Last Night MIT Saved My Life

Yesterday morning I wrote what I feared might be the last rent check I could write for the foreseeable future; by yesterday evening those fears had vanished, as I learned that MIT would be offering me a Mellon Fellowship for the next two years. Wayne saved!

And not a moment too soon. 11th hour, really. Goes without saying that I’m totally thrilled. Weights have turned to balloons. This constitutes a serious lifeline for me & my career. It affirms a project I’m quite excited about — a critical examination (and, inevitably, celebration) of what I’ve been alternately calling “nu whirl(ed) music” and “global ghettotech” — and offers much support at a crucial time for bringing one expression of that project to completion: namely, what they call in the academy, a monograph (more on that below).

First, I should say that I’m especially indebted to two fine future colleagues at MIT who encouraged and supported my application, Ian Condry and Patty Tang. Interestingly, due largely to idiosyncratic / bureaucratic reasons, my host dept will not be Music — as it has been throughout my grad and post-grad career — but what MIT calls Foreign Languages and Literatures. Happy as I would have been to be in Music & Theater Arts, I’m quite looking forward to being in a more interdisciplinary situation, a place where Ian, for example, studies and teaches Japanese popular culture, including hip-hop.

I also want to thank all the Brandeis students and faculty and other supporters — various and sundry — who lent their names and testimony to the Save Wayne campaign. Although I’m sorry that something didn’t work out for me at Brandeis, I feel affirmed as never before, that I’m on the right track, and I’m deeply grateful for that.

In so many ways, I gotta say, MIT seems like the right place for me right now. Given the tech focus of my research proposal, the school is just a perfect fit. Did I mention that I live but a short walk away?

Enough basking though, I just wanted to share the good news with all my dear readers, and to thank you in particular for providing another crucial source of support and affirmation. It was a long dark winter in some ways, and knowing that I have this forum for sharing and discussing what interests me with a bunch of interesting, informed, passionate people has provided some key consolation.

I’ll leave you with a few paragraphs snipped from my proposal, just to clue you in on where I’m headed. If you’ve been reading along with me here for a little while, this will hardly be news, but I think I’ve brought a lot into focus on this most recent go-round —

Brave New World Music: Making and Sharing Music in a Peer-to-Peer World

Bringing together theories, methods, and data from music and sound studies, media and cultural studies, digital anthropology, sociology, and work across the “digital humanities” more generally, my project seeks to reevaluate the question of “world music” in light of the remarkable technological and discursive shifts represented by socially networked, online exchanges of music. This necessarily international, multi-sited project emerges from my ongoing research into the global circulation of such popular genres as hip-hop, reggae, and reggaeton, as well as their local resonance in places like New York, Boston, Kingston, and San Juan. Continuing an attention — grounded in ethnographic, historical, and theoretical perspectives — to the ways music draws and redraws lines of community, my intention is to produce a monograph situating the production, circulation, and reception of music (and media more generally) in our globalized, digital world — a world of peers, in some sense, if one where we still bear witness to profound asymmetries.

Whereas “world music” once connoted the traditional music of the global south (or accessible, slickly-produced fusions of those traditions with Western pop), in recent years a new set of connoisseurs in the US and Europe — as well as a global, grassroots network of producers and promoters — have departed from such notions to embrace locally-inflected versions of global pop which foreground digital modes of production, do-it-yourself production aesthetics, and shared — rather than exotic — cultural referents. Although largely facilitated by the Internet, this degree of international engagement — mediated not by record companies but by MySpace, YouTube, blogs, and other peer-to-peer technologies — also suggests that on-the-ground metropolitan multiculture is alive and well. On the one hand, the consumption and circulation of “new world music” (e.g., Angolan kuduro, South African kwaito, and South American cumbia) nod toward an emergent, everyday cosmopolitanism in the US, reflecting the degree to which “the world” now resides within American borders. On the other, the decentering presence of US genres within this “new world” constellation (e.g., Chicago juke, Atlanta crunk, Bay Area hyphy, Puerto Rican reggaeton) signals a reevaluation of what “world” can mean now that the “American Century” has passed. What does all this activity say about contemporary conceptions of selfhood, nationhood, and — if you will — neighborhood?

