Tag Archives: critical hip hop

Best arguments from the supreme court hip hop brief

I grew up with the notion that hip hop was opposition to mainstream culture.  Regardless of lyrical content, hip hop (and hip hop fans) were deeply mocked and policed for years.  Rappers might have been saying mundane things but if you rhymed over beats, you carried the weight of the genre.

You could get in trouble for playing hip hop lyrics.  Radio stations would proudly broadcast that they played everything “except rap.”  There was a kind of stigma that stuck with hip hop artists and fans.   Hip hop concerts weren’t booked at Madison Square Garden until Jay-Z broke through with the Black Album.

It seems so clearly racist from my current perspective.

We might add in capitalism.  The nineties saw a rush to absorb, market and exploit hip hop culture by advertisers.  The stereotypes and old discourse lingered as hip hop became mainstream culture.

It doesn’t surprise me that the choice of hip hop as a medium stigmatizes the participant.  (It saddens me).

Taylor Bell, a thoughtful high school senior was informed that two PE coaches were commenting and touching female students, Bell wrote a rap song.  Instead of praising this whistle blower, Bell was kicked out of school and had to go to an alternative school for his senior year.

His eventual lawsuit hinges on the ability of a high school student to express their political views outside of school.  This seems like a first amendment no-brainer to me . . . so of course it is before the Supreme Court.

Killer Mike (Michael Render), Erik Nielson, Travis Gosa and Charis E. Kubrin submitted an supporting brief to the court.  Here are my favorite parts:

  1.  It is actually the bad words that disturb administrators, not the report of sexual harassment.

Following a lengthy decision-making process, Bell was suspended and sent to an “alternative school” by the school’s Disciplinary Committee. A Committee member suggested that Bell’s use of profanity in the song was the reason for his suspension: “Censor that stuff. Don’t put all those bad words in it . . . The bad words ain’t making it better.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

2.  Hip hop is an alternative to fighting.

Hip hop—a cultural movement comprised of performance arts such as MCing (“rapping”), DJing (“spinning”), breakdancing (“b-boying”), and graffiti (“writing”)—began as a response to these dire conditions. Pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa (once a gang leader himself) used spiritual and political consciousness (“knowledge of self”) to develop hip hop as a tool for ending gang violence by providing an outlet that transformed the inherent competitiveness and territoriality of gang life into something artistic and productive. Dance competitions, rap battles, and other competitive performances replaced actual fighting , and rap in particular eventually became an alternative, legal source of income for blacks and Latinos otherwise cut off from labor market opportunities. Travis L. Gosa, The Fifth Element: Knowledge , in T HE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO H IP -H OP 56, 58-61 (Justin A. Williams ed., 2015).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

3.  Bell was intending to spread the word via hop hop.

Like Tupac Shakur, Taylor Bell was using his music to effect changes . In the final portion of the video for his song PSK da Truth , Bell says that in rapping about sexual misconduct at his high school, he is trying to raise awareness about similar injustices around the world: “It’s something that’s been going on, you know, worldwide for a long time that I just felt like, you kn ow, I needed to address.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

4.  Threatening gun metaphors are widely used in hip hop.

When Bell raps, “fucking with the wrong one gon’ get a pistol down your mouth (Boww!),” he is channeling well-worn phrases used by popular and established artists like Lil Wayne (“Pistol in your mouth, I can not make out what you tryin’ to say”), Gucci Mane (“Put the pistol in ya mouth like dentures”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Niggas know I got a pistol in his mouth”), E-40 (“Put the pistol in his mouth and make it hurt, ooh”), and Scarface (“Put a pistol in his mouth, and blow his fucking brains out”). L IL WAYNE , Bill Gates, on I A M  NOT A HUMAN BEING (Young Money, Cash Money & Universal Motown 2010); GUCCI MANE , Texas Margarita, on BRICK FACTORY : VOLUME I (available for download from http://www.livemixtapes.com 2014); WAKA FLOCKA FLAME , Where It At, on DU FLOCKA RANT : HALF -TIME S HOW (available for download on http://www.livemixtapes.com 2013); SCARFACE , Diary of a Madman, on M R . SCARFACE IS BACK (Rap-A-Lot Records 1991); E-40, It’s On, On Sight, on T HE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE (Jive & Sick Wid It Records 1998).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

5.  Discourse influences stereotypes about hip hop: experimental studies

A handful of studies have examined the direct impact of these stereotypes. In these studies, people who are given identical sets of lyrics—but who are told these lyrics come from different musical genres—are asked about their perceptions of the lyrics. One study, for example, presented respondents with sexually explicit rap lyrics or sexually explicit non-rap lyrics. Importantly, the researchers discovered that the sexually explicit music was considered more offensive and less artistic when it was rap compared to when it was non-rap. Dixon & Linz, supra , at 234-35.

In a related study, participants read a set of lyrics from folk group Kingston Trio’s 1960 song, Bad Man’s Blunder , and were told that the lyrics were either from a rap or country music song. After reading the lyrics, participants evaluated them and responded to questions about the offensiveness of the song, the threatening nature of the song, the need for regulation of the song, and if the song would incite violence. The responses were significantly more negative when the lyrics were represented as 24 rap, revealing that the same lyrical passage viewed as acceptable in a country song is considered dangerous and offensive when identified as a rap song. Carrie B. Fried, Who’s Afraid of Rap: Differential Reactions to Music Lyrics , 29 J. A PPLIED SOC . PSYCH . 705, 711 (1999).

