Buy the book on the University of Chicago Press website — here
* * *
“After four decades, the old US cultural copyrights on hip hop have expired. The form has travelled and the style become a planetary phenomenon. This detailed, innovative and exhilarating book tracks their impact across the postcolonial world. At last we have a critical survey that can match the complexity and power of the music.” —Paul Gilroy, author of The Black Atlantic
“Flip the Script takes us on a marvelous journey from Paris to Berlin, London to Cork, offering a brilliantly textured portrait of European hip hop. Rollefson’s lively readings of performances help us to hear hip hop music as a postcolonial art and practice that can lead us to a more equitable and just future. An inspiring and hopeful book.” —Ellie M. Hisama, Columbia University
“Employing sophisticated theoretical analysis mixed with ample hip-hop savvy, J. Griffith Rollefson deftly explains how hip hop artists not only flip the historical scripts of European colonial authority and narrowly defined national identities, but rip and shred them. Simply stated, this is a powerful book with a killer flow.” —Murray Forman, author of The ‘Hood Comes First
“Flip the Script is highly original and ambitious, and a substantial contribution to research on hip hop and postcolonialism. Rollefson combines ethnographic methods with close readings of media texts in a way that allows him to account for both the texture of everyday life in the communities he worked in, and musical and textual details of the art emanating from within those communities.” —Thomas Solomon, University of Bergen
* * *
The University of Chicago Press also offers examination copies to academics who will adopt the text for their classes. See here for details.
* * *
Review in Ethnomusicology
by Katelyn E. Best (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz) Published Summer 2021
“Flip the Script demonstrates how hip hop studies can benefit from more engagement with postcolonial theory while also shedding light on the reciprocal relationship between the two by illustrating ways hip hop in turn contributes to and further expands postcolonial theory and practice. Intertwining the voices and perspectives of hip hop artists with those of postcolonial scholars, this book effectively blurs the line between scholar and “schooler,” subsequently decolonizing hierarchies of knowledge formation. In doing so, it opens up new doors for investigation, inviting others everywhere to take part in interpretive practices that subvert power dynamics and continually work toward flipping the script.”
* * *
by Nicholas Stevens (Case Western Reserve University) Published 7 December 2019
“Rollefson achieves that rarest of outcomes: a true exchange between artists and academics, guided by at times uncanny convergences of thought across time and space. Rollefson presents his analyses of recorded music and hip-hop scenes in a meticulously organized structure. The resulting book does not challenge or transcend disciplinary boundaries in music studies so much as render them irrelevant. Fluent in most of the methodologies that have defined musicological and ethnomusicological study in recent decades, Rollefson incorporates fieldwork, music analysis, close reading, and an array of postcolonial, critical race, and feminist perspectives into a necessary and overdue synthesis. To characterize books like this as the future of music research is not to give praise but to state a fact that feels more obvious each time Rollefson delivers on one of his prefatory promises.”
* * *
Review in Journal of World Popular Music
by Karim Hammou (author of Une Histoire du rap en France) Published 29 December 2018
“In Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality, J. Griffith Rollefson provides a dynamic and detailed examination of hip hop scenes in Berlin, Paris and London using “the lens of (African) Americanization” (59). The author seeks to capture how hip hop is recontextualized outside of the United States, moving beyond the one-sided narrative of cultural imperialism and imitation, but also beyond the more complex model of creolization, in which a foreign form is progressively adapted to fit a new (often national) context.
Through the concept of African Americanization, Rollefson underlines the limitations of seeing European hip hop scenes in terms of hybridization. When Europeans adapt US hip hop, they are adapting an American popular culture that is “always already creolised” (58), a commercial mix of black vernacular and white European expression. Hence, a dialogic relationship exists between European hip hop scenes and North American hip hop rather than a new phenomenon of hybridization. This suggests the well-known pattern of the double consciousness described by Du Bois. Indeed, for Rollefson, hip hop expresses double consciousness and is a postcolonial expressive form. The author thus proposes three overlapping paradigms with which to approach this subject: postcoloniality as double consciousness, hip hop as double consciousness, and hip hop (studies) as postcolonial (studies). In arguing this view, Rollefson offers several valuable conceptual tools for understanding European hip hop. He also expands hip hop scholarship through his serious engagement with musical sound, offering a welcome advocacy of musicological tools and knowledge….”
