hip hop in perspective

Lawrence Abu Hamdan with Janna Ullrich, Conflicting Phonemes, 2012


Presentation by the coordinators of the recently launched collection of books on hip hop

“To me, hip hop says, 'Come as you are.' We are a family …. Hip hop is the voice of this generation. It has become a mighty force. Hip hop unites all these people, all these nationalities, all over the world. Hip hop is a family, so everyone has something to contribute. East, west, north or south – we came from the same coast and that coast was Africa” (DJ Kool Herc, 2005).

The words of Kool Herc, a young Jamaican who stands out as one of the forerunners of hip hop culture in New York, focuses on the feeling that mobilizes young people from different marginalized contexts when they carry out the cultural expressions of the movement: “belonging”. Black experiences, marked by modern slavery and by actions of re-existence, lead people of African descent to build references for interpreting their realities and to redesign their destinies.

As a result, Afro-diasporic cultures, such as hip hop, present productions that put colonialism, racism, nation, class, gender, sexuality and social inequalities on the agenda; themes that are not exclusive to this segment, but that impact young people from different global contexts whose past and/or present are marked by oppression and social exclusion. This makes hip hop a global sociocultural movement that stands out for being constitutive and also for constituting transgressive subjects and narrators of themselves. Despite colonialism, post-colonialism, social stratification and, at the same time, due to these markers, it is possible to be a subject. That is: to be part, to have part and to take part.

Now, despite the context of arduous migratory flow, racial segregation and social exclusion that marked the emergence of hip hop in the 1970s by Jamaican, Caribbean and Puerto Rican immigrants residing in the Bronx, this manifestation continues to renew itself insofar as it inspires and it synthesizes innovative practices of artistic expression, knowledge, cultural production, social identification and political mobilization. The group organizations (crew e possessions) linked to the world of hip hop have helped to understand the strategies of change, collective constructions, peripheral associations and even transformations in the trajectories and social ascension of the popular classes, mostly non-white.

In this sense, it contests and overcomes conventional constructions, limits and stereotypes of race, identities, nation, community, culture and knowledge. Through diverse artistic expressions – rap, breaking, graffiti – it reveals the local social dynamics and their contradictions. Thus, despite possible trends contrary to its structure, it acclimated itself in the urban centers of the global peripheries, giving rise to “global hip hop”. Studies on the subject reveal these processes.

In view of this, the collection Hip Hop in Perspective brings together pioneering and relevant books on this sociocultural and political phenomenon that initially originated from subordinate classes. Through the edition of expressive works of burning themes of our contemporary life, the initiative demonstrates how the practices, narratives, worldviews and lifestyles elaborated by the actors of this culture contribute to analyzes and interventions in significant subjects for the understanding of the social reality and its possibilities for change. The collection presents a set of works that show how much this youth movement is configured as an amplifying lens of visions and perceptions about everyday facets of different contexts and societies. A socio-artistic experience that disputes narratives and imaginaries, expanding repertoires and engaging in the construction of social thought.

Reflection on the impacts of all kinds of this phenomenon has become a matter of interest for various research constituting the so-called Hip Hop Studies (HHS), which emerged institutionally from the 2000s onwards. An example of this process is attested by the number of institutions and academic journals, conferences, museum collections, projects and advisory services that encompass the universe of hip hop culture. Stand out as reference spaces the "Hiphop Archive Research Institute”, located at Harvard University, the “hip hop collection”, at Cornell University, the “Hiphop Literacies Annual Conference”, headquartered at Ohio State University (OSU), the “Tupac ShakurCollection”, available in the Atlanta University Center (AUC) library, the “CIPHER: Hip Hop Interpellation(International Council for Hip Hop Studies), located at University College Cork (UCC), among others.

This field of study provides opportunities for the integration of different areas of knowledge, such as sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, education, law, history, ethnomusicology, dance, visual arts, communication, mathematics, gender studies, etc. By combining local and comparative research on these artistic practices in the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa, the works produced demonstrate how the specificities of this sociocultural and political phenomenon are fruitful for understanding the social dynamics of different urban contexts.

We could also say that the artists themselves combine the skills and competences of these different fields of knowledge to produce their practices and interpretations based on the contexts in which they are inserted. Rap production involves observation and socio-historical reading, music production technology with samplings and musical collages, in addition to writing that connects the scenario, critical analysis and perspectives on the problem addressed; graffiti is, at the same time, a domain of lines, colors and chemistry and the elevation of marginalized identities and their ideologies projected on the walls of cities; O breaking, in turn, now part of the global Olympic Games, requires knowledge about the body, notion of space, interpretation of the performance of the group or the rival subject, creative responses and body communication. In summary, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the practice of hip hop is also a science.

For this reason, the collection is concerned with bringing elaborations on the links between academic production and street culture, as a significant number of authors gathered here have their trajectories marked by hip hop. Whether as a means that enabled them to circumvent fate, almost “natural”, given the markers of race, class and gender. However, through the knowledge arising from the critical narratives of hip hop, they entered the university. Either because, through the conditions of abandonment and marginalization, they found in the movement constitutive components of their identities. In short, hip hop was conducive to the development of critical thinking, analytical capacity, reading, writing, a chance for collective work, guaranteeing their material and subjective survival. From the combination of these yearnings, hip hop studies were developed and, finally, the Brazilian audience has the opportunity to dialogue with these works.

Because, although academic research on the subject has grown exponentially in the country – for example, in 2018, 312 works were defended, while in 1990 Capes’ bank of theses and dissertations totaled only 54 productions –, an effective field of research has not yet been established. institutionalized research. There is a concentration of studies in the areas of education and social sciences. However, there are other fields of knowledge – economics, law, arts, fashion, mathematics, philosophy, demography, engineering, biology, etc. – with which the productions of this sociocultural phenomenon could contribute and are little explored in Brazil. Therefore, many are the yearnings and expectations gathered here.

The collection aims at the circulation of specialized bibliography on the subject and the insertion of hip-hop studies both as an academic research agenda and as a possibility of dialogue beyond the university space. No less important is the attempt to highlight the cultural and artistic production of black authors, inspiring black and peripheral youth who have significantly increased their presence in Brazilian universities, thanks also to the system of ethnic-racial quotas. In addition, the interest of students in the subject is remarkable.

Rap, in particular, for a long time had a central role only in isolated programs, pirate radios and in peripheral territories. Today, it conquers more and more space in the world of entertainment, permeating the taste of different social classes. Furthermore, it guides debates both on agendas linked to Human Rights and anti-racist, indigenous, feminist, class and LGBTQI+ struggles, as well as on its own aesthetics, which are also transfigured. Such components put us in front of a favorable panorama to know in depth the foreign critical fortune of this problem.

Therefore, in the certainty of further expanding these debates to Hip Hop in Perspective premieres as a call to reflection. The books edited here bring to the Brazilian public interpretations of social processes and their dynamics, in works produced in different countries and that analyze the complex and contradictory urban and youth culture that repositioned the place of global peripheries and their creators.

In a context where the horizon is cloudy, bringing to the surface specialized literature on hip hop culture is to sow some hope.

*Daniela Vieira is a professor of sociology at the State University of Londrina (UEL).

*Jaqueline Lima Santos holds a PhD in social anthropology from Unicamp.

Originally posted on Tricia Rose. Noise of Black: rap and black culture in contemporary United States. São Paulo, Editora Perspectiva.


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