The book – Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality – positions European hip hop as drawing strongly from the influences of the United States to relay the experiences of those outside of the main narrative of a nation.
In Ireland and in other countries this means immigrant and working class voices reflecting their experience here.
But here it can also includes artists expressing the Irish post-colonial experience of living in a country that was once under British rule and still dealing with the after effects of that almost 100 years after independence.
For Rollefson – who emigrated to Ireland from the US four years ago – similar themes are evident in Irish music as would be in the kind of underground music coming from the US reflecting (mostly) the African American experience there.
“The fascinating thing for me is I had been saying all along: ‘It’s not race, it’s history; it’s not race, it’s history’,” he tells TheJournal.ie, referring to the fact that rap music is more an expression of what a group of people had experienced and lived through, rather than specific solely to their race.
“But then I got to Ireland and it became very clear that I was still thinking about race, because I could hear – you know from an ostensibly white population – very much the same experience,” he says.
The feeling that even now in a post-colonial country a hundred years on, Irish hip hop artists are talking about so many of that same things: the feelings of self-doubt – I heard that a lot – but also these histories of diaspora, of oppression, of colonisation
Irish hip hop
The Irish hip hop scene is currently in the middle of an upsurge, with a large number of groups pushing the envelope when it comes to the kind of work they are creating.
In a companion site to his work, Rollefson provides a playlist featuring a mix of the top artists performing in Ireland right now.
These are the artists who he says illustrate a reworking of the dominant narrative of Irish history.
These rappers come from many different walks of life and incorporate many aspects of Irish society.
Notable examples include:
Rapper and performer Temper-Mental MissElayneous, whose work explores a wide range of themes and influences, including the position and history of women in Irish society.
Source: Evoke Today/YouTube
Rollefson also includes the rapper John Tzu, whose work focuses on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the hugely complex existence that people both sides of the divide have had to lead there.
Another act featured is the trio Rusangano Family – who won the RTÉ Choice Music Prize in 2017 for their album Let the Dead Bury the Dead. The African-Irish trio – God Knows, MuRLI and mynameisjOhn – fuse world and afro-music beats with lyrics that deal with the issues of identity, the experience of being an immigrant, isolation as well as artistic expression and inspiration.
On top of these, Ireland features a wealth of diverse hip hop acts who enjoy both local and mainstream success, including (but certainly not limited to):
Paul Awlright (formerly Lethal Dialect):
Source: Dublin’s Culture Connects/YouTube
Source: SOULÉ OFFICIAL/YouTube
And many others.
The selection above gives a small example of the diverse nature of the work coming out of Ireland in terms of hip hop today. But despite this seeming difference in terms of content and background, Rollefson argues that if you look closely a lot of the same themes are being explored.
“Immigrant communities and working class communities are up against a lot of the same things,” says Rollefson.
“Sometimes they can be at each other’s throats when pushed by isolationist Brexit-type rhetoric… But then on the other hand hip hop is a space where working class Irish people and immigrant communities can come together.
That’s the space where it’s a shared struggle, shared understanding, and it’s an exciting time.
As he notes, hip hop can become the “shared space” where different communities can meet to exchange ideas.
“We know what conservative populism is now thanks to Brexit and Trump, this is progressive populism,” he says.
This is where working class white kids and immigrant families and communities can really find common ground.
Rollefson says that in academia this meeting point is known as “the third space”.
“You have ‘your own thing’ and they have ‘their own thing’ but here is a third space where [for example] different communities can find common ground,” he says.
“They’ll say: ‘ you take some of your culture, I’ll take some of my culture and we’ll create this third culture which is global hip hop’.
To me that’s really the hope and the promise of this type of music.
