like the moon
my w&w pdfs are getting all entangled in the brain, but smthg you posted recently raised the issue of how a white mother can have a black child, but a black mother cant have a white child . . . ?
rings a bell, canyon, but i can’t say myself where that reference was from. i think it may have been in a comment — or something on google reader? — rather than in a pdf. speaking of which, don’t miss the latest shares, responding to a recent comment of your own:
that paradox, though, refers to the one-drop rule. the most memorable restatement, for me, is PE’s “fear of a black planet”:
black man, black woman, black baby
white man, white woman, white baby
white man, black woman, black baby
black man, white woman, black baby
Your blog is sweet, and your bio on DJ Kool Herc fills me with envy (even if I tend to find more West-Indian-ness in first-generation hip-hop than you do, though I respect how you caution against my overdeterministic readings, and it has more to do with my own pissiness about how hip-hop is the percieved as sole domain of black american culture… as you can see, I am not all that pan-african).
So, if race is a social construction, when are we actually going to have the a post-racial society? The elimination of the one-drop rule (white man and black woman = white babies?) or something else…
also, you gotta drop some knowledge about the racial-caste systems in jamaica.
Thanks for the good words, Winslow.
I too bristle at the degree to which hip-hop has been represented as the “sole domain of black american culture,” and a lot of my research pushes against that (as does the work of scholars like Juan Flores and Raquel Rivera, esp wrt Puerto Rican participation). But I also want to be very careful about teasing out the dynamic between Caribbean and African-American cultural and social formations in New York between the 1970s and today. To argue that hip-hop was always a lot more Caribbean may overlook some important shifts that occur (as demonstrated, for instance, in the story of the zunguzung meme). At any rate, I’d be very eager to learn about the ways you hear/read “first generation hip-hop” as being more West Indian than I’ve represented in the Herc piece. What says that to you, aside from the well-rehearsed factoids about the parental/cultural heritage of guys like Herc, Flash, and Bam?
As for our imminent “post-racial” society, I’m not holding my breath, despite the socially constructed nature of race. For all its imaginary qualities, race is still lived as a very real thing and will remain so as long as the various legacies & inequities of institutionalized racism remain real factors in people’s lives. Obama’s a great symbol for a future where race is less an indicator of one’s life trajectory, and I’m optimistic that racial ideologies no longer have the same hold on the imaginations of today’s (and tomorrow’s) youth. Demographics — in terms of immigration and intermixing — have a lot to do with that. But you’ll probably never see me pronounce our society a “post-racial” one.
As for the racial caste systems inna JA, I’ve written a fair amount about that, as, for example, when I explored the ways I was figured as a browning back in 2004.
I think you represented the Caribbean-ness of Hip-Hop, in terms of sound technology and toasting, exactly as much as I consider it to be Caribbean… I just would not give as many caveats to those possible roots as you did, but then again you were using Kool Herc’s own words as well. Still, depending on what one wants to define as ‘hip-hop’ (and should we get all Braudel on what exactly constitutes an ‘event’?), we get into some tough conceptual territory; is rap what makes hip-hop distinct? The style of djing? Bboying? Is it elemental? Is it a combination? For argument’s sake, lets just pick rap… where did it come from? The first answer a lot of people come up with is a monolithic ‘Africa’ (Damn you Robert Farris Thompson! I love you but a lot of people that followed you suck) then that begs the question of how come a New World population with some of the smallest ties back to the continent in relation to the Caribbean and Latin America (slave numbers, early date of abolition of the slave trade and no real influx of uncreolized Africans, etc) was the one to invent it? If it comes from the particulars of United States black culture, then how can we trace it? If it was a unique event based on the particular racial and class climate of a de-industrialized and ghettoized South Bronx (as I personally believe), then why did they choose this style? One of the things that you alluded to was the continuation of a black american dj style, and THIS is something I need to learn more about because for me that would answer a lot of questions I have. Like Ronald Radano, I am constantly wary of the essentialist narratives of so-called ‘black music’, and while I respect some of those intentions when they are designed for social uplift (we are a proud musical people! etc etc) I think in the long run they do more harm than good, even if the intentions are there. That is why I am uncomfortable of the way hip-hop is raced in much of the scholarship I have come across (Nelson George, Jeffrey Ogbar, Tricia Rose, etc)…
Also, keep in mind that you are a lot smarter and well-read on this sort of stuff than I am, so feel free to lay into me :).
