ study notwithstanding, her central thesis is applicable to Hip-Hop. The overt queer content and emphasis of the ‘homo hop’ subculture of the late 1990s San Francisco Bay Area differs significantly to the ‘dis/ease’ with queerness encompassed in the ‘gangsta rap’ subculture of 1990s Los Angeles – both subcultures, however, both ‘communities’, are part of a larger Hip-Hop culture, despite their substantial differences. Just as hooks suggests that individuals within certain black communities are more inclined to vocalise homophobia than those in other communities, the verbal expression of anti-gay sentiments by rappers of Hip-Hop’s most visible communities – such as ‘gangsta rap’, especially during the 1990s and early 2000s – results in a generalisation of all Hip-Hop culture and communities. Like the feminist discourses hooks critiques, accepted discourses of Hip-Hop in academic scholarship and the media ignore, or at least have failed to listen out for, the voices of queer Hip-Hoppers, leading these discourses to contend that Hip-Hop’s homophobia and hyper-masculinity denies any meaningful contribution from ‘hoes, punks, faggots, and bitches from both genders’. Neither is Hip-Hop synonymous with blackness. The accepted scholarship’s discussions of masculinity suggest otherwise, equating Hip-Hop and 24

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Jeffries, p. 103; Swedenburg, p. 587; Swash, ‘Trends of 2012: The year hip-hop’s attitude to homosexuality changed?’, Guardian, 20 December 2012. bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Massachusetts: South End Press, 1989), p. 121. hooks, p. 122. Armstrong, p. 338; hooks, p. 122. 24

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black masculinity. Hip-Hop’s standing as a black cultural form and part of black scholarship will be examined more thoroughly later, but it is important to distinguish that equating Hip-Hop with blackness, and likening black masculinity to the brand of masculinity found within certain Hip-Hop communities, denies notions of Hip-Hop, blackness, and masculinity as manifold in nature. Rinaldo Walcott is correct in suggesting that this fixation with characterising Hip-Hop as homophobic, and therefore devoid of queerness in any way, is now a tired and lazy stereotype to make. To label Hip-Hop ‘homophobic’ continues to propagate a heteronormative myth about Hip-Hop, entirely removing the agency of queers existing and operating within. Nevertheless, in proposing a decisive shift in focus away from Hip-Hop’s homophobic tendencies to concentrating solely upon queer content and queer bodies, Walcott’s analysis actually becomes somewhat limited. The homophobia evident within HipHop is in fact crucial for understanding the context from which much queerness within has developed. In Alex Hinton’s Pick Up the Mic, Tim’m West states that the ‘homo hop movement’ was a reaction to ‘what we were hearing’, to the anti-gay epithets and homophobic attitudes of those rappers blasting from club speakers and car radios. West has reiterated this many more times, making it clear that not only did ‘homo hop’ mobilize to combat the perception of Hip-Hop’s heteronormativity, but to challenge the flagrant homophobia found within rap music. Neither are the accepted discourses’ explorations of masculinity baseless. There are, unquestionably, particular perceptions of what constitutes masculinity prevalent in certain HipHop communities. ‘Gangsta rap’ as understood by the established narrative of Hip-Hop, for example, is dominated almost entirely by thematic sentiments of hyper-masculinity, concentrating ‘manhood’ into physical, wilfully violent toughness, explicit sexual prowess, and exceptional access to material wealth. In 28

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Walcott, p. 169. Pick Up The Mic: The Revolution of Homohop, dir. by Alex Hinton (Planet Janice Films; Rhino Films, 2006) West, p. 181; Kalamka and West, p. 202. Todd Boyd, Am I Black Enough For You?: Popular Culture from the ’Hood and Beyond (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997, p. 62; Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1996), p. 185; Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007), p. 75. 28

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Pick Up the Mic, transgender rapper Katastrophe alludes to this ‘uber, puffed-up, peacock masculinity’, to which he and others, as ‘homo hop’ artists, have attempted to contest and deconstruct. For many ‘homo hop’ artists then, ‘homo hop’ was reactionary to homophobic HipHop, emerging as a movement in the late 1990s, when ‘gangsta rap’, with its distorted perceptions of sexuality and masculinity, had reached an unparalleled degree of popularity. The ‘homo hop movement’ mobilised, to a certain extent, as a reaction to the pervasive notions of masculinity within Hip-Hop, especially within ‘gangsta rap’, Hip-Hop’s most visible ‘community’ during this period, just as it mobilised against the discernible homophobia within Hip-Hop. Therefore, although the academic and media discourses denouncing Hip-Hop for its homophobia and hyper-masculinity are too preoccupied with such attitudes to acknowledge queerness within Hip-Hop, they still prove valuable for understanding the context from which ‘homo hop’ was borne. 32

It is important here to note the intentionality behind the erasure of queerness by discourses of Hip-Hop. The discourses and histories discussed above appear to erase queerness not due to their own ‘dis/ease’ with queerness, but because of their preoccupation with homophobia. Swedenburg, for example, appears genuine in his admission that he knows of no openly gay rappers. There are, in contrast, a select number of discourses that erase queerness deliberately, not due to a preoccupation with homophobia, but because of their own ‘dis/ease’ with queerness. For example, writing in 2000 for the nowdiscontinued Elemental Magazine, columnist Jamarhl Crawford laments comparisons between the ‘gay rights movement’ and the ‘civil rights’ and ‘black power’ movements and ridicules the queer people he believes are attempting to appropriate Hip-Hop culture, stressing that ‘they [have] crossed the line’. Crawford’s allusions to ‘floodgates’ suggests that he, like the discourses explored above, believes Hip-Hop and queerness are separate from 33

Pick Up The Mic: The Revolution of Homohop, dir. by Alex Hinton (Planet Janice Films; Rhino Films, 2006) Jamarhl Crawford, ‘Will You Stand Up For Hip-Hop or Bend Over?’, Elemental Magazine, November 2000 <http://archive.matadorrecords.com/news/2000-10.html> [accessed 25 January 2015] 32

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one another and incompatible. Clearly though, Crawford’s attitude is informed by his own odious homophobia, and concern that ‘gays…with frost bit limp wrists’ might penetrate and permeate Hip-Hop. Additionally, Crawford’s homophobia is no doubt informed by the distorted perception of what constitutes masculinity held to be true in some Hip-Hop communities, as discussed earlier, evidenced by his appreciation of ‘Rudeboys and Homeboys who are very protective of their manhood’. Incongruously, in warning his readers that the appearance of artists like Deep Dickollective means ‘we are in for some shit’, Crawford actually renders queer Hip-Hoppers visible to a degree, albeit only in name and with contemptible motives. Regardless of this irony, this particular discourse is evidence of Hip-Hop discourse quite literally attempting to erase queers from Hip-Hop history; despite knowing of queer rappers and HipHoppers, Crawford puts forward that they are not part of, and should not be allowed to become part of, larger HipHop culture due to their discordant sexuality. Furthermore, Crawford’s recognition of ‘homo hop’ artists allows one to interpret ‘homo hop’ as more than simply a reaction to homophobia. Crawford’s article is clearly written in response to the emergence of queer HipHoppers like Deep Dickollective, which, when coupled with Tim’m West’s intimation that Deep Dickollective mobilised, partially, to ‘stand up to gatekeepers like Jamarhl Crawford’, suggests that ‘homo hop’ also shaped homophobia within Hip-Hop to a certain degree, whilst simultaneously being shaped by this same homophobia. Admittedly, Crawford’s article is fairly anomalous in its unashamed and explicit display of homophobia and Elemental Magazine is perhaps not held in as high regard as more well-known Hip-Hop magazines. On the other hand, more widely recognised media discourses and histories of Hip-Hop have also appeared to deliberately erase queerness through subtler means. Writing in 1994, VIBE magazine’s bisexual co-founder Scott Poulson-Bryant penned an article asserting that there will, undoubtedly, be an openly homosexual rapper at some point in the future (though conceding that they might have to be white 34

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Crawford, ‘Will You Stand Up For Hip-Hop or Bend Over?’, Elemental Magazine, November 2000 Crawford, ‘Will You Stand Up For Hip-Hop or Bend Over?’, Elemental Magazine, November 2000 West, p. 181. 34

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for this to occur). It is telling, though, that PoulsonBryant’s article, in which he defiantly contends on behalf of all Hip-Hop culture that ‘we need him [the openly gay rapper]. We want him’, appears not in VIBE magazine itself, but in The Guardian, a media source far-removed from a specific focus on Hip-Hop music and culture. Irrespective of Poulson-Bryant’s standing as co-founder and editor of VIBE, and the award-winning profiles of artists like De La Soul he had previously produced for VIBE, his ground-breaking take on Hip-Hop’s queer politics did not feature in the magazine itself. This distancing between VIBE magazine and a ‘queer-friendly’ article such as Poulson-Bryant’s is not inadvertent, and demonstrative of the gatekeepers of media discourse separating queerness from Hip-Hop culture and erasing its queer presence and elements. Worthy of note is the gendering of Poulson-Bryant’s statement; the openly gay rapper that Hip-Hop wants, that Hip-Hop needs, is, according to Poulson-Bryant, male. What this indicates is unclear; possibly Poulson-Bryant adheres to a malefixated narrative within discourses of Hip-Hop, at least at the time of his article, reflecting prevalent sexist notions that historians such as Tricia Rose have contested in their work. Conversely, Poulson-Bryant’s use of male pronouns might be deliberate, and indicative that the impact of the emergence of a male homosexual rapper would be more significant, considering the perception of a ubiquitous masculinity within Hip-Hop. 37

Also apparent in media discourse and histories of Hip-Hop is the erasure of queerness through a failure to address homophobia. As already established, addressing the homophobia prevalent in Hip-Hop is necessary in order to contextualise the development of queerness within. However, discourses and histories such as VIBE magazine’s History of Hip-Hop, published in 1999, fail to properly address the issue of homophobia. Within the ‘history’, the only mention of homophobia comes in Alan Light’s profile of Public Enemy. Even then, the controversy surrounding Professor Griff – who had made Scott Poulson-Bryant, ‘Hip-Hop: At the moment they’re a largely unseen, muteforce, but will Hip-Hop’s gay fraternity ever find a voice? Scott Poulson-Bryant mediates on the prospect’, Guardian, 25 November 1994, p. B8 <http://0search.proquest.com.wam.leeds.ac.uk/docview/187612058/pagevie wPDF?accountid=14664> [accessed 23 January 2015] 37

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both homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks in several interviews preceding the release of Public Enemy’s It Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – is skimmed over all to briefly and not explored within the wider context of HipHop’s pervasive homophobia; in fact, Light explains that Griff is forgiven for his comments because of his ability to address social issues and that his departure from Public Enemy was not due to his intolerant remarks but because of problems within Public Enemy’s internal structure. Whereas sexism and misogyny are detailed extensively, offering the audience one way in which to contextualise the presence of women within Hip-Hop and their efforts to confront the male-dominated context of Hip-Hop, homophobia is erased as an issue, in turn erasing one way in which to contextualise queerness as an aspect of HipHop. This is extremely problematic, considering VIBE magazine’s intention of accurately and wholly documenting Hip-Hop culture, according to editor Alan Light. In such discourses, avoiding the issue of homophobia also avoids an exploration of the queerness within Hip-Hop. This can also be seen in academic discourses and histories. Addressing the Professor GriffPublic Enemy controversy, Nelson George’s Hip-Hop America acknowledges only Griff’s anti-Semitism, ignoring Griff’s homophobic remarks entirely. George, in fact, declares that the heroes of Hip-Hop must ‘embody blasculinity’, the same masculinity that the discourses explored above suggest can affect hostility towards queerness. Likewise, Jeff Chang’s Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation and Eithne Quinn’s Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap, both published in 2005, mention nothing of queerness, nor homophobia within Hip-Hop, despite being an all-encompassing history of Hip-Hop and an exploration of, arguably, Hip-Hop’s most homophobic community respectively. Most worryingly, Jeffrey Ogbar’s Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap 38

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Alan Light, ‘Public Enemy’, in The Vibe History of Hip-Hop (London: Plexus, 1999), pp. 165-175. Alan Light, ‘Introduction’, in The Vibe History of Hip-Hop (London: Plexus, 1999), p. xii. Nelson George, Hip-Hop America (New York: Penguin, 2005), p. 58. George, p. 53. Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (London: Ebury, 2007); Quinn, Eithne, Nuthin’ But a “G” Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005) 38

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briefly details the homophobic lyrics of Eminem in the song ‘Criminal’ (2000), before appearing to defend Eminem’s homophobia, stating ‘he correctly pointed out that he is far from being the first homophobic or sexist rapper’ and moving swiftly on. Acknowledging that Eminem’s homophobia is not atypical within Hip-Hop does not mean that such content is acceptable, as Ogbar’s inadequate defence suggests. Had Ogbar referred to Eminem’s introduction on ‘Criminal’, in which Eminem subverts the overtly homophobic content on display in the rest of the song, his defence of the lyrics in question might have been more valid. Nevertheless, what these media and academic discourses indicate is that homophobia, as well as queerness, is an issue unworthy for consideration, and by erasing homophobia as an issue within Hip-Hop, the audience of such discourse is deprived of understanding the context from which queerness in HipHop has developed – an essential factor to consider when exploring the queerness within. This essay does not contend that these discourses and histories are necessarily homophobic – though some unquestionably are – but are certainly related to the larger issue of queer visibility in historical discourse. The discipline of history generally, Meghelli states, is tentative to engage with communities which lack a distinct and extensive historical record. One could infer from Meghelli’s argument that without the historical record that has recently emerged in the past decade or so, these discourses might have been hesitant to address a community lacking an historical record with which to engage. However, this notion drifts dangerously close to suggesting that queer visibility is the sole responsibility of those who identify as queer themselves, and not the responsibility of the heteronormative historiography which refuses to engage with these queer people. Moreover, it reveals that discourses of Hip-Hop produced after the emergence of a visible, accessible historical record of queerness which still contend that queerness and Hip-Hop are incompatible, such as Jeffries’ Thug Life, do not take into consideration this development of Hip-Hop historiography. It is perhaps the status of queerness within so-called ‘black scholarship’ which explains why these discourses of Hip-Hop erase 43

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Ogbar, p. 122. Marshall Mathers, Jeff Bass, and Mark Bass, Criminal, Eminem (Aftermath/Interscope/Shady, The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000) Meghelli, p. 94. 43

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queerness. Robin Means Coleman and Jasmine Cobb confirm that queerness is absent within much black scholarship generally. Within certain black scholarship, homosexuality is seen as a ‘second-order identity’, secondary to black identity, particularly evident in black studies, which has historically prioritised racial identity over sexuality and gender. Since Houston Baker’s seminal Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy, Hip-Hop scholarship has been fundamentally linked to black studies. Therefore, it is plausible that Hip-Hop discourse has, historically, categorised queerness as a ‘second-order identity’, resulting in a failure to address queer people themselves, and issues intrinsically linked to queerness, such as homophobia. Just as discourses and histories of queerness can be guilty of white privilege and fail to understand the complexity of black cultural expression as a space for both blackness and queerness, as Tim’m West and D. Mark Wilson propose, discourses and histories of Hip-Hop can also fail to recognise Hip-Hop identity as multifaceted in nature, rather than singular and oppositional to queerness. Tricia Rose confirms that Hip-Hop often prioritises race over gender, and as a part of this culture that prioritises certain identities over others, it is probable that queerness has been ignored for this same reason. The point to be made though is that, taking Forman’s thesis into account, if academic scholars, media critics, and journalists of Hip-Hop are to be considered as one of several communities within larger Hip-Hop culture and recognised as the ‘gatekeepers of discourse and knowledge’ of this culture, then their own attitudes towards queerness and the issues related to queerness should not be exempt from scrutiny and critique, just as the attitudes of other figures within Hip-Hop, such as rappers, are not. 46