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“Detailed, innovative, and exhilarating… At last we have a critical survey that can match the complexity and power of the music.” –Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic
“A brilliantly textured portrait of European hip hop… An inspiring and hopeful book.” –Ellie M. Hisama, Columbia University
“Simply stated, this is a powerful book with a killer flow.” –Murray Forman, author of The ‘Hood Comes First
“highly original and ambitious, and a substantial contribution to research on hip hop and postcolonialism.” –Thomas Solomon, University of Bergen
“a must-read for hip hop fans that are seeking to broaden their horizons and understand how hip hop is being made and consumed in Europe… Rollefson has crafted a book that is very readable, and helps build a base knowledge that will leave you hungry to learn more.” –Chi Chi, ScratchedVinyl.com
“a dense and ambitious book that will be valuable to a vast array of scholars. It will be particularly useful for those interested in European Studies, as it casts light on the postcolonial and racial dimensions that are often omitted from the analysis of European identities.” –Séverin Guillard, University Paris Est Créteil, in the Council for European Studies journal, EuropeNow
“This engaging and provocative study helps to show how music can outline the cultural dimensions of ethnicity and race in the modern Western world.” –Telegraph Books, Books.Telegraph.co.uk
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What does twenty-first-century Europe sound like? Let’s have a listen.
This book examines how the children and grandchildren of immigrants from the former colonies and peripheries of Europe are employing the African American musical protest strategies of hip hop both to differentiate themselves from and relate themselves to their respective majority societies. Drawing on music, media, observations, and interviews from fieldwork in Paris, Berlin, and London (as well as a conclusion centered in Cork, Ireland), this book situates musical analyses in the postcolonial and globalizing contexts of the three cities, demonstrating how this black American music structures local concerns and enables syncretic expressions that are at once wholly local and definitively global. It concludes that hip hop is both a product of the postcolonial contradictions that hyphenate citizens within their own nations and a form of cultural politics well suited to flip the script on the inequalities those hyphens imply.
Hip hop’s music, poetry, and style remain exhilaratingly fresh as the culture continues to spread to every corner of the world. Yet, in continuing to be dazzled by hip hop’s globalizing novelty as it expresses new collisions of local and global cultures we have a tendency to buy into the narrative that this thing called “globalization” is something new and unprecedented. As the postcolonial frame continually reminds us, it is not. If nothing else, the field of postcolonial studies asks us to rehistoricize globalization in all its contexts from exploration, encounter, and exploitation, to structures of racialized imperial dominion, the rise of global capitalism, and its continuing technological disintegration of our borders. Never have the continuities between postcoloniality and globalization been clearer, as Europe faces a post-Brexit realignment and the nations of the world figure out how to liberate goods, capital, and media while limiting the flow of people. This book thus shows how hip hop sits at the confluence of dehumanizing neoliberal globalization and the gritty human realities of postcoloniality. What’s more, it offers a much-needed critique of the binary of neoliberal capitalism versus ethnoracial protectionism to which Western political discourse has been reduced in, this, our post-truth era.
In Europe’s present context of perpetual crisis (that is always already racialized)—from refugee “crises” and constant fears of terrorism to the rise of neonationalist parties, the isolationist Brexit fruits they bear, the normalization of boom-and-bust economics, and the new reality of permanent austerity—it is the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of settlers from the former colonies and peripheries of Europe who are on the front lines and are best equipped to offer new insight into current affairs… if we have the sense to listen. And make no mistake; these local insights will take wing on the global commercial networks of popular culture through the sonic force of hip hop.
What does twenty-first-century Europe sound like? Let’s have a listen.
“They do not know who we are” — Xiao of Blackara (Paris)
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“Identitäter” [Identitarian], by Chefket (Berlin)
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J. Griffith Rollefson is Associate Professor of Music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. He has served on the faculties of music at the University of Cambridge and at UC Berkeley, where he served as UC Chancellor’s Public Scholar, implementing the community engaged scholarship initiative Hip Hop as Postcolonial Studies in the Bay Area.
Rollefson’s work on hip hop, jazz, and popular musics has been published in Black Music Research Journal, American Music, Popular Music and Society, Twentieth-Century Music, and Music & Letters and appears in the edited volumes Crosscurrents: European and American Music in Interaction 1900-2000 (eds. Meyer, Oja, Rathert, and Shreffler), Hip Hop in Europe (eds. Grünzweig and Nitzsche), Native Tongues: An African Hip Hop Reader (ed. Saucier), The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies (eds. Burton and Oakes), and elsewhere.
His research has been recognized and supported by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, Berlin Program, DAAD, Volkswagen Stiftung/Mellon Foundation, American Musicological Society, and ACLS, among others, and he was a finalist for the 2016 European Research Council Starting Grant. His book, European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality, based on fieldwork with hip hop communities in Paris, Berlin, London, and Ireland is published the University of Chicago Press.
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