* * *
by Séverin Guillard (University Paris Est Créteil) Published 1 March 2018
“Ultimately, Flip the Script is 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. It will also interest scholars studying globalization and postcolonialism, given its fresh perspective on the circulation of cultural practices, aesthetics, and political models, and the way these elements can contribute to specific local issues. Finally, Flip the Script will push the boundaries of the hip-hop scholarship that has emerged in the last few decades in Anglophone research. In addition to the comparative perspective, that has not yet been extensively explored in Hip-Hop Studies, hip-hop readers will especially appreciate Griffith Rollefson’s effort to go beyond textual analysis of the hip hop works to take account of their musical, visual, and performative dimensions. They will also be interested in the way Flip the Script puts hip-hop works on the same level as academic work, asserting the ability of this music to dialog and renew theory.
… Flip the Script will certainly lay the foundations for collaborative studies that can address the ways in which hip hop renews the identity politics of various countries, not only in Europe, but throughout the world…”
* * *
Review in Journal of Popular Music Studies
by Meghan Drury (Portland State University) Published 1 August 2018
“European cultural politics have been at the forefront of many recent conversations on migration, xenophobia, and nationalism, particularly in the wake of Great Britain’s 2016 decision to exit the European Union. Both scholarly and popular media discussions about the future of the European political order tend to frame their views around populist and nationalist ideologies and therefore fail to acknowledge the significance of longer histories of racialized imperialism and colonial intervention. Although the field of postcolonial studies has linked various forms of cultural production to colonial discourse, few scholars of postcolonialism have seriously examined popular music. Whereas the global reach of hip hop has long been a focus in the overlapping fields of hip hop and popular music studies, scholarship on European hip hop generally has not come under the lens of postcolonialism.
J. Griffith Rollefson’s Flip the Script seeks to fill both gaps with a compelling study of hip hop and postcolonial politics in Berlin, London, and Paris. Rollefson contends that despite (or perhaps in conjunction with) its commercial appeal, European hip hop is an important site of resistance that elucidates “postcolonial paradoxes” or contradictions that emerge in racialized capitalism. As he writes, “Hip hop sits at the confluence of dehumanizing neoliberal globalization and the gritty human realities of postcoloniality” (3). He encourages hip hop scholars to move away from a simplistic “bad hip hop” versus “good hip hop” binary that demonizes materialism and sexism in the genre while elevating artists who demonstrate a heightened political awareness. Using a combination of ethnography and close reading, Rollefson fuses multiple narratives with racial and diasporic identities as well as performance and political economy.
Through first-person accounts of performances, interviews with performers from field work conducted between 2006 and 2008, and descriptive analyses of numerous albums, Flip the Script makes a case for hip hop as a postcolonial art form…
Taken as a whole, Flip the Script is an innovative and dynamic piece of scholarship that lays a valuable foundation for future work connecting the fields of hip hop and postcolonial studies.”
* * *
Review in ScratchedVinyl.com
by Chi Chi Published 16 January 2018
“J. Griffith Rollefson is Associate Professor in Popular Music Studies in the Department of Music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. Originally from San Francisco, Rollefson has been researching the subject matter of the intersection of postcolonialism and hip hop for a long time. After spending time in Berlin, Paris, and London researching this material, we finally get the results of his hard work in Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality.