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Certain accepted scholarship has actually attempted to recognise a queer presence within Hip-Hop, but has fallen short of a significant exploration of this queer presence. Of this scholarship, studies from Tricia Rose and Russell A. Potter prove exemplary of this way in Robin Means Coleman and Jasmine Cobb, ‘No Way of Seeing: Mainstreaming and Selling the Gaze of Homo-Thug Hip-Hop’, Popular Communication, 5, 2 (2007), p. 99. Means Coleman and Cobb, p. 99; Potter, p. 99. West, p. 164; Wilson, p. 122. Rose, Black Noise, p. 105. 46

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which queerness is largely indiscernible, without being completely invisible. Rose’s The Hip-Hop Wars, aside from reproaching Hip-Hop for its homophobia and discussing why homophobia exists within Hip-Hop, does acknowledge a queer presence within the music and culture of Hip-Hop. Yet Rose’s acknowledgement is limited to simply listing a small number of ‘homo hop’ artists, such as Deep Dickollective, God-Des & She, and Tim’m West, under the heading ‘Progressive Artists’. Although queer Hip-Hop artists are rendered visible in this example, they are reduced to footnotes and points for further reference for the reader to explore outside of Rose’s study. More specifically, Rose’s oversimplification of what constitutes a ‘progressive artist’ is also problematic, particularly as Rose seems to hold an anti-dichotomic stance in her much of her work. ‘Homo hop’ artists are considered under the same all-encompassing heading as artists such as Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest. Though considered progressive for their Afrocentric sensibilities, both Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest espouse anti-progressive attitudes in relation to queerness. A collaboration between the two groups in the early 1990s saw the production of ‘Georgie Porgie’, a track in which members of both Brand Nubian and A Tribe Called Quest reject a close friend after he reveals he is homosexual, the lyrics of which are explicitly homophobic. Despite being recorded almost twenty-five years ago and having been rejected from the final track listing of The Low End Theory by their record label for the gratuitously offensive content, some of the artists involved with making the track still appear to hold such anti-progressive beliefs. Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar recently professed to being a ‘HipHop conservative’, deriding what he sees as an upsurge in ‘queer shit’ and ‘beta masculinity’ in contemporary HipHop. Consequently, Rose’s labelling of several artists who vary so drastically in their opinions on the issue of, and issues involving, queerness as ‘progressive’, without commenting on this contradiction even briefly, appears to be demonstrative of a failure amongst scholarship to properly and thoroughly address queerness within Hip50

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Rose, The Hip-Hop Wars, p. 247. Malik Taylor, Lorenzo Dechalus, Maxwell Dixon, Derek Murphy, and Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, Georgie Porgie, A Tribe Called Quest, featuring Brand Nubian (1991) Leon Neyfakh, ‘Hip-Hop’s Alpha Conservative’, New Yorker, 21 March 2014 <http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culturedesk/hip-hops-alpha-conservative> [accessed 12 February 2015] 50

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Hop. Rose’s attempt at acknowledging a queer presence in Hip-Hop is reflected in media discourses also. Byron Hurt’s documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, for example, (which, incidentally, refers to the same historical foundations of Hip-Hop music and culture as Rose’s previous work, Black Noise) includes an interview with ‘homo hop’ artist Tim’m West. Though commendable for engaging a homosexual Hip-Hopper on the issue of homophobia in a way largely unseen before in media discourse, Beyond Beats and Rhymes fails to explore a queer presence in Hip-Hop beyond introducing West as a gay rapper – ‘homo hop’ is left unaccounted for, West’s significance as a queer presence in Hip-Hop is entirely underplayed, and the Deep Dickollective founder is utilised more as a conduit between Byron’s explorations of homophobia and Hip-Hop’s ironic homoeroticism. Though rendered visible, the extent to which this visibility is significant is seriously questionable. In a slightly different, yet equally problematic, example of scholarship all but erasing queerness entirely, Potter’s Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism alludes to an increasing presence of homosexuals in HipHop, but does so only fleetingly and, unlike Rose, without specifically addressing who these queer Hip-Hoppers are; instead, Potter references heterosexual Hip-Hop artists who position themselves in favour of queer rights, such as the Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy and Ice-T. Potter’s focus on heterosexuals reinforces the heteronormative notion of Hip-Hop present in much scholarship. Having been written in 1995, perhaps Potter’s Spectacular Vernaculars can be forgiven somewhat, for at this time a clearly visible, overtly queer scene in Hip-Hop, like ‘homo hop’, had not yet been established. However, later works, following Potter’s example, also focus on heterosexuals to demonstrate queer presence within Hip-Hop. Cheryl L. Keyes discussion of black female identity within Hip-Hop identifies a ‘Lesbian’ category of female rapper – as well as that of the ‘Queen Mother’, the ‘Fly Girl’, and the ‘Sista with Attitude’ – artists of which deliberate upon queer lifestyle in their music. It is disappointing then that Keyes’ 53

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Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, dir. by Byron Hurt (Media Education Foundation, 2006) Potter, pp. 97-98. Cheryl L. Keyes, ‘Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance’, in That’s the Joint!: the Hip-Hop Studies Reader, 1 edition, ed. by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 272. 53

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discussion of queer black females in Hip-Hop is limited to a focus on the heterosexual Queen Pen, whose tendency to role-play in her rhymes sees her situate herself within a homosexual relationship in her 1997 single ‘Girlfriend’, rather than directing attention to openly lesbian rappers like God-Des and She of the ‘homo hop movement’. Like Potter’s earlier study, queer presence in Hip-Hop is alluded to by Keyes but is left nameless and faceless in favour of heterosexuals, reinforcing a perception of heteronormativity within Hip-Hop and lacking in-depth explorations of queer presence. Keyes’ focus on Queen Pen echoes Laura Jamison’s ‘A Feisty Female Rapper Breaks a Hip-Hop Taboo’, an article appearing in The New York Times several years prior to Keyes’ own essay; in Jamison’s discussion of Hip-Hop music’s depictions of queer women’s lifestyles, the heterosexual Queen Pen is also the only example provided. Jamison’s article demonstrates that media discourse has also attempted to engage with queerness, but in doing so has actually failed to render queer presence in Hip-Hop significantly visible. Several media discourses, including articles written in mainstream media outlets such as The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, and The Salt Lake Tribune, all suggest queerness exists within Hip-Hop but credit only heterosexual artists such as Kanye West and Lil Wayne as having attempted to change existing attitudes in Hip-Hop, or focus on the ‘queer-friendly content’ of heterosexual artists’ music, such as Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’ or Adair Lion’s ‘BEN’, both released in 2012. As Moya Bailey insists, the danger 56

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Laura Jamison, ‘A Feisty Female Rapper Breaks a Hip-Hop Taboo’, New York Times, January 18, 1998 <http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/18/arts/pop-jazz-a-feistyfemale-rapper-breaks-a-hip-hop-taboo.html> [accessed 19 March 2015] Sean P. Means, ‘Hip-hop attitudes towards gays are evolving’, Salt Lake Tribune, 25 October 2013, Section: Features <http://sl4tb4rv5r.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.882004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:of i/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=Sean+P.+Means% 3A+Hiphop+attitudes+toward+gays+are+evolving&rft.jtitle=The+Salt+Lake +Tribune&rft.au=Sean+P+Means&rft.date=2013-1025&rft.issn=07463502&rft.externalDocID=3108818871&paramdict=en-US> [accessed 21 January 2015]; Pete Cashmore, ‘How hip-hop is finally losing its homophobic image’, Guardian, 21 December 2011 <http://www.theguardian.com/music/shortcuts/2011/dec/21/hip -hop-losing-homophobic-image> [accessed 1 February 2015]; Scott Gold, ‘For hip-hop and gay rights, a transformative moment’, Los Angeles Times, 18 August 2012 56

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in doing this, aside from buttressing heteronormativity in Hip-Hop, is that many aspects of kyriarchy remain components of the music of artists purportedly queering Hip-Hop; Lil Wayne, for example, whom Pete Cashmore credits with queering Hip-Hop, employs the phrase ‘no homo’ frequently in his lyrics, as well as other homophobic, sexist, and misogynistic content. Nevertheless, one must concede that, especially in the cases of Tricia Rose, Byron Hurt, and Russell A. Potter, the extent to which a queer presence in Hip-Hop has been erased is not as great as the scholarship and media discourses discussed earlier in the essay – these discourses and histories of Hip-Hop do acknowledge the existence of queer Hip-Hop music and culture, unlike those discourses too preoccupied with homophobia to do so, or those discourses resistant to acknowledging the queerness within Hip-Hop. Though Reiland Rabaka contends that the accepted discourses and histories of Hip-Hop have completely erased queerness, the examples explored here reveal that there are several prominent discourses that have not erased queerness entirely, despite leaving the issue severely underexplored or addressing queerness in a heteronormative way. Rabaka fails to differentiate between these ways in which queerness is erased, for he considers the accepted discourses’ approach to queerness as unvarying, comparable to the way in which the earlier discussed literature perceives Hip-Hop’s attitude to homosexuality as monolithic. Though we should recognise Hip-Hop scholars, media critics, and journalists as a community within Hip-Hop culture, the various ways in which they consider Hip-Hop’s queer presence is important to acknowledge, for not doing so reinforces the idea that this particular Hip-Hop community is standardised in its approach to addressing queerness. 58

In the final analysis, it is clear that accepted discourses and histories of Hip-Hop in both academic scholarship and the media have erased queerness in a number of ways. Firstly, a preoccupation with homophobia, alongside perceptions of a unitary notion of <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/aug/18/entertainment/la-et-mship-hop-gay-rights-20120818> [accessed 22 January 2015] Moya Bailey, ‘Homolatent Masculinity & Hip-Hop Culture’, Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, 2, 2 (2013), p. 187; Dwayne Carter, Jr., We Takin’ Over (Remix), Lil Wayne (Da Drought 3, 2007) 58

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masculinity within Hip-Hop, has resulted in these discourses attesting to a dichotomisation of Hip-Hop and queerness, interpreting them as irreconcilable with one another. Secondly, a number of discourses themselves exhibit a ‘dis/ease’ with queerness, rejecting queerness and issues intrinsically linked to it as a part of Hip-Hop culture. In such works, the queer presence in and queer elements of Hip-Hop are erased entirely, the outcome of monolithic perceptions of Hip-Hop and queerness’s position as a ‘second-order identity’ within ‘black scholarship’. Queerness is also largely erased in certain discourses and histories through problematic explorations of queer presence, which either reduces Hip-Hop’s queer presence to points for further reference or addresses queerness in a heteronormative way. Hip-Hop’s queer presence is rendered visible within these discourses, but to an insignificant extent. There appears to be no serious disjuncture between the discourses of academia and the media with regards to their erasure of queerness. This essay has been adapted from the first chapter of a longer, more extensive dissertation, ‘‘It’s more than Just a Footnote’: Discourses and Histories of Queerness within Hip-Hop in Academic Scholarship and the Media’, which also examines more recent discourses and histories of Hip-Hop in academia and the media which appear to have gone largely unrecognised in the traditional historical narrative of Hip-Hop, and explains how, to what extent, and why these discourses address the queerness within Hip-Hop and successfully render it visible.

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‘I AM A GOD’: WEST, RELIGION, AND CAPITALISM. By Harry Bainbridge. ‘Somebody tell these niggas who Kanye West is’ So runs the fourth line of Kanye West’s fourth single ‘Jesus Walks’, taken from his debut album The College Dropout released in 2004. Even at such an early stage in West’s career, when his name was still a relatively unknown and new entity to the music and wider worlds, the identity of ‘Kanye West’ is deliberately and provocatively ambiguous. This line arrives directly via West’s voice – not through a third party collaborator or even a distorted or manipulated vocal – which immediately poses questions for the audience. Notably, why can’t Kanye West describe ‘who Kanye West is’? If West won’t, who will? Who, where, and what, then, is ‘Kanye West’? 1

At this point, I would like to make an important distinction. We are dealing with ‘Kanye West’ as a star image, not as a real person. As Richard Dyer notes, ‘the fact that [stars] are also real people is an important aspect of how they signify, but we never know them directly as real people, only as they are to be found in media texts’. Thus, he continues, ‘stars do not exist outside of [media] texts; therefore it is these that have to be studied; and they can only be studied with due regard to the…significations’. Therefore, it is impossible to distinguish West, the author, from West, the star, because we intrinsically cannot know West, the author. We can make assumptions about the author from the star’s significations, but ultimately we can only view ‘Kanye West’ as ‘he’ is presented in his own work, and in media texts such as newspaper articles, televised interviews and, crucially, social media. 2

Dyer finds that the creation of star image is twofold, germinating from both the ‘producer initiative (the star as a phenomenon of production)’, and ‘public demand (the star as a phenomenon of consumption)’ – although the two Kanye West, ‘Jesus Walks’, The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, 2003). Richard Dyer & Leo Lowenthal, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1999), pp. 1-2. 1

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are often at tension with each other. This, as Edgar Morin calls it, ‘production-consumption dialectic of mass communications’ is crucial to our understanding of the star image, in that it highlights the multiple factors at play in this complex creation. Production is not only at the hands of the star and the star’s work, but also their representatives (agents, managers, publicists, film studios, record labels and so on), along with the media outlets (‘leaked’ stories to magazines, televised interviews) that portray the stars. Arguably these media outlets also fall into the category of consumption, as they must consume the star image projected in order to produce their own iteration but, ultimately, the notion of consumption falls upon the audience and, specifically, the audience’s perception that is guided by the produced star image. Thus the line above from ‘Jesus Walks’ implies knowingness from West of the star image system, and an understanding of the tensions at play. West can’t explain ‘who Kanye West is’, because he is not entirely responsible for the production of the image and apparently unable to control its consumption. 3

West, however, does not take kindly to this lack of autonomy. From the venomous attack on ‘New Slaves’ of ‘fuck you and your corporation | Y’all niggas can’t control me’ to his claim on ‘Saint Pablo’ that he’s ‘not out of control, [he’s] just not in [the media’s] control’, the battle for authorship over West’s star image is at the heart of his works. This control is essential to his success, both as an artist and as a capitalist entity. 45

They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus That means guns, sex, lies, videotape But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh? (West, ‘Jesus Walks’) The above statement about the inner workings of the music industry and, specifically, what a star should or should not discuss in their art, suggests a mutual exclusivity between religious faith and capitalist success. The music industry demands that by talking about religious themes, an artist’s success, and therefore their 3

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Dyer, pp. 9-10. West, ‘New Slaves’, Yeezus (Def Jam, 2013). West, ‘Saint Pablo’, The Life of Pablo (GOOD, Def Jam, 2016).

