Introduction – Hip Hop as Postcolonial Art and Practice

Chapter Abstract

This chapter sounds a call for hip hop studies to engage more directly and systematically with the tools of postcolonial theory. It makes the case that the field of postcolonial studies provides an essential set of strategies, theories, and methodological frameworks for attending to hip hop’s histories and prehistories and analyzing its performative musical life as practiced today. Hip hop remains exhilaratingly fresh as it 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. The introduction lays out the book’s three binary-collapsing conceptual pillars: “Postcoloniality and/as Double Consciousness,” “The Paradox of Commercialized Resistance Music,” and “Hip Hop and/as Politics” before introducing the chapter outline and a reflection on the author’s bespoke methodology combining cultural studies, media analysis, and musicological approaches with on-the-ground fieldwork and ethnomusicological methods.

Chapter Keywords: postcolonial studies, hip hop studies, ethnomusicology, musicology, double consciousness, Enlightenment, globalization, Europe, African American, cultural industry

 

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Paris (Capitale Sale Studios)
Fraystil-Battle
Berlin (Fraystil Battle Night)
Gramophone
London (Task Force in E. London)

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From the Introduction

In Paris a group of young men gathers weekly to air their hopes and frustrations at a community radio station. Despite their diverse origins from all over the former French empire—Algeria, Cameroon, Cambodia, and beyond—they share a political consciousness. It shapes the contours of their debates, giving them a shared language and highlighting their shared goals. In Berlin a university student attends a lecture at the Center for Social Sciences. The young Ghanaian-German political scientist sits patiently, waiting for the discussion segment of the proceedings. When the time comes, he corrects the distinguished panelists, enumerating their misstatements carefully and eloquently, clarifying matters of perspective. In London a young Kurdish woman posts a new track to her webpage, recounting recent struggles with her overbearing father. She has moved out, is living in a council at, and is struggling to see what her next move will be. In all three of these scenarios, the common denominator is hip hop. It is at once a font of confidence and a form of defensive armor, a channel of expression, a critical lens, and a way of knowing and being in the world. Above all, it is a booming, bumping, lilting, and swinging sonic force that brings together, binds, and moves diverse communities.

In the following chapters I examine European hip hop from the perspective of postcolonial studies. But in so doing I also make the case that hip hop was a postcolonial culture from the jump. That is, from its prehistories in antebellum black musics of the United States and Caribbean sound system cultures of 1960s decolonization, to its birth among African American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino youth in the defunded, postindustrial South Bronx, to its national and international dissemination through bootlegged mixtapes and global distribution networks, hip hop has evinced the postcolonial realities of asymmetry, hybridity, and paradox. Most important, it has flipped the script on those realities to combat homogenizing globalization and carve out a space for enunciative critique. As such, this book not only attends to the ways that hip hop has resonated in Europe, but will also help us hear US hip hop anew.

This book sounds a call for hip hop studies to engage more directly and systematically with the tools of postcolonial theory. Throughout the chapters that follow I make the case that postcolonial studies provide an essential set of strategies, theories, and methodological frameworks for attending to hip hop’s histories and prehistories and analyzing its performative musical life as practiced today. Yes, hip hop remains exhilaratingly fresh as it 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, postcolonial studies—such as this socio- cultural examination of hip hop in three of Europe’s global cities—ask 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 neoliberal/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. As I will show, 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.