Flip the Script is an interesting book on many levels, but first and foremost, as an American, I find the book incredibly helpful in just shifting perspective and forcing readers to understand how hip hop is being used to deal with complex issues across the ocean. Towards the beginning of the book, Rollefson looks at groups in Paris and Berlin, and discusses how through hip hop, artists are using an artform developed in America and most commonly assumed as an African American style of music to deal with issues such as free speech, police brutality, immigration, and racial identity. Hip hop fans in America are surely familiar with all of this through their own experiences and listening to the music, but there are additional layers to consider when you visit cities in countries with different governments, histories, and immigration patterns, who then turn to hip hop as tool to deal with these issues. This could be as simple as just giving a voice to the Black German population, a smaller group that is not often acknowledged, or it could be the careful and dangerous distinction in France between artistic expression and felonious behavior. As the book progresses, Rollefson takes on a couple of specific and fascinating case studies. One is the case of M.I.A., who Rollefson examines as her first album rolls out. There are so many factors rising out of postcolonialism and the conversation between cultures that are key to propelling her to stardom, and it’s important to take this step back and examine them thoroughly now, since we’ve got a Sri Lankan-born, London-based artist using hip hop and dancehall to discuss issues of terrorism, colonialism, and capitalism, all while maintaining an international pop sensibility. The other case study of note is Juice Aleem, another London-based artist, who Rollefson argues uses his music to create a metaphysical discussion between the colonial past and the future to come. It’s a style of music and lyricism that is deceptively simple, but loaded with hidden meanings and references waiting to be unpacked.
All of this discussion is incredibly interesting and gives lots of food for thought to readers, especially those of us who don’t always get to see the world with these perspectives. None of this would matter, though, if Rollefson wasn’t able to effectively communicate any of this. Fortunately, Rollefson is able to take this rigorous academic and theoretical work, using tools laid out by cultural theorists and historians such as Edward Said and Amiri Baraka, and translate all of his analysis and observations in a way that the general reading audience can easily understand.
Flip the Script is 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 takes into consideration different scenes, different countries, and different artists, and puts them in discussion to create a narrative that brings to light all of the complex factors of how hip hop functions in postcolonial Europe. It’s a complex subject, but Rollefson has crafted a book that is very readable, and helps build a base knowledge that will leave you hungry to learn more.”
* * *
Review in Telegraph Books: Telegraph.co.uk
“In his history of hip-hop, ethnomusicologist J. Griffith Rollefson combines ethnography and music analysis to look at the three foundational cities in the hip-hop world of twenty-first century Europe.
He first explores Paris’s musical response to the National Front in France, then Turkish German groups in Berlin, and finally M.I.A. and other South Asian critiques in London. Throughout, Rollefson shows how African-American expressive cultures, especially rap music and hip-hop culture, are central to minority identity in the UK, France, and Germany, and how music plays a pivotal role as a point of political commentary and action.
He offers great insight into cross-cultural and postcolonial minority experience and the paradoxes of Western modernity, such as the use of a commercialized music as a form of resistance.
This engaging and provocative study helps to show how music can outline the cultural dimensions of ethnicity and race in the modern Western world.”
* * *
Joint Review on RoyChristopher.com featuring Flip the Script and Su’ad Abdul Khabeer’s Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip-Hop in the United States (NYU Press, 2016)
“The Alterity of Cool”
by Roy Christopher Published 24 January 2018
“…As Gilroy himself puts it, “the old U.S. cultural copyrights on hip-hop have expired.” Along with the rest of the globe, Europe is in the house. Some of the best at it are based over there. Dizzee Rascal is a native and a hip-hop veteran. Fellow East-Coast emcees M. Sayyid and Mike Ladd relocated separately to Paris years ago. Ex-New Flesh for Old emcee Juice Aleem also holds it down in the UK, among countless others. There’s an entire chapter on Aleem in J. Griffith Rollefson’s Flip the Script: European Hip-hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Sometimes to move ahead, you’ve gotta step back first. Rollefson investigates Aleem’s postcolonialism via pre-Enlightenment performative linguistics. It’s an Afrofuturist alternative history via precolonial tricks and tropes, not unlike Kelley’s reimagining in A Different Drummer. Aleem’s signifyin’ is one of many examples of Rollefson’s arguments regarding the postcoloniality of hip-hop.