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financial gain, will be negatively affected. However, a scan of Kanye West’s works will reveal religious themes and references a-plenty alongside commercial success, such as his 2013 album Yeezus or the aforementioned single ‘Jesus Walks’, which received Platinum and Gold certifications respectively from the Recording Industry Association of America. 6

In the above lyrics, West is confused that morally corruptive forces make for a marketable production, yet spirituality does not. In order to achieve capital success and discuss religion, West must find a way to subvert this industry standard and envisage a new path that incorporates both. In doing so, West allows these themes to become vital components of the performed star image and identity. This paper will explore the relationship between this identity, religion, and capitalism, with a particular focus on 2013 track ‘I Am A God’. The title alone – ‘I Am A God’ – immediately links identity and religious faith. This phrase is delivered twelve times throughout the track, fiercely and repeatedly asserting this first person identity, as exhibited in the opening verse. I am a god I am a god I am a god I am a god Hurry up with my damn massage Hurry up with my damn ménage Get the Porsche out the damn garage I am a god Even though I’m a man of God My whole life in the hand of God So y’all better quit playin’ with God (West, ‘I Am A God’ ) 7

That lines and rhymes in this verse are repeated suggests significance – they deserve this repetition, as they bear meaning. What may perhaps be perceived as laziness is, in fact, a calculated and deliberate move. By repeating the statement ‘I am a god’ throughout the track, West asserts Recording Industry Association of America, Gold & Platinum: Kanye West <https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/?tab_active=defaultaward&ar=Kanye+West&ti=Yeezus#search_section> [accessed 22 April 2017] West, ‘I Am A God’, Yeezus. Further references to be included within the text. 6

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two themes. Firstly, he asserts his autonomy over his ‘I’ identity – West is in control. Secondly, he controversially asserts himself to be a religious figure, albeit distinct from the capitalised ‘God’ referenced later in the verse. This distinction is, however, crucial. Cultural discourse often suggests that the ‘Kanye West’ figure considers himself to be God, the Almighty idol of Christianity – one example that springs to mind is The Book of Yeezus, an adaptation of The Bible’s ‘Genesis’ that replaced every mention of God with ‘Kanye West’. Moreover, an internet search for the phrase ‘Kanye West God’ returns countless articles along the lines of ’12 Reasons Why Kanye West Is God’. Yet this is not West’s intention. West clearly distinguishes his selfproclaimed identity as ‘a god’ from the capitalised Christian ‘God’. When referring to himself, West is ‘a god’ (emphasis my own) – a singular entity within a multiplicity. ‘God’, meanwhile, is used as a proper noun, and West importantly distinguishes that he is ‘a god’ despite being ‘a man of God’. ‘God’ is then rhymed with itself twice, suggesting that the figure is incomparable with any other term (other than the lower case ‘god’, which we will come to shortly). The proper noun is deliberately rhymed with itself to assert its singular identity. West uses this rhyming tactic repeatedly throughout his works, in order to distinguish identity. On ‘I Love Kanye’, West rhymes his own name with itself repeatedly, reinforcing his own identity as incomparable. On ‘New Slaves’, West rhymes his nickname ‘Ye’ with itself to the same effect. ‘Kanye West’ is rhymed with ‘Kanye’s best’ on ‘Famous’, at once maintaining the singularity of the named identity and suggesting this idea of primacy. Meanwhile, on ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’, West plays on this name rhyme in order to respond to a misinterpretation of this identity – his name sits 89

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Jess Denham, ‘Kanye West replaces every mention of God in ‘Book of Yeezus’ Bible’ in Independent (2015) <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/gods-namereplaced-by-kanye-west-in-book-of-yeezus-bible-10157263.html> [accessed 22 April 2017] Hayley Sloane, ’12 Reasons Why Kanye West Is God’ in The Richest (2016) <http://www.therichest.com/expensivelifestyle/entertainment/12-reasons-why-kanye-west-is-god/> [accessed 22 April 2017] West, ‘I Love Kanye’, The Life of Pablo. Further references to be included within the text. West, ‘New Slaves’. West, ‘Famous’, The Life of Pablo. 8

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outside of the rhyme, once again suggesting that it cannot be compared. Now all I need is y’all to pronounce my name, It’s Kanye, but some of my plaques, they still say Kayne (West, ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’ ) 13

This rhyming tactic both creates a duality of the self, and a difference from the other. Thus, then, in a rare instance of crossing these streams, by rhyming West’s lower-case ‘god’ with Christianity’s upper-case ‘God’, West asserts a similarity of planes between the two. This case is seen again later in the second verse of ‘I Am A God’. I just talked to Jesus He said, “What up, Yeezus?” I said, “Shit, I’m chillin’ Tryna stack these millions” I know he the most high But I am a close high Mi casa, su casa That’s our Cosa Nostra (West, ‘I Am A God’) Here, West takes his known nickname of ‘Yeezy’ and adapts it into ‘Yeezus’ in order to maintain this aforementioned rhyming technique. This rhyme aligns ‘Kanye West’ with Christianity’s deities – he understands that Jesus is the ‘most high’, but he claims to exist on a ‘close’ and similar plane. ‘Jesus’ is on friendly nickname terms with West, and the final line of the verse even suggests that West and Christ are in cohorts, involved in a crime syndicate together. Through these rhymes and lyrics that align his image with traditional deities, West places himself in a position to be a leader of a new cultural movement. West’s own identity and control as a religious figure is central to this movement; an idea also referenced on West’s collaborative album Watch The Throne with Jay Z:

West, ‘Diamonds from Sierra Leone’, Late Registration (Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, 2005). 13

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Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy laid beats Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats Preach (Jay Z, West, ‘No Church in the Wild’) In this track Jay Z and Kanye West offer the foundations of ‘a new religion’, one that elevates hip-hop artists to exist as the preachers at the core alongside religious deities. This religion is built upon drug abuse, sexual debauchery, fashionable trainers, expensive cars and decadent architecture – essentially, pleasure and consumerism. ‘Is hip-hop just a euphemism for a new religion?’, West mused on MBDTF’s ‘Gorgeous’, the sexually-alluding ‘euphemism’ being extremely pertinent given that this ‘new religion’ would be built around pleasure. Meanwhile, both of the above cited verses from ‘I Am A God’ offer an insight into this, West’s own brand of religion. Not only does he insert his own star image into the realm of religion and godliness, but he also inserts typically a-religious themes such as luxury, crime, wealth and sex. To be ‘a god’ in West’s world is to indulge in pleasure. 14

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This ‘new religion’ is, then, a luxury-based capitalism. For West, religion and capital go hand in hand. This relationship is demonstrated clearly in tracks like MBDTF’s ‘Monster’, the allusion to ‘profit, profit’ in the refrain offering a sonic similarity to a religious prophet. Capitalism is religion, and vice versa. In response to these attitudes in hip-hop aesthetics, Christina Zanfagna writes in her essay ‘Hip-hop and religion: From the mosque to the church’ that the pairing of religious imagery with ‘deeply profane lyrics and narratives’ speaks of a ‘conflicted spirituality’. She also suggests that ‘artists struggle to reconcile the almighty dollar with their almighty God and join together who they are with what they buy’. In the same essay, Zanfagna cites Compton Virtue, a Christian poet, as describing West’s pairing of religion and capitalist 16

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Jay Z and Kanye West, ‘No Church in the Wild’, Watch The Throne (Roc-A-Fella, Roc Nation, Def Jam, 2011). West, ‘Gorgeous’, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, 2010). Kanye West, ‘Monster’, Ibid. Christina Zanfagna, ‘Hip-hop and religion: from the mosque to the church’ in The Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop, ed. by Justin A. Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 75. 14

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excess as a ‘contradiction’. From a religious perspective, these statements certainly stand up – arguably West’s use of a $190,000 cross for the ‘Jesus Walks’ music video or assertion that he is ‘a god’ contradicts typical religious values. That said, however, in respect to West, I take issue with the idea of a ‘conflicted spirituality’, and the ‘struggle to reconcile the almighty dollar with [the] almighty God’. In West’s work, there is no ‘conflicted spirituality’, and the ‘almighty dollar’ sits comfortably alongside the ‘almighty God’. Often, religious references are made alongside references to brands. 18

Praises due to the most high, Allah Praises due to the most fly, Prada Baby I’m magic, ta-da Address me as your highness, high as United (West, ‘So Appalled’)

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Even though they know Yeezus is a Christian, huh? She spent her whole check on some Christians (West, ‘Highlights’)

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Louboutin on the toes again Tight dress dancin’ close to him Yeezus just rose again (West, ‘Send It Up’)

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These instances all insert the ‘Kanye West’ image and corporate brands into a religious context. This elevates the identities of both West and the brands from typically lowbrow popular culture to the high-culture of religion and mythology, whilst also operates on a new iteration of modern religion. Clearly, as we’ve seen with West’s considered rhyming of ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’, his choices to rhyme ‘Allah’ with ‘Prada’ in ‘So Appalled’, or ‘Christian’ and ‘Christians’, referring to fashion label Christian Dior, in ‘Highlights’ shows this merging of religious faith and capitalist wealth. Referencing ‘Allah’ as ‘the most high’, Christina Zanfagna, ‘Hip-hop and religion: from the mosque to the church’ in The Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop, ed. by Justin A. Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 75.. West, ‘So Appalled’, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. West, ‘Highlights’, The Life of Pablo. West, ‘Send It Up’, Yeezus. 18

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from a self-proclaimed Christian, also suggests a remoulding of religious identity and Christian monotheism. ‘Yeezus just rose again’, meanwhile, once again compares West to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, whilst also playing on sexual arousal and reiterating this luxury- and pleasure-based ideology. In West’s works we are quite literally hearing, as he puts it in ‘Stronger’, a ‘new gospel’ – the gospel according to Kanye. 22

As Dyer asserts the value of the once-derided commercial gossip column and fan magazines to actors’ star image, here I would like to assert the value of the similar commercial branded image to the ‘Kanye West’ image. These continued references to brands alongside religion assert a pinnacle status to corporations, that they too are divine entities to be worshipped. This process aligns West himself with these brands and deities too, by continually inserting his own identity in between the two. Thus, ‘Kanye West’ becomes both a ‘god’ and a brand, by continued and repeated comparisons. The ‘Kanye West’ image becomes the figurehead for a church of capitalism. 23

At this point, it is worth returning to the model of production and consumption. Leo Lowenthal wrote that, in terms of the consumption of their image, stars’ ‘fashions are to be copied, their fads followed, their sports pursued, their hobbies taken up’. Ultimately, stars are simply ‘a lot of guys [sic] who like or dislike highballs, cigarettes, tomato juice, golf and social gatherings’. Stars’ lifestyles are to be emulated by their consumers – consumers who will quite literally buy into a star image, consuming the same products and brands as their idols. Thus, by elevating certain brands to God-like status, the ‘Kanye West’ image offers consumers a brand that is at once aspirational and attainable. Continued references to specific brands, clothing, accessories or even the likes of cars, alcohol and food offer the consumer a chance to be, and to know, a version of ‘Kanye West’. Therefore, the ‘Kanye West’ image produced in West’s lyrics becomes more than a vehicle to sell his music – it becomes a vehicle 24

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West, ‘Stronger’, Graduation (Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam, 2007). Dyer, pp. 35-46. Leo Lowenthal, Stars, p. 39. Lowenthal, ‘The Triumph of Mass Idols’ in Literature, Popular Culture and Society (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1961), p. 135. 22

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to sell itself as an aesthetic product. Returning to ‘I Am A God’, we can see this at work.

Old niggas mentally still in high school Since the tight jeans they ain’t never liked you Pink–ass polo with a fuckin’ backpack But everybody know you brought real rap back Nobody had swag, man, we the Rat Pack Virgil, Pyrex, Don C snapback Ibn Diamond, Chi-town shinin’ Monop’ in this bitch again, changed the climate (West, ‘I Am A God’)

Here, we are presented with two iterations of ‘Kanye West’: The pink polo-shirt and backpack-wearing ‘Kanye West’ of 2004, and an alternative, Pyrex and Don Cwearing 2012/2013 iteration of ‘Kanye West’. Both these images, cited in West’s lyrics, offer fans the opportunity to buy into and emulate a version of ‘Kanye West’. Dyer suggests that, for stars, as fashion defines social norms and identities, a change in fashion is ‘always a change in social meaning’. This aesthetic shift to West’s image ‘change[s] the climate’. Where the pink-polo West was concerned with ‘real rap’, the Pyrex West is more concerned with having a ‘monop[oly]’ over the market. To have a monopoly, the OED defines, is to have ‘the exclusive possession or control of the trade in a commodity…having no competitor’, once again suggesting the incomparability of the ‘Kanye West’ identity its image so desires. 26

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What better way, then, for his monopoly to progress than for this image to sell ‘Kanye West’ branded products in the mainstream, commercial market? In this manner, the social ideology, the alternative Holy Trinity of West, religion and capitalism, created in West’s works West, 18 Years on Def Jam Poetry, online video recording, YouTube, 31 May 2013, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siJYicwAaGA> [accessed 22 April 2017]; Allen Onyia, ‘Kanye West performs wearing Pyrex Vision Religion hoodie and Balenciaga Arena Sneakers at The Sandy Relief concert’ in UpscaleHype (2012) <http://www.upscalehype.com/2012/12/kanye-west-performswearing-pyrex-vision-religion-hoodie-and-balenciaga-arenasneakers-at-the-sandy-relief-concert/> [accessed 22 April 2017]. Dyer, p. 14. 26

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takes a tangible form and actually enforces this social change. A full list of West’s corporate collaborations would be too lengthy to mention, but the most notable are his respective brand partnerships with Nike and adidas, the two major competing giants in the sport and leisure footwear industry. Whilst West has worked with other brands previously, these two collaborations stand separately as they offer comparatively affordable and innovative products to a global marketplace. In 2009, Nike collaborated with West to release three iterations of the Nike Air Yeezy sneaker, which would then be followed by two versions of the Nike Air Yeezy II in 2012. On 9 February 2014, a surprise third colourway, named the ‘Red Octobers’, of the Nike Air Yeezy II was released. In May 2013, nearly a year earlier, West wore this colourway whilst performing Yeezus album tracks ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘New Slaves’ on Saturday Night Live. A month later, Yeezus was released and contained the promotional lyrics ‘Yeezys all on your sofa | These the Red Octobers’ on ‘Hold My Liquor’. That these sneakers were not to be released for another seven months shows the careful consideration taken into the supply-demand chain. West utilised the performance and production of his image in order to create demand for a product that bore his own identity – essentially selling an image of himself with his own image. If by purchasing a ‘Yeezy’ branded sneaker, a consumer is buying into the image of ‘Kanye West’, then to withhold the supply whilst also performing this very image is to create demand for this same image. West utilised this capitalist model not only for a monetary agenda, but also in order to maintain, control and, crucially, elevate his star image. th

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West then took the ‘Yeezy’ footwear brand to competitor adidas, following a deal in late 2013 with the German sportswear company, whilst beginning to establish the newly-capitalised YEEZY as a distinct fashion

Ian Hundiak, ‘A History of Kanye West’s Sneaker Collabs’ in Sneakernews (2014) <https://sneakernews.com/2014/02/10/kanyewest-sneaker-history/> [accessed 22 April 2017] Kanye West, Black Skinhead (Live on SNL), online video recording, YouTube, 20 May 2013, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuhl6Ji5zHM> [accessed 22 April 2017] West, ‘Hold My Liquor’. 28

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label that also produced apparel. The launch of YEEZY lines and sneakers crucially began to coincide with the release of West’s musical outputs and performances – ‘YEEZY SEASON 1’, a showcase held at New York Fashion Week in February 2015 and streamed in cinemas globally, featured the first look at West’s sneakers and apparel for adidas and the first listen of new song ‘Wolves’. Later that year, West headlined Glastonbury Festival, arguably the pinnacle of any festival calendar and an event screened all over the world by the BBC, on the same day that these sneakers became commercially available for the first time. In February 2016 West unveiled ‘YEEZY SEASON 3’ to a packed out Madison Square Garden, with a soundtrack in the form of as-then-unheard new album The Life of Pablo. As with the ‘Hold My Liquor’ reference to West’s Nike collaboration, tracks on The Life of Pablo continue this trend. ‘Facts’ heralds the success of West’s adidas line, suggesting that the YEEZY sneakers have ‘just jumped over Jumpman’, beating Nike’s much loved Air Jordan brand, named after high-leaping basketball star Michael Jordan, at its own game. West also raps about sales of ‘a million [dollars] a minute’. Hyperbole or not, these statements ultimately drive demand for West’s products, and, therefore, West’s image. West’s musical performance, then, has begun to play supporting roles in the production of the ‘Kanye West’ corporate brand. 31

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By creating his own products, West once again controls both production and consumption of his star image, and cuts out third party control. Whereas previously, West would cite companies that would then, Jason Belzer, ‘Sneaker Wars: Kanye West signs deal with adidas, Drake with Jordan Brand’ in Forbes (2013) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonbelzer/2013/12/05/sneakerwars-kanye-west-signs-deal-with-adidas-drake-with-jordanbrand/#5ea7e7fc57e4> [accessed 22 April 2017] Jeremy Gordon and Amy Phillips, ‘Kanye West debuts “Wolves” featuring Sia and Vic Mensa at adidas YEEZY BOOST fashion show’ in Pitchfork (2015) <http://pitchfork.com/news/58456-kanye-westdebuts-wolves-featuring-sia-and-vic-mensa-at-adidas-yeezy-boostfashion-show/> [accessed 22 April 2017] Author Unknown, ‘YEEZY BOOST 350 Launch Day’ in Offspring (2015) <http://www.offspring.co.uk/blog/yeezy-boost-350-launchday/> [accessed 22 April 2017] Amy Phillips, ‘Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna featured on Kanye West new album The Life of Pablo’ in Pitchfork (2016) <http://pitchfork.com/news/63479-frank-ocean-chance-the-rapperrihanna-featured-on-kanye-west-new-album-the-life-of-pablo/> [accessed 22 April 2017] West, ‘Facts’, The Life of Pablo. 31

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ultimately, profit off his image, he can now reference his own brands and products in his works, and reap the monetary benefits for himself. Of course, these products are still released via adidas – yet West’s move from Nike was well documented as being commercially motivated (see note 45). This shift is, in a sense, a form of vertical integration – West creates the demand through his works, and controls the supply into the market. The ‘Kanye West’ image has almost ceased to become a ‘representation of a person’, but is, instead, an ethereal entity of commercial value. West’s intertwined God- and brand-like status separates his identity from his personhood, placing it firmly instead in the nature of image and aesthetic production and re-production. In doing so, West continues to maintain authorial control over both the production and consumption of his star image, once again subverting Dyer’s model that suggests that the star is only one cog in the star image machine, whilst simultaneously refusing to submit to the music industry’s control over his art, religious expression and capital success. West’s control over the ‘Kanye West’ identity manifests itself in a variety of ways. Be it through a remodelling of cultural criticism to become part of the sculpted image, aligning itself with spiritual and capitalist entities, or forming digital modulations of itself, the ‘Kanye West’ image is ever evolving in order to remain self-sustaining. In Dyer’s system of production and consumption, in which there are any number of factors that threaten autonomy over the star image, West is constantly fluid, flexible and adaptable, thus creating a constant and novel dialogue. As I have argued, each iteration of the ‘Kanye West’ figure is rarely the same as its predecessor, ensuring that West’s identity is never settled and, therefore, never out of its author’s control. Returning to the opening epigraph from ‘Jesus Walks’, West plays a character so fluid and diverse that it is impossible for anyone to claim to know ‘who Kanye West is’. Instead, his audience are left ‘know[ing] the old [West]’, whilst, under West’s control and authorship, this character has already evolved. This essay has looked to examine the script of the ‘Kanye West’ identity, and the constant battle for control over it, through West’s extensive body of work.

