Hip Hop Versus Rap: An Ethnography of the Cultural Politics of New Hip Hop Practices

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Turner, Patrick

Using field observations, interview narratives, and lyrical analysis, this thesis argues that the increasing presence of hip hop arts in social spheres not popularly associated with hip hop such as community activism, school-based education and theatre is traceable to an intra cultural political struggle I term ‘hip hop versus rap’. Hip hop versus rap opposes the notion of a temporally prior, authentic hip hop culture to its degeneration into commercial and ‘anti-social’ rap music. As a redemptive discourse hip hop versus rap seeks to annex a socially responsible hip hop culture from its popular caricature by culturally exogenous interests. As part of a progressive grassroots, hip hop’s extension into new educational and artistic domains thus marks, at one level, a continuation of longstanding black diaspora struggles around race and cultural cooptation. Correspondingly, a hallmark of its pedagogic practices on the ground is a continuous reflexive commentary on the progressive uses to which hip hop can and should be put. These new hip hop practices, moreover, are philosophically and politically heterogeneous with respect to their sources, motives, and output. Hip hop versus rap can equally serve racial absolutism and mysticism, on the one hand, and, on the other, an avowed commitment to artistic and pedagogic innovation troubling fixed cultural and ethnic borders. Of equal significance, however, hip hop’s ‘communitarian’ ‘grassroots’ turn is also related to emerging forms of municipal and state sponsorship. In conditions of social risk and individualisation youth and educational services are seen as needing as far as possible to be fashioned around the cultural dispositions and preferences of their ‘at-risk’ users - or consumers. This means that another signal feature of hip hop versus rap – particularly as an educational project – is the way in which it marks a convergent point of vernacular cultural politics and histories and historically novel approaches by the state to the support, control and regulation of problem youth.
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