Lest this picture appear too utopian, it should be noted that first world filters — now more often as bloggers than stars or labels — still occupy positions of power, reflecting continued hierarchies even as the tools of production and distribution have been widely democratized by the advent of digital technologies. Whether we are talking about Brazilian funk or Jamaican dancehall, such genres continue to be represented through the lens of the exotic and authentic — albeit an exoticism and authenticity flowing from signifiers of the urban, hybrid, and futuristic rather than the rural, pristine, and traditional. Slum chic has arisen as an aesthetic counterpoint to the unprecedented growth of megacities around the world. And yet, despite problematic parallels, there may yet be some genuinely new and promising facets to today’s “world music.” For one, we might hear a leveling out such that all genres travel at once as local and global. Although produced in the U.S., for instance, Chicago juke — a distinctive form of electronic dance music formerly known as “ghetto house” — has been embraced as “worldly” subculture by young people in Switzerland, France, and England. Second, even while reproducing certain racial ideologies, we might detect a new mode of engaging with others in this new world music. As today’s “data flaneurs” seek xenophily over homophily they build cultural and conceptual bridges that attend to local (as well as virtual) soundscapes and, in the process, reshape ideas about here and there, especially in metropolitan social contexts which bear the burdens of postcolonial legacies.

Onward & sidewayz, y’all —

46 thoughts on “Last Night MIT Saved My Life

  1. congrats!!! so excited you’ll be at MIT, and i can’t wait to hear and hopefully talk more about music and creativity in a p2p world!

  2. passing through your blog and good to hear all the good news for the next year.

  3. Congratulations, Wayne! If we’re not surprised that your monograph promises to offer critical perspective on generation-defining social phenomena, I for one am even less surprised that you’ll have great support to develop that perspective. There’s nobody better qualified for the job. Now the rest of us just need your workshop on how to land fantastic post-doc fellowships! Best wishes with the new gig.

  4. Congrats Wayne. I’ve been reading for a while and just sent _Reggaeton_ to a Jamaican from Miami to ponder over. The “modern ancient African music” and precient NeYo/Kartel posts remain highlights. Good luck.

  5. ???? ??? ??? ??? ????? ??? ???

    “The scholar without doings is like a cloud without rain.”

    -Lebanese proverb

    congrats, really looking forward to all of your future rain.

  6. Yay!! You so deserve this! Super awesome. p.s. any interest in another guest gig at Brown sometime this fall to talk reggaeton with my first-year seminar?

  7. congratulations! i’m so happy for you and excited to see the research develop. i’ll be back in Cambridge the coming academic year and hope to see you around the MIT ‘hood!

  8. HELL YEAH! Massive news, massive result! Excellent stuff, you utterly deserve it. Congratulations! Must be a massive relief. It’s VERY gratifying when academia gives the right jobs to the right people – sometimes the system does work. Yes yes yes yes!

  9. MIT finally says “tengo the wengo”…..large up mi bredrin….hotta fiyah fi blaze like the boston jerk

  10. One quick question about the monograph, though, which has been bugging me when it comes to these styles–

    You mention the web as the catalyst for the emergence of the “new world music”. But didn’t many (most?) of the scenes that are commonly brought up in that context emerge just before the web was a major phenomenon, and certainly before MP3s were? Genres like funk, reggaeton, kwaito, etc. etc. all seem to have got started circa 1990-93. In one sense I guess the eventual emergence of the web cemented these pre-existing styles, but at the same time their contemporaneous emergence has to have some other technological/structural/style-historical factor involved.

  11. Felicidades panita! I think it’ll be a great fit for you. And as a lit person, I think we tend, especially in funky places like MIT, to be very open to all kinds of cool ideas. A lot of us have taken the idea of examining “the text” and “discourse” as license to get into comics, films, music et al. So I suspect it’ll be a good environment for you.