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‘I used to roll hard with tons of bitches’1: Women’s Rap Collaborations in the 1990s and 2010s. By Charis Dishman. Analysis of prominent women’s rap collaborations in the 1990s and 2010s reveals common features and themes in examples within each decade, as well as clear differences between the two. Comparing these songs and music videos points to broader changes for women rappers since the 1990s: the number and variety of such artists, and the ways their personas are constructed and understood. The coming together of multiple voices has always been central to rap and to hip-hop’s other elements, with collaboration in music a prominent element of this (alongside referencing, sampling and battling). Often collaborations occur between already affiliated artists; those in the same ‘crew’ or collective, on the same record label, or from the same neighbourhood or region. These can bolster those affiliations and generate attention and acclaim for multiple artists at once, including for less well known artists in collaboration with more established ones. Collaborations outside of these affiliations may promote unity across potentially adversarial or seemingly incompatible groups, regions, personas or sub-genres, or bolster constituent artists’ statuses as significant in the genre. Women rappers have most often been affiliated with male counterparts rather than with each other; many debuted featuring on the songs of established male rappers , or as the single woman rapper in an otherwise all-male group of affiliated rappers . Collaborations between women rappers are remarkable for almost always, therefore, occurring outside of such affiliations. 2

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There has been a lack of scholarly attention paid to women rappers prominent during the 1990s and later beyond their relation to and interaction with male counterparts and the perceived sexism in the genre. Most ‘M.A.F.I.A. Land’ in Hard Core (New York: The Hit Factory, 1996). Examples include ‘It’s a Man’s World’ in AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (New York: Greene Street Studios, 1990); ‘Nann Nigga’ in www.thug.com (Miami: Four Star Studios, 1998); ‘I Shot Ya (Remix)’ in Mr Smith (New York: Battery Studios, 1995). Examples include Foxy Brown and The Firm, Lil’ Kim and Junior M.A.F.I.A., Nicki Minaj and Young Money Entertainment. 1

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often, analysis of the music and music videos of these artists is confined to specialist studies on women, gender or sexism in rap, and done in relation to characterisations of women made in the music and music videos of male artists, or to an imagined ‘typical’ rapper, who is a man. Tendencies to analyse these women rappers in relation to their male counterparts and their apparent sexism have meant that, although it is well established that methods of bringing together multiple voices have always been central to the genre , women rappers’ musical and performed interactions with each other and other women have been overlooked. Analysis of these interactions can play an important role in shaping a more nuanced framing of these artists and creating space for them in hip-hop’s history (and future) beyond its sexual politics. Analysing women’s rap collaborations is one important element of this. 4

In the 2010s there are far fewer women rappers at the top level of the industry than there was in the 1990s, when there was something of a golden age; with Salt-NPepa, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Da Brat, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Mia X and more all achieving Gold and/or Platinum single and album sales in the United States alone . As well as a relatively high number of such artists, this period is also notable for the diversity of performance styles and personas amongst them. These artists featured on each other’s songs fairly regularly; performing a single verse or hook on a song otherwise performed by the main artist , as well as regularly featuring with male rappers or with women pop and R&B singers and groups. There are also a number of instances of collaborations in which two or more of these prominent women rappers perform equal parts on a single and in its accompanying music video, and these collaborations are my particular focus here. 5

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See Justin Williams, Rhymin’ and Stealin’: Musical Borrowing in HipHop (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2013) and Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1994). The Recording Industry Association of America, Gold and Platinum (2017), <https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/> [accessed 30 November 2017]. Examples include ‘Sock It 2 Me’ in Supa Dupa Fly (Virginia: Master Sounds Studios, 1997); ‘Hit Em Wit Da Hee’ in Supa Dupa Fly (Virginia: Master Sounds Studios, 1997); ‘Cold Rock A Party’ in Bad As I Wanna B (New York: Daddy’s House Recording Studio, 1996); ‘BWA’ in Chyna Doll (New York: The Hit Factory, 1999). 4

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In contrast to the 1990s, the 2010s have so far been dominated by a single woman rapper: Nicki Minaj has consistently achieved gold and platinum single and album sales throughout the decade (in every year since 2011) , has had the most appearances on the Billboard Hot 100 of any woman performer in the chart’s 58-year history , and is the only woman rapper to have appeared on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Chart every year since her debut in 2010 (whether as the main or a featured artist); this has typically been through multiple songs in each year, and often multiple charting songs at once. Only five other women rappers have appeared in this chart so far this decade, and these have typically been short-lived appearances; one or two big hits that chart for a number of weeks in a single year . Some women rappers from the 1990s and 2000s continue to perform and release music, or have returned to release new music in the 2010s: Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, Trina, Remy Ma. None of these artists have been consistently releasing music, however, and, of them, only Trina has yet released an album this decade. Others have emerged during the 2010s but either failed to achieve sustained success, such as Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks, or have so recently come to prominence that it isn’t possible to say if they will have sustained success, such as Young M.A and Cardi B. 7

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It is perhaps unsurprising given this landscape that there have been very few women’s rap collaborations so far in the 2010s: there are not many prominent artists who could contribute to one, and the most prominent – Minaj – has so far opted not to do so. This fact makes her single ‘Feeling Myself’ , featuring Beyonce and accompanied by a music video released in 2015, an interesting point of 10

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The Recording Industry Association of America, Gold and Platinum (2017), <https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/> [accessed 30 November 2017]. Gary Trust, Minaj Passes Aretha Franklin for Most Billboard Hot 100 Hits of Any Female Artist (March 20, 2017) <http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chartbeat/7728788/nicki-minaj-passes-aretha-franklin-for-most-billboardhot-100> [accessed 30 November 2017]. Examples include ‘Fancy’ in The New Classic (Los Angeles: Conway Studios, 2013); ‘Black Widow’ in The New Classic (Los Angeles: Record Plant, 2013). Billboard, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (2017), <http://www.billboard.com/charts/r-b-hip-hop-songs> [accessed 30 November 2017]. ‘Feeling Myself’ in The Pinkprint (New York: Jungle City Studios, 2014). DanceMusic, Nicki Minaj – Feeling Myself (feat. Beyoncé), (online video), Rutube, 25 May 2015, 7

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comparison with 1990s women’s rap collaborations. The song charted in the US top 40, and is one of the very few times Minaj has collaborated with another woman, and the only time she has done so in equal proportions (the two artists appear equally on the song and in the music video) rather than contributing a rapped verse to a sung song (as in ‘Bang Bang’ with Ariana Grande and Jessie J) or featuring a singer for the chorus on her otherwise rapped song (as in ‘Fly’ with Rihanna). Whilst Beyonce is not a rapper, she is one of the most successful and prominent women in music, and she is affiliated with rap and hiphop; she has regularly adopted elements of hip-hop music, performance, dance and styling in her songs, music videos and performances, perhaps most explicitly in her selftitled album released within a year of ‘The Pinkprint’ (the Nicki Minaj album ‘Feeling Myself’ is featured on), and indeed in ‘Feeling Myself’ and its music video in particular. Another interesting point of comparison for 1990s women’s rap collaborations is the 2017 Remy Ma single ‘Wake Me Up’ , featuring Lil’ Kim: the only single with a music video featuring multiple prominent women rappers released in the 2010s thus far. Lil’ Kim’s rap career spans over twenty years, and Remy Ma has recently begun performing and releasing music again after emerging in the early 2000s and then serving six years in prison. 12

Notable women’s rap collaborations released in this earlier era include ‘Ladies First’ by Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love (1989), ‘I Wanna Be Down (The Human Rhythm Hip-Hop Remix)’ by Brandy featuring MC Lyte, Yo-Yo and Queen Latifah (1994), ‘Freedom (Theme From Panther) (Rap Version)’ by Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, TLC, MC Lyte, Nefertiti, Meshell Ndegeocello, Patra and Salt-N-Pepa (1995), ‘No One Else (Puff Daddy Remix)’ by Total featuring Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim and Da 13

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<https://rutube.ru/video/af66c37133198f96aae2a5edfd0c7e4f/> [Accessed 13 September 2017]. Remy Ma, Remy Ma – Wake Me Up ft. Lil’ Kim, (online video), YouTube, 16 November 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOEzjT-SED0> [Accessed 30 November 2017]. ‘Ladies First’ in All Hail the Queen (New York: Calliope Productions, 1989). ‘I Wanna Be Down (The Human Rhythm Hip-Hop Remix)’ (1994). ‘Freedom (Theme From Panther) (Rap Version)’ (1995). ‘No One Else (Puff Daddy Remix)’ (1995). 12

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Brat (1995), and ‘Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)’ by Lil’ Kim featuring Angie Martinez, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, Da Brat and Missy Elliott (1997). Each of these communicate a common pro-women message, and unity between the collaborating women and women in general. In some cases this is the primary theme of the song’s lyrics, and in others it is incorporated into the song’s music video. 17

Queen Latifah and Monie Love’s ‘Ladies First’ and its accompanying music video are at once a celebration of the two artists, women rappers as a group, black women activists, and women – particularly black women – listeners internationally, and a challenge to popular characterisations of rap and anti-racist politics as dominated by men. Lyrics include familiar boasts regarding the individual artists and their rap skills; ‘Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen’, ‘You want righteous rhyming, Imma give you some’, and this self-celebration is extended to other women rappers and to women in general (including listeners) through regular use of collective, inclusive terms: ‘my sisters’, ‘the ladies’, and through cameo appearances of other women rappers dancing in the song’s music video. The song’s music video also features still images of black women activists including Angela Davis, Sojourner Truth, Winnie Mandela and Harriet Tubman. These women’s contributions to anti-racist and anti-sexist politics are thus highlighted (where elsewhere they have often been overlooked) and celebrated, and the two artists, and women rappers as a group, are positioned in a lineage with them; their own often overlooked contributions to the genre and wider culture highlighted and celebrated, and their (and rap’s) own role in this politics asserted. The inclusion of Winnie Mandela and other visual references to South Africa and apartheid in the song’s music video extend this collectivity to black women internationally, as does lyrical acknowledgement of Monie Love’s British nationality. 18

Latifah and Love appear equally as performers on the track and in the music video, both independently on ‘Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)’ in Hard Core (New York, Los Angeles: Sound-On-Sound, The Hit Factory and Capitol Recording Studio, 1997). VintageHipHopSeattle, Queen Latifah ft. Monie Love – Ladies First (online video), YouTube, 2 March 2012, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLB5bUNAesc> [accessed 13 September 2017]. 17

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verses and in scenes, and together. They sing the assertive, celebratory ‘ladies first’ chorus together. The sense of unity between the two artists, in dialogue with each other as well as with listeners, and sharing skills, values and aims, is enhanced by lyrics explicitly presenting them as two individuals working together: ‘(L)et me take it from here Queen’, ‘My sister, can I get some?/Sure, Monie Love, grab the mic and get dumb’. Lil’ Kim’s ‘Not Tonight (Ladies Night Remix)’, featuring Angie Martinez, Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes, Da Brat and Missy Elliott, employs a number of the same tools to convey a sense of unity between its artists, women rappers as a group, and women listeners, including regular lyrical references made to ‘ladies’, ‘sisters’, and ‘my girls’. With more artists featured and greater diversity amongst them (in terms of lyrical themes, performance, dress and dance styles, and public personas) than ‘Ladies First’, the song and its music video add to this a message that it is possible and positive to maintain individual differences and identities whilst uniting over shared aims and experiences. 19

Each artist performs a verse on the song, with lyrics and vocal delivery that conform to – and highlight and celebrate – their respective individual styles and personas familiar to audiences from their solo careers. In the music video, this sense of each artist’s distinct identity is enhanced by them appearing independently from each other during their own verses, in individualised styling and settings that again conform to their personas; Da Brat performs in baggy dungarees in front of a caged tiger, Lil’ Kim wears a blonde wig and bright make-up and clothing, brandishing handfuls of cash. At other times, including during the song’s pro-woman affirmative and inclusive chorus (‘Oh this is ladies night, and our rhymes is tight/Oh this is ladies night, oh what a night’), the artists appear together, each miming these words, which are sung by Missy Elliott, in individual versions of the same all-white styling and each performing distinct dance styles in line with their personas. Through these various elements individual differences are highlighted and celebrated, and importantly shown not to be obstacles to MissNeNe1000, Angie Martinez, Lil Kim, Left Eye, Da Brat & Missy Elliott – Ladies Night (Video) (online video), YouTube, 28 July 2009, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoQwdzKm7hk> [accessed 13 September 2017]. 19

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the group uniting over common experiences, values and aims. The song samples lyrics from 1970s girl group Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ – ‘I got all my sisters with me’ , refers to all women in its chorus ‘this is ladies night’, and features cameo appearances from a large number and wide variety of women artists beyond those featured on the song in its music video – rappers and RnB singers from Queen Latifah to Mary J. Blige. These women join the featured artists in miming the chorus and dancing. This all works to cast this celebration of diverse, perhaps seemingly incompatible, models of womanhood, and promotion of unity, wide – to make a broad statement directed at and inclusive of all women; artists and audiences, across lines of generation, geography and genre. 20

In ‘Freedom (Theme From Panther) (Rap Version)’, ‘I Wanna Be Down (Human Rhythm Hip-Hop Remix)’ and ‘No One Else (Puff Daddy Remix)’, featured artists each also perform equal portions of the tracks, and appear in the accompanying music videos accordingly. The lyrics are in every case self-affirming and celebratory of individual artists and of women more generally, and particularly black women. Accompanying music videos show artists independently and together, often styled similarly but always retaining elements relating to their distinct personas through accessories, hairstyles, dance styles and cameo appearances from artists they are otherwise affiliated with (for example members of her group TLC appear with Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes in the video for ‘Freedom (Theme From Panther) (Rap Version)’ and her mentor the Notorious B.I.G. appears with Lil’ Kim in the video for ‘No One Else (Puff Daddy Remix)’ ). 21