Its easy to declare post anything. You think post-modernism means that the ‘modernity’ its thinkers were talking about is now defunct? Part of declaring ‘post-anything’ revolves around just how delightfully premature such a declaration really is.
As you may know, Ron Radano was my adviser during grad school (and remains an important mentor), so my perspective is pretty sympathetic (if not inescapably shaped by) the kinds of arguments he makes about essentialist narratives of “black music.” And I agree that this is the case in the lion’s share of hip-hop scholarship and journalism.
You raise some very good questions about how we define hip-hop (in terms of which practices we focus on) and hence where that leads us. An attention to dance would beg a stronger focus on Puerto Ricans and the history of Afro-Latin dance in the boroughs, whereas the focus on vocal styles has tended to reinforce a certain kind of parochialism and afrocentrism, typically foregrounding African-American oral traditions, often with a vague acknowledgment of Jamaican “toasting,” and sometimes stretching back — as in David Toop’s influential Rap Attack books — all the way to West African griots (without asking the kinds of questions you pose about African “retentions” in the US, which really demand a great deal of attention to historical detail).
For me, the most likely explanation, both from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read — though some oral history that goes deeper than Yes Yes Y’all would be helpful here — suggests that Jamaican toasting didn’t become an audible influence in New York rap until at least the early 80s, at which point it has been an ever increasing presence (which squares with migration data, as it happens). Really, someone needs to talk to all these early MCs and press them to discuss exactly what they were thinking and who they were listening to when they were finding their voices.
As for “post,” you’re right to call attention to the idea — too often forgotten in facile dismissals of post-modernism or post-structuralism, or post-colonialism for that matter — that the prefix does not necessarily signal a break with the past as it notes a new configuration that includes important continuities with previous moments/schools/etc. (And I guess such pronouncements are often premature — or wishful.) That said, I think that when “post-racial” gets bandied about these days, most people think of it as signifying a moment in which the significance of race has declined such that it no longer serves as a social, cultural, or political force of any consequence. Obviously, that’s not the case, as the murder of Oscar Grant, among countless other examples, attests. Whether it’s a possibility is another question. I’m certainly not so committed to race, even as a privileged whitened person, that I wouldn’t be happy to see it consigned to the history books alongside other outmoded ideologies. But I am committed to calling attention to the ways race works in the world so long as it continues to do the peculiar work that it does.
Good points all. I study West African history, but I find all history fascinating, so New World music history has been really interesting to me, and because I am a practicing bboy, all the stuff about hip-hop that erases non-mcs drives me up the wall. I remember when I first started dabbling in hip-hop texts and reading about the vague West African ‘griot’ traditions and I thought to myself… wtf? I mean, a lot of theories of African retentions go back to Herskovits and even before that, but between Roots, the old-dixie narrative, and the legacies of racism (all slaves lived in the south and grew cotton, all slaves are from the upper guinea coast, slavery was the same in all areas of the united states from 1619 until 1865, all black people are the same etc) a lot of really shady crap gets put out there that obscures more than it reveals. I have not come across any decent stuff that has to do with dance (which requires a STRONG knowledge of various Afro-Latin dances and how they compare to bboying, meaning that I am not holding my breath on it) and music theory (I know there is great stuff out there, but I am lazy :) ).
Your point about toasting is excellent, and that is something I will have to grapple with. I was always a fan of the toasting stuff, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how wrong I might be. If I believe first and second generation bboys when they say that their moves did not originate from capoeirea or innately from the modern-day Congo (two of the most popular but stupid theories out there), I really should put more faith in mcs as historical actors who could tell where at least some of their influences came from. Perhaps Jeff Chang and a team of researchers might want to try their hand at interrogating (maybe not the best choice of words) these mcs? That would be a book I would throw money at.
As per your last comment, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Race as an idea sucks, but while its here the way it functions must be attacked.
Oh yeah, props on your loyalty to your advisor :).
Don’t say interrogate.
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