    The project sounds real coherent, too. Good stuff and can’t wait for more.

  12. first, thx @EVERYONE for the well wishes. we’re just thrilled in w&w land about our new gig.

    @chapter8 — getting a little off-topic here, but in brief: i think KRS is entitled to his opinion, but i don’t find his “critique” of chang (et al?) compelling — never mind the rehearsal of his own myths about hip-hop roots. let the man write a book himself. jeff may not have consulted him, but he did speak with a whole heap of hip-hop heads/historians. and don’t even get me started on KRS’s notions of “scholarship” or what’s “academic” — he plays pretty loose with words.

    @birdseed — the important distinction here is that i’m not talking about the emergence of these genres in their original local instantiations; rather, i’m more concerned with their emergence on a world stage (and their representation/circulation as “worldy”). in very few cases (grime?) are any of the genres i’m talking about total products of digital culture. they may have been utterly revolutionized by these new technologies, but most have firm roots in local places and analog (or pre-internet digital) tech.

  13. Sorry Wayne,

    Sending you my best wishes in life and in love.

    I don’t post much if any at all. My question to you had nothing to do with KRS [Don’t Care Radio Edit] Promo or Chang [Haven’t Read The Book] Original LP but more with your thoughts as of “What is it about hip-hop and these West Indian people?” which I found strange and dishonest. I viewed your blog many times over the years addressing issuses like reggaeton but Puerto Ricans seem unaware of reggae, Truth Hurts “Addictive” but South Asians seem to be unaware in using the same methods in their bhangra mixes, and Brazilians unaware funk but call miami bass funk. That’s what I was trying to get at with “What is it about hip-hop and these African American people?” Are they unaware that their toasting but think it’s signifing? Thats what I was getting at. The Myth vs. scholarship! Not the long rant of KRS but when Beenie Man hops on a reggeaton track or Shawn Pual has an R&B hook what do local cultures interpid it as generally? “Theirs” or “transcended other” and unaware. thanks for the feedback. I was on the “Why Aussie aboriginals took so well to country music tip”
    PLEASE PLEASE Don’t respond to this MESS!!! First time poster and didn’t make the question clear.

  14. thanks, chap8 — no prob on the clarity of the question. can’t resist responding, tho ;)

    i guess i was attempting to say, in some sense, that there’s rarely any clear line between myth-making and scholarship, and hip-hop history is as entangled as any other. as you may know, a great deal of my work — esp my dissertation — grapples with precisely the question of how to tease out the degree to which hip-hop is a transnational formation, reflecting the transnationality of NYC, or whether it can be claimed so strongly — as it has been — as solely an african-american product. i have many allies in this project, esp, on the PR side, juan flores and raquel rivera. i don’t think it’s so easy to simply say that people are toasting but calling it signifyin; rather, it’s a much more complex, overlapping, and locally-contingent process of embracing and reshaping resonant expressive forms — some old, some new, some more foreign, some more familiar.

    some of my pieces which address the question of “west indians” and african-americans negotiating the socio-sonic space of hip-hop are “hearing hip-hop’s jamaican accent” and my biographical essay on kool herc.

    incidentally, it’s interesting to see KRS label himself “west indian.” a lot of people mistake him for a jamaican given his own adoption of JA’s accents and styles. i’ve heard that his father was trinidadian, but, alas, he doesn’t provide any greater detail.

    finally, i really do think jeff chang does a great job in that book, esp the first several chapters. KRS’s injunctions notwithstanding, i highly recommend taking a glance.

  15. Sounds good to me, Sean! & keep up the good work — it’s a challenge to keep up, but you’ve got quite an interesting, informative feed going over there.

  16. A bit of a delayed response on this sorry….

    Congrats and man I really look forward to this critique…

  17. Glorious, Wayne. Your understanding and thinking deserve the broader platform that Foreign Languages and Literatures will invite.


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