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‘We Are Family’ in We Are Family (New York: Power Stations Studios, 1979). Ineka, Brandy – I Wanna Be Down (Remix) (feat. MC Lyte, YoYo & Queen Latifah) [1994] (online video), YouTube 13 July 2009, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LthQLQMilvo> [Accessed 30 November 2017]. RJjean1627, Various Artists Freedom Rap Version (online video), YouTube, 26 November 2009, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNgIAY0yBbw> [Accessed 30 November 2017]. Lilkimfans, Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Da Brat, Total – No One Else (Bad Boy Remix) [Music Video] HD (online video), YouTube 4 December 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMKb9aXCfwU> [Accessed 30 November 2017]. 20

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In each of these examples there is a display and promotion of uniting whilst maintaining individual differences, and a defiance against the assumed incompatibility of certain models of womanhood. Here, artists and archetypes elsewhere pitted against one another (sex-kitten Lil’ Kim, tomboy Da Brat, conscious womanist Queen Latifah) perform together in inclusive and open collaborations, inviting women audiences to see themselves amongst these diverse line-ups of artists. YoYo’s lyric ‘You say you never met a sister so strong, you’re wrong’ in ‘Freedom (Rap Version)’ is an express refusal to be the exceptional ‘best’ at the expense of peers, and each of these collaborations present diverse groups of individual women thriving simultaneously. They also demonstrate the possibility for this supportive, celebratory approach to exist alongside the boastful self-affirmation and celebration characteristic of rap and hip-hop. Both ‘Wake Me Up’ and ‘Feeling Myself’ share with 1990s women’s rap collaborations these themes of selfaffirmation and celebration. Here, the featured artists variously boast of their rap skills, wealth, status and desirability: Remy Ma is ‘rich’, a ‘dream bitch’, whilst Beyoncé ‘changed the game’, Nicki Minaj is a ‘rap legend’ with ‘punchlines’, ‘flow’, and ‘an empire’; the two are ‘dope girls’, ‘flawless’. Unlike their 1990s counterparts, however, in these examples this self-affirmation is not explicitly extended to other women: rappers, activists, audiences. Lyrical boasts, specific to the featured artists, are not coupled with inclusive language; rather than ‘ladies first’, ‘ladies night’, ‘sisters comin’ together’, these 2010s artists are more narrowly ‘feeling’ themselves. Though lyrics in these songs can of course be self-affirming to listeners positioning themselves as either song’s subject – particularly non-specific lines like ‘I’m feeling myself’ and ‘I’m his dream bitch’ – this is potentially undermined by both songs’ music videos, which reinforce the sense that these examples are less open, inclusive and general in their celebratory pro-women message than their 1990s counterparts. As well as featuring Lil’ Kim performing its hook and bridge and in its music video, ‘Wake Me Up’ heavily samples Kim’s 1996 song ‘Queen Bitch’ , opens in the same way with Kim’s signature deep grunt ‘uh’, and repeats and 24

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‘Queen Bitch’ in Hard Core (New York: The Hit Factory, 1996).

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adapts many of its lyrics. The song is, through these elements, a celebration of Kim, highlighting her significance to the genre and insisting this is recognised: ‘you owe homage, pay that shit’. It is also a celebration of Remy Ma, who aligns herself with this significance by inserting herself into, and performing, Kim’s famous lyrical phrases. The two artists are aligned even more closely in the song’s music video, where they appear together in three different settings styled extremely similarly to one another: wearing designer clothing – figure-hugging bodysuits, large jackets or furs, highheeled boots and oversized sunglasses – in black and brown, black and silver, and black and red respectively. They perform very similar dance styles, regularly making the same gestures whilst standing side by side or one in front of the other. Indeed they are always seen in these tight formations, regularly occupying the same small section of the frame, and despite a substantial height difference between the two artists in reality, camera angles, sitting and crouching mean they even appear here to be the same height. Unlike earlier women’s rap collaborations, here the two artists’ distinct identities are not highlighted but downplayed. Their close alignment means the song’s self-celebration applies to both of them and – significantly – inhibits it applying to anyone outside of this pairing. In ‘Feeling Myself’, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s distinct identities as solo performers are similarly downplayed. Beyoncé adopts elements of rap performance in the song and its music video, performing hand gestures associated with rap performance, referring to Texas, her hometown , and wearing oversized sportswear including an ice hockey jersey covered with images of rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. At times Beyoncé’s vocal delivery is similar to rap, whilst Nicki sings as well as raps on the song. The two artists’ voices appear both distinctly and together, where it is often difficult to distinguish between the two. 25

Whilst the two artists present in different styles regularly and have done throughout their respective careers, often looking distinctly different to one another ‘Shouting out’ one’s hometown is a prominent trope in rap and hiphop. See Murray Forman, The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2002). 25

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elsewhere, their styling in the ‘Feeling Myself’ video is almost identical. Here, both artists have long, wavy hair, the same make-up, and very similar outfits, appearing together variously in swimsuits, swimsuits with fur coats, and black and white sportswear. Whilst dressed in black and white sportswear, the two even swap outfits from one frame to the next, and then back again, a move that is almost imperceptible since their outfits are so similar. When the two appear together in scenes they often perform the same dance styles, gestures, and even facial expressions. In one scene they appear in profile to the camera, facing each other as if mirror images, with the same hairstyles, make-up and facial expressions, and both break into smiles simultaneously and on beat. At other times, the video cuts between shots of each artist alone, positioned very similarly so that they replace each other in the frame as if interchangeable. The effect of the shared styling and performance in the music video, coupled with the song’s self-celebratory lyrics, is to promote a single style and persona here shared by the two artists and to present this as the single way to be desirable and successful, where 1990s collaborations coupled a diverse range of artists with open and inclusive celebratory lyrics, thus not prizing any particular persona over the others. With ‘Feeling Myself’, as with ‘Wake Me Up’, audiences can only join in on the artists’ selfcelebration if they are able to emulate their shared style and persona. The sense of Nicki and Beyoncé’s shared style being the model for success and desirability is underlined by lyrics emphasising that the two artists are at the top of their respective fields. Beyonce can ‘stop the world’, Nicki is the ‘queen’ of rap. The very fact that they are collaborating here with each other and not Nicki with another rapper and Beyonce with another singer means they can celebrate each other without undermining their own assertions that they are peerless in the worlds of rap and pop respectively. Clearly this would not be possible in a collaboration featuring a number of women rappers. Interestingly, although a singular model of womanhood is celebrated in ‘Feeling Myself’, it is fluid and multi-faceted in a way none of the many models celebrated in its 1990s counterparts are. Nicki and Beyonce are both presented as at once hip-hop and pop, sexy and desirable, relatable ‘ordinary’ women sharing burgers and fries and bubble-gum, playing in a swimming pool with

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friends, filming themselves on a video camera, and huge international superstars at Coachella music festival in front of an enormous crowd of screaming fans. Prominent women rappers in the 1990s each had a distinct, clearly defined and consistent persona, enacted through their lyrical themes, dress and performance style. Deviation from these identities, once established, was often criticised in the media, for example MC Lyte incorporating R&B themes and adopting more a feminine style of dress when releasing her third album , and Da Brat moving from her initial tomboy styling to wear more revealing and sexualised dress in the late 1990s . In a genre that prizes authenticity, these changes were criticised as selling out or pandering to a changing industry, threatening to confine these women to their established personas: MC Lyte the tomboy storyteller, Queen Latifah the African womanist sister, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown the explicit sex kittens, Missy Elliott the wacky Afrofuturist. This way of framing women rappers of that era, and expectation of them by the industry and media, is typical in contemporary media: The Source’s 1997 ‘Female MC Hall of Fame’ lists each of the featured artists’ personas alongside their name: Missy Elliott is ‘The Innovator’, YoYo ‘The Homegirl’, Foxy Brown and Lil’ Kim ‘The Hotties’, MC Lyte ‘The Lyricist’, Da Brat ‘The Hardrock’ . Emerging women rappers were asked in interviews where they saw themselves fitting amongst this existing line-up; Mia X was asked ‘where do you see yourself in the current wave of female MCs coming out?’ , Gangsta Boo ‘what…sets [her] apart from other women in the rap game?’ . There was a clear expectation for emerging artists to be filling a gap or taking over from a predecessor and in either case, presenting a distinct identity seems necessary. 26

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The distinct public and performance identities of 1990s women rappers made the instances of collaboration between them powerful in their show of unity between seemingly (according to media that often dichotomised them) incompatible identities. These were also dream hampton, ‘Lyte’s On’, The Source, December 1991, 48-9; Darryl James, ‘Between the Sheets’, Rap Sheet, April 1993, 5. The Source, ‘Spoiled Brat’, The Source, February 2000, 178-183. Mimi Valdes, ‘The Female MC Hall of Fame’, The Source, October 1997, 132-141. Hannibal Tabu, ‘Microphone Check: Mia X: Who’s That Lady?’, The Source, September 1997, 74, 253. Elon D. Johnson, ‘Mafia Princess’, The Source, December 1998, 80, 82. 26

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opportunities to reaffirm these individual personas through emphasising artists’ likeness to or contrast with their peers. Multiple-artist collaborations were perhaps also opportunities for women rappers to establish or restate their place as one of the most prominent of the time; to be included in ‘Freedom (Theme From Panther) (Rap Version)’, for example, a who’s-who of 1995 women’s rap, was to be one of the major players of the era. We might see ‘Wake Me Up’ as evidence of this expectation on 1990s women rappers, considering the song’s reliance on Lil’ Kim’s early music and initial – and enduring – persona. For artists who have emerged in the 2010s, however, including Nicki Minaj, there seems far less to be an expectation of or demand for women rappers to have a fixed and clearly defined persona. Nicki’s dress, performance style and persona have been fluid throughout her career; she even regularly switched between different personas and accents in single songs on earlier albums, and on ‘Feeling Myself’ she draws attention to the four ‘flows’ she has performed by the song’s close. Perhaps this fluidity has enabled Nicki – and indeed Beyonce – to disrupt notions of the incompatibility of different elements or models of womanhood independently, where their 1990s counterparts did so by presenting their more narrow, fixed personas together through collaborations. Perhaps also Nicki is at least in part able to succeed with such a fluid persona because her predecessors disrupted the apparent distinctions between their various styles through collaborating. Not being expected to have a fixed, clearly defined persona could mean more longevity for women rappers, as they will be allowed to change and develop without being accused of inauthenticity. It could also mean more recognition of their complexity and nuance, rather than them being reduced to a narrow caricature as in the 1990s media reception above. It might also, however, be part of the reason for the smaller number of women rappers today, as such a successful and versatile artist doesn’t leave gaps to be filled in the way the line-up of personas in the 1990s may have. It is also part of why collaborations of the type seen in the 1990s would perhaps not serve 2010s women rappers in the same way. Nicki, at least, does not need to assert her position when she has been so dominant for the whole decade, she seems able to communicate the compatibility of diverse elements and models of womanhood independently, and she does

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not have a fixed persona to assert through comparison to peers. Perhaps the recent emergence of new artists, including Young M.A. and Cardi B, and re-emergence of artists like Lil’ Kim who regularly collaborated with women in the 1990s and 2000s, will mean we see more examples of women’s rap collaborations before the decade’s end.

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Play on Any Platform: Between HipHop Beatmaking and Video Games, by Michael Philip Bridgewater Primavera Sound, Barcelona, 3am, Saturday 3 June 2017. I’m watching Flying Lotus tear through a live set that combines forceful, effervescent electronic compositions with a dazzling display of fantastical visuals that consumes most of my field of vision. The fatigue I had succumbed to earlier in the night is completely nullified as FlyLo drops a very familiar piece. Familiar, but a curious pick, as this is a piece from the soundtrack of a video game. The triumphant ‘Fanfare’ theme from Final Fantasy VII rings out around our corner of the festival site, and I have to laugh out loud at the audacity. Seconds later, pounding 808 drum beats are superimposed over the top – an instant hiphopification that doesn’t sound even slightly contrived. Before I can reach into my pocket for my phone to try and get a rough recording, the mix segues seamlessly into the foreboding opening of ‘ShinRa Company’. The cold, hard 808 figures persist, the pummelling volume heightening the emotional intensity of the piece. This isn’t just a novelty to tell my friends about when I get home, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever heard. My eyes scan the crowd – those who know, know. 1

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Nobuo Uematsu, ‘Fanfare’, Final Fantasy VII: Original Soundtrack (DigiCube, 1997). Nobuo Uematsu, ‘ShinRa Company’, Final Fantasy VII: Original Soundtrack (DigiCube, 1997). A rough video recording of Flying Lotus’s set at Primavera Sound 2017 is available to view on YouTube (the Final Fantasy VII flips play at 13:21-15:12), as well as a better-quality recording of the Final Fantasy VII flips from Day For Night festival in 2015. LiveMusiChannel, ‘FLYING LOTUS @ PRIMAVERA SOUND 2017’, online video clip, YouTube, https://youtu.be/zrmNqKyPPqE, 5 June 2017 (14 July 2017). MARK ARMES, ‘Flying Lotus Final Fantasy VII REMIX Live at Day For Night Festival’, online video clip, YouTube, https://youtu.be/iFdmIbM3wN8, 18 January 2016 (14 July 2017). 1

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In musicology that addresses Hip-Hop, there has been a tendency to perceive the culture as a sort of heroic monolith that is entirely at odds with hegemony through the delivery of overtly political lyrics. As such, Public Enemy are mentioned very frequently for MC Chuck D’s firebrand lyrical style and the unsettling, cacophonic sonics of the group’s production team the Bomb Squad. Among Public Enemy’s champions is Tricia Rose, a (very deservedly) respected commentator on Hip-Hop culture, who laments: ‘I am not prone to nostalgia but will admit, with self-conscious wistfulness, that I remember when Hip-Hop was a locally inspired explosion of exuberance and political energy tethered to the idea of rehabilitating community’, as if to suggest that Hip-Hop does not have the capacity to communicate political energy in its contemporary state. The simple fact, however, is that the kind of overtly political rap group that Public Enemy is an exemplar of has never been representative of all – or even most – expressions of Hip-Hop. The prevailing presupposition that Hip-Hop is (or at least should be) explicitly counter-hegemonic in its content could be understood as an attempt to valourise the agency of America’s marginalised youth by recuperating the dominant culture’s Eurocentric, bourgeois cultural concept of the ‘heroic’ (Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony being something of an aptly-named benchmark). I am sympathetic towards this tendency up to a point, but ultimately, it is misleading. From its earliest rumblings in the 1970s onwards, Hip-Hop music has always foregrounded a sense of fun in its sonics and practices, though in a world where the execution of the dominant culture’s agenda has made recreation options prohibitively expensive or inaccessible for lower class urban youth, fun is not something to trivialise. In short, Hip-Hop has made a political battleground of recreation itself. 4

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Tricia Rose, The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop – and Why It Matters (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2008), ix. I would suggest that in the case of Hip-Hop culture, the word ‘recreation’ should be understood to mean re-creation – the appropriation and repurposing of existing artifacts of creativity like in digital sampling – as well as collective leisure and enjoyment. 4

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The pre-commercialisation live Hip-Hop jams of the South Bronx came about through a collective will to party and a proclivity for competition (sometimes friendly, often not) in B-boy dancing, battling sound systems, and live MCing, and these incentives, in addition to the pursuit of financial rewards, continue to spur young people to participate in Hip-Hop culture today. This paper seeks to highlight how beatmaking in Hip-Hop music has developed as an evolving ‘technoculture’ that draws its power from other sites of recreation, using the domain of video games as an example. Acknowledging that Hip-Hop’s cultural practices are rooted in the Black American vernacular idea of ‘Signifyin(g)’, that is: ‘both the trope of pastiche and a pastiche of tropes’ as Russell A. Potter puts it, I will scrutinise the ways in which tropes of video games and Hip-Hop music have fed into one another, making for an arresting aesthetic intersection that colours the already complex relational nexus of Hip-Hop culture and the hegemonic culture industry. In doing so, I hope to prove that Hip-Hop music has continued to be a radical creative force at a grassroots level, though it may not always be readily apparent. 6