Hip-hop has come full circle at present,” South African emcee, Mr. Fat (R.I.P.) once said. “Emcees are like the storytellers of the tribe, graffiti is cave paintings, and the drums of Africa are like turntables: This is our ideology.” (quoted in Neate, 2004, p. 120). Indeed, as hip-hop has moved from around the way to around the world, mapping it requires a deft hand, a def mind, an understanding of the alterity of cool, and a handle on histories other than those in the history books.”
* * *
Interview for the UW-Madison SoM Newsletter
Interview with Kyle D. Johnson Published 27 December 2017
You write that hip hop studies should “engage more directly and systematically with the tools of postcolonial theory.” What is postcolonial theory and why is it important to hip hop studies?
Postcolonial studies involves understanding how the past resonates in the present. How the past is never past. In short, if the “colonial period” started when Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” over 500 years ago and “ended” a little over 50 years ago, we need to imagine how that period might have had some lasting impact. And of course, we then need to think about what we should do if that impact is a negative one, as is overwhelmingly the case. The resonances are profound and very real. In the US, for instance, colonial processes have resulted in the world-changing beauty of the spirituals, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop, but they have also resulted in the seemingly endless systemic marginalization of the very people who created those most American of musics – marginalization “from the plantation to the penitentiary,” as Wynton Marsalis put it.
Hip hop is unique both in its directness and in the depth of its contradictions. We simultaneously laud hip hop as the ultimate politically conscious music and decry it as the most vapid commercial expression of materialism, sexism, homophobia, and violence. Something’s gotta give with this contradiction – and I think I offer some good, and potentially illuminating answers in the book.
Postcolonial theory helps us assess and address historical impact by focusing on the continuities between slavery and commercial exploitation, from Georgia cotton, Jamaican sugar, and Honduran bananas to South African diamonds, Indian textiles, and Iraqi oil. Of course, these theories also help us account for cultural fields like music. The idea of “the forest and the school” is a good starting place to describe how processes of colonization remove “the forest” – that is, the natural resources (including, let’s remember, people) – and leaves “the school” – be it a missionary school or a grammar school, both of which are training grounds for assimilation into Euro-American ideologies. There’s a famous quip attributed to Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of independent Kenya, that goes: “When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”
How have current events in Europe, such as the refugee crisis, affected the state of modern-day hip hop in Europe?
Rappers will be the first to tell you that the “refugee crisis” is manufactured; they believe that Western Europe is slowly dying and needs immigration, but refuses to adapt for purely bigoted reasons. Sound familiar? I’ve talked to artists who’ve made this exact point – the Turkish German, Chefket and the Black Brit, Juice Aleem, for instance, who recognize foreign labor as a historical constant that gets conveniently forgotten in times of cultural navel gazing. Syria had been in crisis for years before it got widespread European attention as families began fleeing for their lives en masse. And notably, a quick look into the instability in Syria reveals deep and unresolved histories of colonization by France and the UK. This is why I say we need to listen to these voices. They really are on the front lines of history.
How is American hip hop related to European hip hop?
Through studying European hip hop we can see that “double consciousness”—the African-American feeling of “unreconciled” two-ness—is a particular American form of what is really a global postcolonial experience. This argument suggests that postcoloniality explains why hip hop was born in the South Bronx in the collaboration of African American, Puerto Rican, and other Caribbean communities. In my class, Planet Rap: Global Hip Hop and Postcolonial Perspectives, I look not only at African American artists, but at Puerto Ricans, Filipino Americans, Chicanos, and Native Americans to understand how the United States is a postcolonial nation – the first postcolonial nation, really. And to underscore another point I make to my students – the “post” in postcolonial doesn’t mean that the colonial resonances are over. In most cases, they’re just coming to the fore. Germany, for instance, is just now beginning to own up to its colonial history. And France and the UK are doing their darnedest to explain away, forget, or Brexit their way out of their colonial complicities.
You’ve asserted that hip hop artists have a better perspective on the conditions of their society, over governments or geopolitical authorities. What makes hip hop unique in its ability to offer that “frontline” perspective?