All of this research reveals that stereotypical assumptions play a far greater role in our decision- making than we may realize. And some of this stereotyping may account for what happened in this case. If we don’t work to acknowledge and, when necessary, combat these stereotypes, the consequences can be serious and life altering— particularly for a young man like Taylor Bell.

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

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I think this brief is a strong set of arguments.  It also makes several key arguments about hip hop and metaphoric violence that need further discussion.  Good opportunity for amplification and discussion.

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Bun B, hip hop and changing culture

Photo by Jacob Moore. Bun B and Mayor Parker declaring Bun B Day in Houston. August 2011

Bun B is an absolute boss, a fact reasserted in the Texas Monthly article on his influence.  I find it interesting how much cultural change Bun B has been involved in.  UGK were crucial in convincing the world to appreciate southern hip hop.  Bun B is a great example of community minded hip hop leader, as Katy Vine explains:

Bun B’s life these days is so deeply intertwined with Houston’s that he is often referred to as the city’s unofficial mayor. He has been featured in anti-texting public service announcements. He helps publicize drives for the Houston Food Bank. He hosts a twice-weekly segment on the TV station CW39 called Bun’s Beat (recent installments include “Bun B’s Thoughts on the NFL Banning the N-Word” and “Bun B’s Advice for Returning College Students”). He has been a regular guest on networks such as Comcast SportsNet Houston to discuss the Astros and the Rockets. He attends nearly every major concert. He promotes the city’s food and culture actively on his Twitter feed, where he can seem, at times, like a one-man chamber of commerce. “If you want to find out the best sushi spot, barbershop, or club, he would probably be the person with the widest Rolodex,” Houston rapper Chamillionaire told me. “You could ask him something crazy, like where to find left-handed scissors in Houston, and he could probably point you in three different directions.”

via Man About Town: Page 2 of 8 | Texas Monthly.

Let us note that place has been one of the most significant parts of hip hop culture (where are you from?).   What if there are creative hip hop intellectuals in every town in the world, who love where they are from so passionately that they will become positive leaders in their own places?  It’s going to take some forward thinking municipalities to get the benefits of including hip hop intellectuals.

Thanks to thehairpin for the linque.

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Changing hateful language in hip hop

decline in language

I like this article on anti-gay language in hip hop (although the title seems unnecessary).  The above graphic is from the much hated rapgenius.com (not affiliated with the GZA).   But the graphic was included in a nice long write up on Gawker by Rich Juzwiak where he does some lyrical analysis.  While discussing a Frank Ocean lyric Juzwiak writes:

“This is a conversation that hasn’t made its way to mainstream hip-hop before now. It’s probably not as tidy as the most sensitive listeners would prefer. There’s ambiguity there as to whether Ocean’s proposed gunplay is a reaction to homophobia (because saying “faggot” is wrong) or an insult (because being “faggot” is wrong). Ocean is typically terse and selective on these identity matters—it’s possible that he’s still working out this question himself.”

When talking about the number of hit records that seemed to have made it without needing verbal violence toward gay people, Juzwiak explains:

“Hip-hop doesn’t hate gay people. Not all of it, at least. Even when it stumbles in these attempts, even when rappers don’t exhibit the full enlightenment that we’d want from them (Too $hort: “Just go with it, it’s just a lifestyle, you know, so whatever“), it’s still making attempts at engagement, which is more than it was doing even last year and far more than it was doing two years ago.

Still, we’re talking about a vast, varied pool of points of view and opinions. There’s still plenty of homophobic language.”

Here is the link to the article.

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Autocritical hip hop: David Banner, Killer Mike and Stalley

I don’t have any particular expectations that an entertainment medium like rap music should be political.

All music speaks to the politics, ideology and identity of the forces that create them.  In 2012 hip hop is a particular series of almost mockable ultra-capitalist tropes.  It makes sense that right wing pundits would continue to amplify moral panic out of rap music because most of music and imagery is created to be increasingly outrageous.

The fun part is that twenty years of cultural saturation has shared the tools to make rap music with millions of young people.  Quite a few of them grew up and made rap music.  Some of them currently make excellent rap music.

I agree with El-P (shown here with Killer Mike).  There is a lot of good rap music out there.

The people who make rap music have a certain investment in the art form.  Stalley’s new video “Live at Blossom’s” from the Savage Journey to the American Dream mixtape is a good example of the internal reflection about materialism, violence and sexism in hip hop.

Edward Said would call this kind of poetic monologue autocritical.  To encourage the listener to layer their own political awareness against books, movies, videos, songs, and unpack the politics represented in the media artifact.

Killer Mike’s rant rap is always excellent.  You can basically buy anything he has put out or download any of his mixtapes and you’ll get something quite entertaining from it.  Here Killer Mike represents his deep seated loathing for the Reagan era in “Big Beast,” a horror movie/jacker/gore fest.  Assists from Bun B, T.I. and El-P in this almost ten-minute mini-movie.  Not safe for work.

You could argue that the cannibalism of T.I. and Killer Mike is a thinly veiled mockery of consumers of violent hip hop.  David Banner makes those arguments explicit, calling out rap music in a particularly dramatic fashion.  Enjoy “Malcolm X” for that critical perspective on hip hop.

 

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