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To understand the fundamental stimuli of Hip-Hop music in advance of addressing its relationship with technology, a consideration of the culture’s earliest roots is appropriate, perhaps even necessary. On his initial exposure to early Hip-Hop culture in the 1970s, Kool DJ AJ recalls: in the South Bronx we really had nothing to do. There wasn’t no movie theaters – everything we did was like something to make a little bit of excitement in the area. Shooting cans with a water pump was exciting in the area, you know what I’m saying? And then when people seen Kool DJ Herc [arguably Hip-Hop music’s first practitioner], it was like some excitement, Jim Fricke, Charlie Ahearn, and Nelson George, Yes, Yes, Y'all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop's First Decade (Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002), 9. Russell A. Potter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 18. 6

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and it drew a crowd. I just took notice, and it was interesting. 8

With the absence of decent recreation facilities that was part and parcel of the government of New York City’s calculated ‘benign neglect’ of the South Bronx, young Blacks and Latinos were forced to take to locations including but not limited to parks and school halls to create their own local framework for social and artistic happenings, which came to be known as ‘Hip-Hop’. While there was nothing explicitly political about these enterprises, such a claiming of public spaces to stave off boredom and cultural poverty was political nevertheless, albeit in a more latent fashion. In Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, Robin D. G. Kelley expands on James C. Scott’s term ‘infrapolitics’, referring to collective actions against hegemony that are effective yet invisible, to support his analysis of how Black working class Americans living under Jim Crow policies were able to establish and sustain their own forms of nightlife and entertainment, constituting social and cultural spaces that were removed from the dominant culture’s institutionalised racial inequality and violence: 9

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These social spaces constituted a partial refuge from the humiliations and indignities of racism, class pretensions, and wage work, and in many cases they housed an alternative culture that placed more emphasis on collectivist values, mutuality, and fellowship’. 11

A similar kind of infrapolitics is discernible in the artifacts of early Hip-Hop culture, as disenfranchised Black and Latino youth claimed back space, instigated their own night-time economics, and improvised musical materials. Although I quoted Rose’s complaint regarding a perceived loss of political engagement in Hip-Hop circa 2008 near the beginning of this paper, her Jim Fricke, Charlie Ahearn, and Nelson George, Yes, Yes, Y'all: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop's First Decade (Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002), 35. Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (London: Ebury Press, 2007), 13-14. Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1996), 8. Ibid., 36. 8

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arguments in Black Noise, published in 1994, show that she too has recognised a ‘hidden transcript’ – or an active culture of infrapolitics – operating in Hip-Hop: Rap’s poetic voice is deeply political in content and spirit, but rap’s hidden struggle, the struggle over access to public space, community resources, and the interpretation of black expression constitutes rap’s hidden politics. 12

While early Hip-Hop’s slyly subversive acts were not aligned with any ‘official’ outrage at the abject conditions of the South Bronx, they should still be considered significant. As Kelley contends, infrapolitics and the more visible channels of political engagement are not irreconcilable; rather, they are: ‘two sides of the same coin that make up the history of working-class resistance’. 13

The manner in which early Hip-Hop culture’s practitioners’ work necessitated a large amount of regular rehearsal and planning resembled what Gustav Thomas calls ‘wild productivity’, where: ‘music- and art-making is as wholly integrated into daily routines as possible’. This makes for a level of commitment that eliminates the gulf between art and the broader lived experience. Such an emphasis on commitment to one’s craft requires a shrewd understanding of contemporary technological developments taking place within underground music, as Thomas notes: 14

not only is the proliferation of new music in the digital environment increasing exponentially as the technology for producing it becomes more accessible and easier to use, but that such accessibility and facility mean that emerging artists are

Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994), 145. Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1996), 33. Gustav Thomas, ‘Wild Productivity in the Age of Evaporation: A Brief Outline in Self-Situation’, Claws & Tongues, 2016, https://clawsandtongues.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/wildproductivity-in-the-age-of-evaporation-a-brief-outline-in-selfsituation (31st March, 2017). 12

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increasingly likely to produce material at an exponential rate.

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As Hip-Hop’s early DJs developed ways of using turntables and commercial records as musical instruments, an explosion of musical activity electrified the South Bronx. For the proliferation of creative endeavours in music to continue over the ensuing decades, however, larger and more diverse palettes of musical materials were required. As I will demonstrate, video games have served as bountiful sources of such materials. With the release of the Sugarhill Gang single ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in 1979, the commercial music industry made a saleable genre of recorded popular music out of the burgeoning Hip-Hop culture, and thus threatened its (infra)political potential. Thomas’s outlook on the phenomenon of the culture industry appropriating grassroots cultural musical practice is decidedly gloomy, as he argues: 16

By turning music into a professionalist specialism, on the one hand, and the ultimate in fetishized commodity on the other, we not only strand vast sections of the population outside infrastructures of power and entitlement, by cutting off the their most effective channels to agency and self-determination; we also manage to reinforce people’s sense that they are powerless to overturn the grim conditions they find themselves living in. 17

When the standardisation of Hip-Hop music through commodification was instigated by the culture industry, however, the vanguard of Hip-Hop was not snuffed out; a new wave of practitioners emerged in the 1980s, releasing records that were markedly more consistent with the rough, dynamic aesthetics of the live Ibid. Sugarhill Gang, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (Sugar Hill Records, 1979). Gustav Thomas, ‘The Impossible Vs. the Unthinkable: A Sequel to ‘Wild Productivity in the Age of Evaporation’’, Claws & Tongues, 2016, https://clawsandtongues.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/theimpossible-vs-the-unthinkable-a-sequel-to-wild-productivity-in-theage-of-evaporation (31st March, 2017). 15

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Hip-Hop scene that thrived before ‘Rapper’s Delight’, evading the culture industry’s influence whilst simultaneously signifyin(g) on it to produce a historical synthesis. The limit on how much of a grassroots musical culture that the culture industry can recuperate, harvesting the fruits without pulling out the roots, is a result of what Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill describe as ‘limited voraciousness’, where ‘emerging new musics can be monitored and tapped yet not stifled’. The harnessing of youth recreation for commercial ends has also been the basis of the establishment and consolidation of the video games industry from the 1970s onwards. In the documentary From Bedrooms to Billions, British game designer Jeff Minter reflects on how the coding of games for microcomputers went from being a hobbyist’s pursuit, to a burgeoning network of cottage industries, to a fully-fledged professionalised business loaded with creative constraints and a colder, more corporate cultural environment. To a certain extent, this process of evolution is comparable to the appropriation of HipHop by the mainstream music industry, but it is important to observe how, notwithstanding their appropriations, both Hip-Hop music and video games continued to inspire young people to create on their own terms. As observed by David Toop in Rap Attack, the cutting ditties of the sound chips that wailed from cabinets in New York City’s arcades made for a strange electronic soundworld, mirroring the music at pop culture’s cutting edge like the records of Kraftwerk and the subsequent electro-powered Hip-Hop of Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s single ‘Planet Rock’. By Kraftwerk’s popularity with many Black 18

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These records, by the likes of Eric B. and Rakim, Ultramagnetic MC’s, and EPMD, belong to a period that is often considered to be Hip-Hop’s ‘Golden Age’, as the artistry of the form progressed substantially in tandem with the increased availability of affordable music technology. Andrew Leyshon, David Matless, and George Revill, ‘Introduction: Music, Space, and the Production of Place’ in Leyshon, Andrew, Matless, David & Revill, George, (eds.), The Place of Music (New York: The Guilford Press, 1998), 1-30 (10). From Bedrooms to Billions, by Anthony Caulfield and Nicola Caulfield, 2014, 150 min. (DVD, Gracious Films Ltd). David Toop, Rap Attack #3 (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2000), 129. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, ‘Planet Rock’ (Tommy Boy, 1982). 18

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American music fans and video games commanding a place at the forefront of the popular imagination, computer-generated sounds came to be regarded as ‘funky’, in spite of the relatively cold, robotic rhythmic regularity that they embodied. The ubiquity of these sounds helped to shape fledgling musical minds, as DJ and producer J Rocc reflects: 23

without all of us Hip-Hop kids knowing, [...] that 8-bit, 16-bit music somehow some way influenced all of us, because we all played video games. You had to play video games back then – it was no joke. 24

The developments in musical style that came about in response to emerging technologies are indicative of a technoculture at work. Technoculture, a term originally coined by Andrew Ross and expanded on vis-à-vis musical cultures by René T. A. Lysloff & Leslie C. Gay, is bound up with how a technology is defined in respect of the ways in which it is used by practitioners of a musical culture; music and technology forming an indivisible whole to sustain the evolution of musical styles. Lysloff and Gay argue: 25

An ethnomusicology of technoculture […] is concerned with how technology implicates cultural practices involving music. It includes not only technologically based musical countercultures and subcultures but behaviors and forms of knowledge ranging from mainstream and traditional institutions, on the one hand, to contemporary music scholarship, on the other. 26

Crucially, it is the human application of the technology, rather than simply the technology in and of itself, that is most pertinent in the practical dynamics of a David Toop, Rap Attack #3 (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2000), 130. Red Bull Music & Culture, ‘Diggin' in the Carts - The Rise of VGMEp 1 - Red Bull Music Academy Presents’, online video clip, YouTube, https://youtu.be/m8z8-SKg3WU, 11 September 2014 (28 July 2017). René T. A. Lysloff & Leslie C. Gay, ‘Introduction: Ethnomusicology in the Twenty-first Century’ in Lysloff, René T. A. & Gay, Leslie C., (eds.), Music and Technoculture (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003), 1-22 (10). Ibid., 2. 23

24

25

26

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technoculture. Lysloff and Gay delineate ways in which technology is mediated by agency including the highlighting of ‘experience’, which is to do with the historical, current, and possible future applications of technological devices that enable the user to consider: ‘the technological in relation to other aspects of life’. It is in the experiences of technologies and musical materials that the technocultural link between Hip-Hop and video games is at its strongest. 27

Fig. 1

28

While my focus lies in Hip-Hop music, specifically its beats, I am also inclined towards observing how tropes of Hip-Hop have infiltrated video games, demonstrating that cultural influence in this relationship is not a one-way street. One compelling example of an entire game that appears to draw from the technoculture of early Hip-Hop is Ghettoblaster, a 1985 title for the Commodore 64 home computer in which you play the role of a boombox-toting kid on a quest to find tapes of new music, play them out loud on the streets for people to enjoy, and then deliver them to a record company once they are hot before searching for

Ibid., 4. Screenshot taken from the video game Ghettoblaster for the Commodore 64. Tony Gibson and Mark Harrison, Ghettoblaster (computer video game), (London: Virgin Games Ltd., 1985). 27

28

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the next tape to break. Here, like how real early HipHop materialised, street-level musical practice takes hold of a locale, and then its artifact is sold by the apparatus of the culture industry. In addition to generating capital for the record companies however, these two events provoke a third event, or at least an echo of the first: further, more fervent demands for authentic, cutting-edge music. The cipher/circuit is thus completed, powered by a battery comprising the positive terminal of grassroots culture’s creativity and the negative terminal of the culture industry’s recuperation – the crafty, exploratory B-side, and the money-spinning, radio-ready A-side. Another, perhaps more obvious example of tropes from Hip-Hop informing a video game is Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, released in 1999 for the Sony PlayStation. In this game, the player can take control of their favourite Wu-Tang Clan MC to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a variety of goons and villains, evidencing the group’s fascination with martial arts films that permeates many of their rhymes. The integration of the Clan’s own music and themes derived from their fantastical selfmythologies sees this title become a reflection of a specific branch of Hip-Hop culture in the pool of video games, released at a time when gaming was becoming increasingly accepted as a form of entertainment for adults in addition to children and teenagers. On the face of it, these links between Hip-Hop and video games may seem to be rooted in mere gimmickry or shrewd marketing, so to go deeper, one might regard the practical contingencies of sample-based beatmaking involving sounds lifted from game soundtracks. 29

30

31

Tony Gibson and Mark Harrison, Ghettoblaster (computer video game), (London: Virgin Games Ltd., 1985). In Can't Stop Won't Stop Jeff Chang cites Steve Barrow’s conception of an ‘A-side’ and ‘B-side’ being present in Jamaican culture around the time of dub music’s emergence, where one side represents a society’s most visible cultural nuances and the other represents an alternative offered by vernacular culture. Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (London: Ebury Press, 2007), 35. Paradox Development, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (computer video game), (Santa Monica, CA: Activision, Inc., 1999). 29

30

31

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Fig. 2

32

On Jay-Z’s ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’, a steady, ‘boom bap’-style beat is punctuated by bursts of rapid, canopied notes to counter the more rooted, forceful rumblings of the synth string riff and kick drums. These bursts of sound are lifted from the Sega Mega Drive conversion of the arcade title Golden Axe; the sound capabilities of the Mega Drive is significant here, as its FM synth-based YM2612 sound chip produces bright, crisp timbres that can cut through a mix’s texture of other, less resonant sounds. Chopped and sequenced by producer Swizz Beats, the FM bursts on the Jay-Z track are treated as percussive elements that coincide with ad libs by the track’s featured rapper DMX during the hook, making for a rhythmic synergy between the vocals and the beat. 33

34

Contemporaneously, on Hip-Hop’s Southern axis, Indo G’s 1998 track ‘Throw Them Thangs’ reconfigures the ominous crawl of the ‘pause’ screen music from Goldeneye 007 – a Nintendo 64 game carrying the James Bond movie license – by adopting and reinforcing an Screenshot taken from the video game Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style for the Sony PlayStation. Paradox Development, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (computer video game), (Santa Monica, CA: Activision, Inc., 1999). Jay-Z, ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’, Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life (Roc-A-Fella Records, 1998). Team Shinobi, Golden Axe (computer video game), (San Francisco, CA: Sega of America, Inc., 1989). 32

33

34

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808-esque drum beat that lurches forward in tandem with a marimba voice that plays a laconic take on the familiar Bond guitar motif. Instead of sampling the actual classic Bond music, which might have resulted in too sprightly or trite a sound (issues of sample clearance may also have been salient), producers DJ Paul and Juicy J of the Memphis crew Three Six Mafia opt to sample the ominous Nintendo 64 take on the Bond theme, resulting in a sound that is more consistent with Memphis Hip-Hop’s sluggish menace. This follows the duo’s proclivity for what Roni Sarig describes as a ‘horror show’ beatmaking style, made up of: ‘muddy basslines, distant chimes, eerie landscapes, and Halloween sound effects, plus a fondness for samples that have been slowed to sound low and ghostly’. 35

36

On Del the Funky Homosapien’s track ‘Proto Culture’, producer Khaos Unique draws from a more obscure game soundtrack, evidencing a kind of digital ‘crate digging’ practice of finding original and possibly unorthodox ideas for flips and samples. The track’s rhymes see Del and Khaos boasting about their knowledge of video games and their access to rarer titles (‘We get the kind of games you can’t rent at Blockbuster!’) against a two-bar loop sampled from Darkstalkers: the Night Warriors – a one-on-one fighting game from Capcom. The use of such a sample works as a vehicle for listeners who can register Del’s video games references to identify with the track, a collective technostalgia within technoculture working in a similar way to how Rose finds that: ‘sampling as it is used by rap artists indicates the importance of collective identities and group histories’. For listeners who cannot register Del’s references, the competitive drive to dig for obscure sounds remains relevant along with 37

38

39

Indo G, ‘Throw Them Thangs’, Angel Dust (Relativity, Hypnotize Minds, 1998). Rare, Ltd., GoldenEye 007 (computer video game), (Redmond, WA: Nintendo of America Inc., 1997). Roni Sarig, Third Coast: OutKast, Timbaland, and How Hip-Hop Became a Southern Thing (Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007), 276. Del The Funky Homosapien, ‘Proto Culture’, Both Sides Of The Brain (Hiero Imperium, 2000). Capcom Co., Ltd., Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (computer video game), (Osaka: Capcom Co., Ltd., 1994). Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1994), 95. 35

36

37

38

39

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ensuring that the track is musically convincing, as Joseph G. Schloss notes: Producers are faced with a substantial challenge: they must impress each other with their creativity and the rarity of their samples without losing the affection of fans who have no interest at all in the esoterica of hip-hop production. 40

A more recent example of a video game soundtrack’s presence on a Hip-Hop track can be found in Childish Gambino’s 2012 track ‘Eat Your Vegetables’, which samples the music that is heard during an underwater stage of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo. Here, the relatively soft sound of the Super Nintendo is harnessed in a way that sees a fragment of a winding melody looped to form a persistent short riff. This process comprises a sort of hiphopification of the original material, as Schloss clarifies: 41

42

43

in cases where the original recording was not in an African-influenced genre, it serves to “Africanize” musical material by reorganizing melodic material in accordance with specific African preferences such as cyclic motion, call and response, repetition and variation, and “groove”. 44

These examples of beats that sample game soundtracks demonstrate how video games can wield a very direct sonic influence over Hip-Hop music, but it is also possible for video games to shape beatmaking styles in a less overt, yet conceivably more effective way through an extended signifyin(g) on software.