In the consensus view of the artists I interviewed, it’s political “consciousness” that attracted them to hip hop in the first place. Something resonated with them – the music “spoke to them.” Again and again, I heard rappers describe the artform as a “vehicle,” “channel,” or “opportunity” to grab the microphone and finally be able to say something to their own societies – societies that usually don’t want to listen. Hip hop is unique both in its directness and in the depth of its contradictions. We simultaneously laud hip hop as the ultimate politically conscious music and decry it as the most vapid commercial expression of materialism, sexism, homophobia, and violence. Something’s gotta give with this contradiction – and I think I offer some good, and potentially illuminating answers in the book. These artists are indeed humans and have all the complexities we all have. They might play to stereotypes, but in doing so they force us to interrogate our own misconceptions.
If someone wanted to explore the current world of European hip hop, which artists would you recommend?
I’d recommend starting with some of the classics, like MC Solaar (France), Roots Manuva (UK), Advanced Chemistry (Germany), and Scary Éire (Ireland). My current playlist includes more recent artists like Stromae, Les Nubians, Sidi-O, and Oxmo Puccino (France/Belgium); Juice Aleem, Lowkey, and Lady Leshurr (UK), Amewu, Chefket, and Samy Deluxe (Germany), and Lethal Dialect and Rusangano Family (Ireland). FauxSounds.com has actually just invited me to annotate a “Flip the Script European Hip Hop” playlist for their website. Check that out for a nice sampling and some brief background details: http://www.fauxsounds.com/faux-sounds/2017/10/18/professor-j-griffith-rollefson-flip-the-script-european-hip-hop
Now, for some background on you. How did you go from dissertation to Flip the Script? Why did the University of Chicago Press take an interest in your work?
Well, if you consider that I wrote my first seminar papers on European hip hop for UW-Madison Professors Susan Cook and Pamela Potter in 2003-2004, then we could say it took well over a decade. Back then word was that Turkey would become an EU member any day. Needless to say, a bit has changed since I started the research. At that time, the EU was providing an inspiring model of what an international community of the future might look like, and now we’re on the slippery slope to ethno-nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 2006, after my coursework, I started a yearlong fieldwork project funded by the Berlin Program for German and European Studies. That trip was centered in Berlin, but included multi-month trips to Paris and London where I worked with hip hop communities: going to shows, clubs, record shops, open mic nights, community centers, observing and doing interviews in any place where hip hop community happened. In 2008, I returned there with funding from the German Academic Exchange Service, known as DAAD, and then embarked on shorter trips until I moved to the UK and Ireland with my family in 2013. In fact, although Flip the Script centers on Berlin, Paris, and London, the book concludes with a look at what I call the “postcolonial whiteness” of Ireland’s brilliant hip hop critiques about their colonial past and neocolonial present. What’s interesting in this case is that it gets us thinking about race and colonialism together. As you may know, racial difference was a centerpiece in the logic of British domination of Ireland.
Elizabeth Branch Dyson at the University of Chicago Press showed interest in the manuscript early on and then held my hand throughout, encouraging me to get the book exactly right over the last five years or so. I suppose the lesson there is patience. I’ve had the privilege of being able to be patient, and it has paid off.
Outside of your work on Flip the Script, give us an update on what you’ve been up to since earning your PhD.
I’ve become a dad, served as a church choir director and an adjunct professor in Southern California, won an ACLS New Faculty Fellowship (which was, essentially, the “Great Recession Stimulus Plan for Young Scholars”) which took me to UC Berkeley, held a lectureship at the University of Cambridge and, finally, landed a tenure-track job at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. I should also say that spending the last four years as a European resident really helped me finish the research and added a level of personal understanding of the fragile realities of displacement and immigration.
Where can people go to get more information on you, Flip the Script, and possibly future projects you’re involved with?
The book’s companion website – EuropeanHipHop.org – is quickly becoming a clearinghouse for all sorts of links, syllabi, podcasts, and news.