Joseph G. Schloss, Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012), 156. Childish Gambino, ‘Eat Your Vegetables’ (Self-released, 2012). Rare, Ltd., Donkey Kong Country (computer video game), (Redmond, WA: Nintendo of America Inc., 1994). The ‘soft’ sound of the Super Nintendo can be attributed to its sample-based sound hardware, which, because of the storage limitations of the system’s cartridges, plays short, low-quality samples to produce a muted effect in stark contrast to the Mega Drive’s richer, more ‘metallic’ FM synth sound. Joseph G. Schloss, Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2012), 138. 40

41

42

43

44

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Fig. 3

45

The ‘experience’ in the use of a technology within a technoculture can involve creative applications that may not have been considered by its manufacturers. The ‘demoscene’ community, for instance, sees coders, digital artists, and ‘tracker’ musicians joining forces to make demonstrations of graphics and sound on outdated home computer systems such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga, pushing these formats to their limits and showing off the groups’ advanced technical skills. Where sample-based Hip-Hop production appropriates old records as source materials, the demoscene appropriates old computers. In the case of video games, alternative agencies have seen consoles harnessed as pieces of music production equipment. The Sony PlayStation title Music 2000 is notable for being one of the few releases on the console to not be a ‘game’ as such, instead taking the form of a 46

Screenshot taken from the demoscene production Pimp My Commodore for the Commodore 64. Chorus, Resource and Singular, Pimp My Commodore (computer program), (2012). Examples of Commodore 64 demoscene productions that borrow or reference elements of Hip-Hop culture (like graffiti and B-boying) include Over the Edge by Triad and Pimp My Commodore by Chorus, Resource and Singular. Triad, Over the Edge (computer program), (2012). Chorus, Resource and Singular, Pimp My Commodore (computer program), (2012). 45

46

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piece of music sequencing software that allows the user to make their own electronic dance music tracks without requiring any kind of prior musical training. This software served as the British MC Dizzee Rascal’s introduction to beatmaking, as he sought to explore and exploit the musical parallel he heard between the stripped-back style of production team the Neptunes and the sound of the UK garage scene that he had already had some involvement in: ‘Neptunes had that really kind of simple production style that seemed kinda easy, so if you had Music 2000 back then on the PlayStation you could do it like that’. Music 2000, navigated through the use of a PlayStation controller, thus signifies on the word ‘play’ – one is playing music whilst also playing a game, prioritising the joy in musicmaking’s exploratory process as opposed to pursuing a more product-oriented endeavour. 47

48

49

Codemasters Software Company Limited, Music 2000 (computer video game), (Liverpool: Jester Interactive Publishing, 1999). HOT 97, ‘Dizzee Rascal and Rosenberg discuss the history of grime, Skepta, and the whole UK scene’, online video clip, YouTube, https://youtu.be/-8dOAYpWass, 20 January 2016 (19 June 2017). A similar understanding of ‘play’ in musicmaking is expounded by Matt Black of the electronic duo Coldcut and founder of the Ninja Tune label, who claims: ‘I’m interested in the similarities between playing music, playing with toys and playing a game. It’s the same word, so at best, we’re aiming to be a synthesis of those three things’. Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (London: Picador, 1998), 322. 47

48

49

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Fig. 4

50

In addressing the beatmaking involved in drum and bass music, Simon Reynolds coins the term ‘breakbeat science’ to describe the techniques of isolating, doctoring, and reconstructing sampled drum breaks. These techniques demand a more calculated mode of creativity than free-flowing play, as Reynolds states: ‘Like gene-splicing or designing a guided missile, the creative process isn’t exactly fun; but the hope is that the end results will be spectacular, or devastating’. Here, the ‘game’ of beatmaking resembles the careful preparation of a character for battle in a Japanese-style role playing game like a title from the Final Fantasy series – finding items and magic, refining and organising them, then equipping them – rather than the simpler, more immediate mechanics of an arcade game. I am positing that this ‘breakbeat science’ is a foil to the idea of free ‘play’ in beatmaking, but in contemporary Hip-Hop, where styles are becoming increasingly decentralised both 51

52

Screenshot taken from the video game Music 2000 for the Sony PlayStation. Codemasters Software Company Limited, Music 2000 (computer video game), (Liverpool: Jester Interactive Publishing, 1999). Simon Reynolds, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture (London: Picador, 1998), 241. Ibid. 50

51

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geographically and technologically, it is conceivable that the two creative approaches can be reconciled. Glasgow-based producer Rustie’s output is directly inspired by video games in a way that sees him tempering a freewheeling attitude with an insistence on meticulous attention to detail. When asked about his apparent connection with video games, he suggests: ‘They teach you not to take life too seriously’, and yet in the same interview, on his creative process he explains: ‘It just takes up so much time, energy and you’re definitely creating this world, this range of sound and rhythm and color. It’s an immersive world’. Such a balance of carefree play and calculatedness in addition to a keen ear for compelling synthesised sounds is immediately evident on the album Glass Swords, as Rustie bends bright synth figures that are reminiscent of Sega Mega Drive sounds to work in the rhythmic and textural framework of modern US trap beats on ‘City Star’, and uses warmer, tuned samples like those heard in Super Nintendo tunes to lend a melodic impetus to the quasi-grime of ‘Death Mountain’. Rustie’s place in the technoculture of beatmaking has seen him drawing from his experiences with video games to develop an original style, breaching the orthodoxy of mainstream production sensibilities and demonstrating how beatmaking practice can be a valuable way of interpreting the world on one’s own terms through free, yet focused creativity. 53

54

While the video games industry has always been largely propped up by the commercial apparatus of the culture industry, Hip-Hop music has gone some way to recuperate the tropes of gaming to advance the scope of its musical praxis. The fusion of Hip-Hop’s musical priorities and the electronic technologies of video gaming amounts to a hybridised technocultural space predicated on sampling, signifyin(g), and the repurposing of hardware and software with a view to diversifying the beatmaker’s available musical Drew Millard, ‘Interview: Rustie used to produce like how gamers game’, Pitchfork, 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20121012122000/http:/pitchfork.com /killscreen/288-interview-rustie-used-to-produce-like-how-gamersgame/ (14 June, 2017). Rustie, Glass Swords (Warp Records, WARPCD217, 2011). 53

th

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materials. As the digital age continues to see a massive, ongoing proliferation of information that is easily disseminated across the globe, the translocal and virtual spheres of culture that contain Hip-Hop and video games are bridged accordingly, and the previously disconnected forms of US and UK beatmaking styles are brought into dialogue, as I have found in the cases of Dizzee Rascal and Rustie. The broader ramifications of this technoculture include an emphasis on Hip-Hop music’s power and longevity being bound up with its physical and emotional musicality and the sense of fun that results. As Susan McClary and Robert Walser note: ‘pleasure frequently is the politics of music – pleasure as interference, the pleasure of marginalized people that has evaded channelization’. Rather than scouring HipHop music for examples of explicitly political content in its lyrics, the musicologist might be more successful in finding Hip-Hop’s intrinsic evasion of cultural hegemony by discerning how it co-opts and reimagines the culture industry’s devices as opposed to opposing them outright, and listening to the joyful bombast of its beats and the creative audacity of its practices. Rose asserts: 55

Popular music must be dynamic, playful, exciting, and cutting edge. Sometimes this involves politically conscious content, but it surely cannot nor should not always do so. A crucial aspect of a progressive reclaiming of the soul of Hip-Hop is the refusal to limit the scope of progressive art to the narrow application of “socialconsciousness”-oriented topics, as has sometimes been the case. 56

The ‘dynamic, playful, exciting, and cutting edge’ developments that have sustained the life of Hip-Hop – the bold imaginings of new ways in which technology can be applied and experienced in the face of the culture industry’s drive towards standardisation – are political Susan McClary and Robert Walser, ‘Start Making Sense! Musicology Wrestles with Rock’ in Frith, Simon & Goodwin, Andrew, (eds.), On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word (London: Routledge, 1990), 277292 (288). Tricia Rose, The Hip-Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop – and Why It Matters (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2008), 244. 55

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through and through, and the tenet of ‘play’, brought into sharp relief by the integration of tropes and sounds from the world of video games, is crucial to the guarantee of Hip-Hop’s future.

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Hip Hop and Religion: Keepin’ it Real, Keepin’ it Religious. By Kauser Husain. Lyden suggests that the terms Religion and Popular Culture are difficult to define as the concepts are fluid and constantly shifting, as is the interaction between the two. Ostwalt also states that the 1

relationship that exists between the two is interwoven as they are ever-changing which leads to the blurred boundaries between the two: ‘it [is] difficult to know where religion stops and the secular world begins’.

2

Ostwalt,

drawing

on

Nathanson’s

“flexible

boundaries” between Religion and Secular Culture, suggests that secularisation in contemporary society is bidirectional: First, there is tendency for religious institutions to employ secular and popular cultural forms like television, and the movies to make religious teachings relevant for a modern audience […] the second way secularisation is proceeding is by the dispersion of the religious sensibility through a variety of cultural forms. 3

Ostwalt goes on to suggest that it is through popular culture, rather than official religious authorities, that authentic belief and values can be experienced since it is removed from hegemonic religious doctrine and John C. Lyden, ‘‘Definitions: What is the subject matter of “religion and popular culture”?’ in The Routledge Companion to Religion and Popular Culture [online] ed. By John C. Lyden and Eric Michael Mazur (London: Routledge, 2015) pp. 7-20 (p. 8) [Accessed 28.11.16]. Available at <https://www.dawsonera.com/> Conrad Ostwalt, (2012) ‘Secularization: The Evolution of Western Religion’ in Secular Steeples: Popular Culture and the Religious Imagination (London, Bloomsbury, 2012) pp. 23-54 (p. 24) Ibid, p. 28 1

2

3

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dogma. This places importance on Popular Culture 4

as a platform for disseminating religious expressions and values as opposed to the traditional religious establishments relevance

over

and

discourses

time.

that

Therefore,

in

have order

lost to

understand both Religion and Popular Culture and the ambiguous connection between the two, it is important to examine the intersection on which they encounter/meet. It is in this middle ground that the sacred and profane coexist to form new expressions of religion through ‘secular’ cultural forms such as Literature, Film, Art or Music.

5

These cultural forms, that are normally recognised as secular, grapple with and negotiate sacred concerns whilst carrying authentic and religious content that are of relevance to those that engage with the product. Popular music in particular is a key 6

example of this since it often provides a platform for expressing social, political and cultural concerns as well as religious ideas. Concerned with the influence of religion in Heavy Metal music, Moberg suggests that Popular music ‘offer[s] their followers a basis on which to build friendships, a focus of community, belonging,

and

important

resources

for

the

construction of identities’. Similarly, Ostwalt also 7

believes that music and music videos are a fundamental cultural product that is able to engage young people and contributes to the formation of their beliefs and practices. Since Popular music 8

Ibid, p. 29 Ibid, p. 33 Ibid, p. 28 Marcus Moberg ‘Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture’, in Popular Music and Society Vol. 35 (2012), p. 113-130 (p. 113) Ostwalt, p. 249 4

5

6

7

8

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‘[secularises] sacred music and [sacralises] secular tunes’, the boundaries between the sacred and the profane is convoluted. This is evident particularly in 9

the Hip Hop genre and specifically in Rap Music, despite the cynicism associated with the art form due to the negative stereotypes usually associated with it such as violence, materialism and sex. Rap music, much like the blues, was first established in predominantly

Black

communities,

taking

its

influences from West African musical traditions and shaping African American Culture. Developed in the 10

late 70s with the backdrop of ‘Reaganomics’, early rap music embodied messages of Black empowerment and was often branded “conscious rap” since it dealt with issues that affected the often marginalised Black community.

11

In a time when marginalised communities suffered from unemployment and Black youth felt oppressed and criminalised, rappers and rap groups such as Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, and Run DMC, through their music, offered expressions of frustration and hope: ‘hip hop became a site of cultural

resistance,

which

challenged

white,

patriarchal hegemony’. However, once Rap music 12

received

commercial

attention

and

became

“hardcore”, its concerns shifted towards trends of decadence, sex and violence and was therefore branded as “gangsta rap” and was met with heavy criticism from both within and outside the hip hop Ibid, p. 257 Chris A. Klassen, ‘Racism and Anti-racism’ in Religion and Popular Culture: A Cultural Studies Approach. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) pp. (p. 122) Ibid, p. 123 Matthew Oware, ‘(Un)conscious (popular) underground: Restricted cultural production and underground rap music’ in Poetics 42 (2013), pp. 60-81 (p. 62) 9

10

11

12

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community. With this view in mind, religion and hip 13

hop seem like unlikely bedfellows since the former is usually associated with benevolence, virtues and spirituality, whilst the latter is usually associated with debauchery. However, religious messages are deeply embedded within hip hop culture and in particular rap music since it grapples with issues of authenticity and righteousness, although it is not always explicit.

14

Religion in Hip Hop: Keepin’ it Real Since Hip Hop culture grew out of the civil rights movements of the 1960s, Rap music followed trend and took inspiration from the themes of Black pride.

15

It became the mode of expression of the day-to-day experiences of young black people that were supposedly destined to prosper post-civil rights, however

urban

areas

saw

an

increase

in

unemployment, poverty, police brutality and crime thereby leading to the growth of a bigger Black lowerclass. Drawing on the teachings and practices of 16

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr, most rappers also saw the significance of religion which also influenced the development of rap. Some rappers 17

identified as members of the Nation of Islam, which called for an authentic Blackness and rejected the White supremacist values and at a time of poverty and alienation, these messages appealed to many African Americans. Black nationalist themes and Suad Abdul Khabeer ‘Rep that Islam: The Rhyme and Reason of American Islamic Hip Hop’ in The Muslim World, 97 (2007) pp. 125–141 (p. 127) and Oware (p. 67) Klassen, p. 124 Ibid, p. 123 Kristine Wright, (2004) ‘Rise Up Hip Hop Nation: From Deconstructing Racial Politics to Building Positive Solutions’ in Socialism and Democracy (2004) pp. 9-20 (p.10) Klassen, p. 124 13

14

15

16

17

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references to the Five Percent Nation can be found in the music of Nas, Rakim and the Wu Tang Clan, although the artists do not claim any religious affiliations. Similarly, many rappers were raised in Protestant Black communities that maintained a prosperity gospel and held the belief that God rewarded those that remained faithful with wealth and power. Musicians like Rev Run (of Run DMC), DMX and Snoop Dogg also make religious references in their music and all are known for their turn towards Christianity later in their careers. However, Miller argues that looking for religion in hip hop is a redundant task since religious language doesn’t necessarily equate to religious belief; rather she argues

that

religious

references

in

hip

hop

demonstrates human complexity. She suggests that 18

Rap artists attempt to negotiate and create meaning by ‘making use of religious stylings in presenting (and marketing) themselves.’ Therefore, by using 19

religious language rather than using religion itself, Rap artists are able to draw on religious vocabulary to express their frustration towards the oppression and disempowerment that they experience, which is still resonant to the majority of urban youth in the present day. Biblical stories of Exodus, enslavement 20

and suffering prove to be powerful motifs and metaphors

for

understanding

contemporary

struggles around racism and social struggle, and by relating

religious

accounts

of

liberation

and

redemption, rappers are able to relay messages of hope to their listeners.

21

Monica R. Miller ‘Don’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover’ in Religion and Hip Hop (Oxon: Routledge, 2013), pp. 45-70 (p. 69) Ibid, ‘Introduction’ pp. 1-23 (p. 2) Wright, p. 14 Sohail Daulatzai ‘War at 33 1/3: Hip Hop, the Language of the Unheard, and the Afro-Asian Atlantic’ in The Vinyl Ain't 18

19

20

21

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As mentioned, although most rappers do not identify or affiliate themselves with any particular religion, much of their work certainly takes inspiration from/uses religious tropes. For example, the work of Tupac Amaru Shakur is rife with allusions to Christianity such as in his final album, the first of many albums released posthumously, The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory ; from the title of the 22

album and rumours surrounding the meaning of ‘the seven-day theory’, the album cover art and the lyrics of his music. Firstly, the title of the album itself 23

makes reference to the biblical story of Genesis and the creation of earth in seven days but what is more interesting is the rumour that it took Tupac only seven days to compile the album. . Many fans have 24

also speculated at a possible return of the artist as many questioned whether his death was a publicity stunt, ultimately positioning Tupac as a saviour that will return, similar to Jesus. Secondly, the album art 25

cover also carries religious messages as Tupac is depicted as Jesus being crucified making reference to Tupac’s own tragic death as he was shot in September 1996. Finally, many of Tupac’s songs make use of religious language such as ‘Hail Mary’ which explores the violent conditions that surround and concern him as he seeks comfort in the figure of Virgin Mary as he “pray[s] to God hoping that he's Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture Ed. Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle (London: Pluto Press, 2006), pp. 100-116 (p. 100) Tupac (1996) ‘Hail Mary’ in The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (Deathrow Records and Interscope Records) Paul Easterling and Anthony B. Pinn, ‘Followers Of Black Jesus an Alert: Thoughts on the Story of Tupac Shakur's Life/Death/Life’ in Black Theology: An International Journal 7:1 (2009) pp. 31-44, (p. 39) Ibid, p. 39 Ibid, p. 39 22

23

24

25

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listenin’” Similarly, many of his other songs, both 26

earlier and later, call out to the ‘Lord’ as he questions his faith: “Cause even thugs cry, but do the Lord care? […] There's a ghetto up in Heaven and it's ours”.

27

Following his death, Tupac’s musical catalogue continued to grow due to many producers taking an interest in releasing albums of his unreleased songs.

28

One of his most prolific songs and to be released after his death is ‘Ghetto Gospel’ in Loyal to the Game.

29

featuring Elton John and produced by Eminem. The 30

song, as implied in the title, tells the story of people living in an urban setting suffering from poverty with images reflecting this in the accompanying music video released alongside the album. The video shows a local church with a youth community and outreach centre, where young men are dealing drugs. The words that play over this image are: ‘Everyone’s ashamed of the youth cause the truth look, strange/And for me it's reversed/We left em a world that's cursed.’ In these lines Tupac speaks of the 31

social injustice faced by young people in the urban communities who suffer from unemployment, leaving them susceptible to resorting to crime such as theft or drug dealing. 50 Cent also raps about this struggle in The Game’s ‘Hate it or Love it’ as he reflects of the options available to him as an aspiring Tupac (1996) ‘Hail Mary’ in The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory (Deathrow Records and Interscope Records) Tupac (1996) ‘Only God Can Judge Me’ in All Eyez On Me (Deathrow Records and Interscope Records) Daniel Kreps, The Rolling Stone Encyclopaedia of Rock & Roll (online: Rolling Stones Magazine, 2001). Available at <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/tupacshakur/biography> [Accessed January 2017] Tupac (2005) ‘Ghetto Gospel’ in Loyal to the Game (Interscope Records) Kreps Tupac ‘Ghetto Gospel’ 26

27

28

29

30

31

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youth: “I wanna live good so, shit, I sell dope/For a four finger ring, one of them gold ropes.” Tupac goes 32

on to despair at the unchanged political climate since the time of the Civil Rights movement: “And it hurts […] like Malcolm X or Bobby Hutton died for nothing.” By making reference to two prolific Civil 33

Rights activists that were also killed, Tupac likens their struggle for justice to that of Jesus Christ, suggesting that the youth are a crucified people with limited options. He then offers a message of unity, declaring “It ain't about black or white cause we human/I hope we see the light before it's ruined, my ghetto gospel.” He suggests that by uniting and 34

seeking liberation from their oppression through alternative options, the youth and community could be redeemed. Tupac also claims “That God isn't finished with me yet/I feel his hand on my brain/When I write rhymes I go blind and let the Lord do his thing,” hinting at a connection with a 35

higher power and placing himself in a position of importance as he shares his prophetic message. He also questions his authority: “But am I less holy/Cause I chose to puff a blunt and drink a beer with my homies.” This attempt to negotiate beliefs 36

and practices demonstrates the conflict between the sacred and the profane, but also the tension between injustice and liberation as he doubts he will be able to overcome any form of social injustice. Whilst all these ideas are religious in nature, they are not an attempt to spread a religious message but they are rather a means to narrate a story of struggle, followed by The Game. ‘Hate It or Love It’ in The Documentary. Aftermath Entertainment, G-Unit Records, and Interscope Records (2005) Tupac ‘Ghetto Gospel’ Ibid Ibid Ibid 32

33

34

35

36

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redemption through uniting forces leading to liberation: by likening their racial and social struggle to a religious struggle they will share a resurrection similar to Christ’s, who was also persecuted by his own people.

37

Similar to Tupac’s exploration of oppression through religious language is Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ from The College Dropout. Both the lyrics and 38

the three different music videos released alongside the song use strong religious tropes to depict the struggles of African Americans. Out of the three videos the most popular one is the second video which has over 13 million views on YouTube. The video opens with the portrayal of African American prisoners marching and being abused. West is also featured in the video, dressed in white rapping in a flaming corridor with a flickering circular light over his head denoting a halo. In addition to these images West seeks guidance: “God show me the way because the Devil's tryin' to break me down […] I want to talk to God, but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long.”

39

This request to a higher authority for

protection from an unnamed oppressor can be read as a reference to the strength that can be found through religious language and affiliation in the midst of racial oppression. By using the archetypal images of religion, the song paves the righteous way to life.

40

West goes on to call “To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers/(Jesus Katy Khan ‘Religion, music and the question of social justice in selected African American singers’, in Muziki: Journal Of Music Research In Africa, 5:2 (2008), pp. 179-187 (p. 182) Kanye West ‘Jesus Walks’ in The College Dropout Roc-A-Fella Records (2004) Ibid Khan, p. 182 37

38

39

40

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walks for them)/To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here hell yeah/(Jesus walks for them).”

41

He offers the marginalised people a sense of faith and hope by reiterating that although they are suffering, they will triumph like Jesus. Finally, West expresses 42

the need for Jesus “the way school need teachers” in order to be shown to the path to retributive justice. He carries the message as he claims “We rappers are role models” to the black community. Dubois (1973, cited in Khan) states that a distinctive black cultural creation enables black folks to envision an alternate form of existence that operates outside the suffocating culture

of

racism.

43

Similarly,

religious

leader

Farrakhan encourages black youth to further the progress of African American life through music.

44

Both Tupac and West follow this method and draw on religious vernacular to reclaim and rewrite their narratives

as

opposed

to

claiming

religious

affiliations. By doing so they are able to make sense of their own struggle and empower and create a new meaning for black youth. Islamic Hip Hop: Keepin’ it Religious The expressions of frustration with the political environment found in mainstream hip hop resonates with another marginalised group; Muslims living in the west. Living in a post 9/11 environment that is rife with political and ideological cover for domestic repression and violent foreign aggression, Muslims are seen as the immigrant other and a threat to Western culture.

45

Due to increasing levels of

41

42

43

44

45

Kanye Ibid Khan, p. 182 Ibid, p. 180 Daulatzai, p. 100

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migration in Europe and America, the Western world has seen a rise of Islam leading to racial politics, deindustrialization and interwoven cultural forces.

46

As a result of this many disenfranchised minority youths are caught between two cultures; their ancestral heritage versus the hegemonic Western culture which they embody on a daily basis. However, recently there has been an emergence of a new youth subculture in which young Muslims are creating a new cultural space that exists in the middle ground of the two conflicting cultures. Janmohamed calls this subculture Generation M; young people that believe in faith and modernity and that are pioneering both amongst Muslims and wider society.

47

They are trailblazing a new cultural

landscape in which their identities are being reclaimed and narratives rewritten as an alternative to the negative images of Muslims that dominate the media. Like any youth subculture, Generation M has 48

its own cultural output in the form of literature, art, fashion and music and in particular they identify strongly with hip-hop: “Islamic hip-hop emerged as the language of disaffected youth throughout the West”.

49

Islamic hip hop, just as jazz was born out of segregation in America and rhythm and blues out of the civil rights movement, has developed as a result of neo-liberalism, urban blight and nihilism. It offers 50

critiques of racism and imperialism as well as leading Hisham Aidi (2004) “Verily, there is only one Hip-Hop Umma”: Islam, cultural protest and urban marginality Socialism and Democracy, 18:2 (2004) pp. 107-126 (p. 107) Shelina Janmohamed Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2016) pp. 103-123 (p. 11) Ibid, p. 11 Aidi, p. 110 Ibid, p. 110 46

47

48

49

50

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representation of Islam in the West that many can identify with, creating a sense of a ‘hip-hop ummah’.

51

The notion of ‘Islam’ and ‘hip hop’ may seem conflicting since the permissibility of music within Islam is a long debated topic with many Muslims believing all forms of music is haram (forbidden). However, many prolific Muslim rappers such as Mos Def, like Tupac and Kanye West do with Christianity, merely draw on Islamic tradition in their music.

52

Some Islamic hip hop artists restrict the types of musical instruments they use, employ ‘clean’ lyrics or discuss religious issues; these markers distinguish Islamic rappers from other artists that have a substantial standing in the mainstream music industry. This can be seen in the work of Native 53

Deen, a rap trio, that limit their music production to use only percussion instruments (widely accepted instruments in Islamic tradition), thereby aiming to appeal to both Muslims that listen to all types of music as well as those that adhere to a strict ruling of permissible musical styles.

54

Khabeer suggests that artists of faith using hip hop and religion as a means to practice religiosity will still be faced with rejection due to the questions of the legitimacy of ‘halal’ (permissible in terms of content and subject) music. Similarly, Aidi suggests that 55

Muslim rappers face two options: “Should Muslim rappers (Sunni, NOI, or Five Percenter) be expected to ‘represent’ Islam positively, and avoid the misogynist and materialistic excesses of mainstream 51

52

53

54

55

Ibid p. 119 Khabeer, p. 126 Khabeer, p. 127 Ibid, p. 127 Ibid, p. 130

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hip-hop artists, or should the aim of Muslim rappers be to ‘get paid’ and gain wide success even if it means ‘playing with the haram’”. However, Deen Squad, a 56

Canadian rap duo, blur the boundaries between the sacred and the profane by creating covers of mainstream songs and rewriting the lyrics that are in line with Islamic practices, thereby making it ‘halal’. Although they also try to tackle stereotypes and misrepresentations of Muslims with their single ‘Muslim Man’: “No, I’m not terrorist/I’m telling you I’m innocent/And I dunno a terrorist” , the majority 57

of their work concerns recreating popular music. For example, their single ‘Jannah’ (paradise) which describes the Islamic view of heaven, is actually a remake of Desiigner’s ‘Panda’ in which the artist talks about his fame and lavish lifestyle. The original track boasts of “broads in Atlanta/ Twistin' dope, lean, and the Fanta/ Credit cards and the scammers”, alluding to sex, drugs and money- the very thing that ‘religious’ rap tries to avoid. Deen Squad states that the original songs ‘are not clean spiritually but the beat is amazing, the melody is amazing’, so in their 58

version of the song they respond with: “You got broads in Atlanta/I got my wife up in Jannah […] Palaces golden/You see me I'm ballin' in Jannah”.

59

They also released a video alongside the song in which they can be seen dancing with a giant Panda mascot (wearing the male Islamic clothing) and images relating to the Islamic depiction of heaven flash across the screen (milk, honey, dates and pomegranate are all foods that are promised to Aidi, p. 120 Deen Squad (2015) ‘Muslim Man’ in Deen Squad Mixtape (Deen Squad Records) Janmohamed p. 112 Deen Squad (2016) ‘Jannah’ in Deen Life (Deen Squad Records) 56

57

58

59

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Muslims in paradise). Although their music makes Islamic references and uses its terminology (Bismillah – in the name of God; Ajer – reward), they still imitate the sexual possession of women that is found in Desiigner’s song: “Hoor al ayn (virgin) women […] Beautiful wives in Jannah”. This could be seen as Islamic culture being merged into the Western mainstream but by responding with these lyrics, Deen Squad take sacred images and language and use it to compete with the profane in an attempt to achieve a fickle moral superiority. In another song Deen Squad cover The Weeknd’s ‘Starboy’ and rename it as ‘Halal Boy’; the original song

shows

The

Weeknd

contemplating

and

conflicted about his recent success, extravagant lifestyle and glorification of drugs, whilst Deen Squad’s version also discusses their success and recognition but focuses on staying on the “Siratul Mustaqeem” (straight path). In the original song, The Weeknd brags about his expensive cars and large sums of money and sexual appeal: “Made your whole year in a week too, yah/Main bitch out your league too, ah/Side bitch out of your league too, ah”. In response to this Deen Squad seek protection from the ‘non-believers’: “I guess we're living for a different reason/Some go the right way, some go astray/They used to laugh about us every day/ Now they looking at us like we self-made.” Khabeer states that in order 60

to attract and maintain the interest of Muslim youth, Islamic hip hop must meet the same standard of mainstream music that they listen to. It would seem 61

Deen Squad ‘Halal-boy’ in Purify Your Soul CD, Deen Squad Records (2016) Khabeer, p. 129 60

61

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that Deen Squad meet this criteria by seeping Islam into the Western mainstream. However, in order for their music to be understood and appreciated, Deen Squad fans need to be aware of the intertextual references made by them. Listeners needs to be familiar with the popular songs that are sampled which is problematic because the content of the original songs falls into the secular. Khabeer also states that the main rationale for Islamic themed hip hop is to offer Muslim youth an alternative option from the commercial hip hop culture, however, Deen 62

Squad seem to be endorsing and competing with the mainstream music, allowing it to seep into the scared space. Fans of Deen Squad, however, welcome this form of alternative music because it reaffirms their identity in the western world during a time in which their identities are being questioned: “you’re doing these things, and you know other people are doing these things. It’s very cool.” Like all young people, 63

Muslim youth draw on popular culture to make sense of themselves and their identity, so seeing aspects of their identity or communities being reflected positively in the media helps to reaffirm their sense of belonging, and Deen Squad, as well as other Islamic 64

hip hop groups provide this. Conclusion: Mic Drop The development of hip hop over the years has been vast with popular artists making use of religious themes in their music, as well as religious artists making use of popular culture, both in an attempt to market themselves and appeal to audiences. Tupac and West, through their music, offer a religious 62

63

64

Ibid, p. 134 Janmohamed, p. 112 Khabeer, p. 138

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discourse of resistance against racism and social struggle in a response to the conditions of poverty, unemployment and disempowerment- all issues that still affect many today. Similarly, Islamic hip hop 65

and the Generation M subculture has given voice to disaffected youth internationally by making use of popular culture to engage and empower them. It is 66

in between the boundaries of religion and popular culture where emerging subcultures can exist and negotiate the boundaries of the sacred and the profane.

65

66

Wright, p. 10 Aidi, p. 117

85