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In the last twenty years, Hip-Hop has expanded from an American ghetto-based
subcultural practice to an ever-growing, multicultural, world-wide
phenomenon. Like most other popular subcultural forms, Hip-Hop has
not escaped becoming a market-driven commodity in today’s culture
industry. This popularity has taken Hip-Hop to a much more visible
position in mainstream media, where its cultural practices and messages
have been able to wield a huge influence on world-wide audiences.
But popularity has brought with it huge commercialisation of every
aspect of Hip-Hop culture. While rap videos were originally
ostracised from MTV, they are now an integral part of the advertising
of huge multinational record labels like Sony, who manage most of
today's Hip-Hop stars. Similarly, the fashion styles of Hip-Hop
have become consumed by the mainstream to represent today's best-selling
commodities. The prominent position of commercial MCs like Tupac
and Puff Daddy has had an impact on the way Hip-Hop is perceived in
popular culture. This is particularly evident in music videos,
which are designed to advertise their 'products' to the lowest common
denominator, and in doing so tend to reproduce mainstream stereotypes
to boost their saleability. Sut Jhally's Dreamworlds2 illuminates
the perverse and fantastic representations of women in the male dreamworld
of music videos, representations which are prominent in the videos
of many commercial Hip-Hop artists.24
This may explain a recent music video accompanying a track by New
Zealand Hip-Hop success story Che Fu. While his album, 2BSpacific,
shows a healthy combination of discourse and style that is classic
Hip-Hop, the video of the song "Waka" appears to reproduce
the most banal stereotypes of the Pacific Islands, to the extent that
it resembles 19th century advertisements for the pacific islands as
a non-threatening, return-to-innocence, 'pacific princess' swarming,
holiday destination for white people.25
This kind of trade-off may be the result of Hip-Hop's forced marriage
with today's multinational, commodity-driven marketplace, and is the
flip-side of the benefits of bringing Hip-Hop culture to a global
However, the real spirit of Hip-Hop shows no signs of being
crushed even while commercialism flourishes. Irrepressible young
artists like the Fugees handle the contradictions of their position
in the world the way Hip-Hop has always handled contradictions --
that is, through engaging with them weaving them into its discourse.
By commenting on the contradictions in society, Rose argues Hip-Hop
can offer symbolic resistance to issues of late capitalism, such as
urban poverty, crime, drug use, and media imperialism. She believes
this syncretic dynamic, in which cultural identity constitutes a "discursive
devise which represents difference as unity," makes for a style
"that cannot easily be understood or erased, a style that has
the reflexivity to create counterdominant narratives against a mobile
and shifting enemy".26
The Fugees, described by SOURCE magazine(July 1997) as "Hip-Hop's
world-wide ambassadors", are examples of Hip-Hop superstars who
use their position of power to try to arm the youth of today against
SOURCE documents Wyclef Jean's emotional homecoming to his native
Haiti, a country divided by extreme inequality and poverty.
Here, Wyclef was able to negotiate with politicians, acting as a true
ambassador for the masses in extreme poverty, which he belonged to
himself as a child. While the Fugees did play at an expensive
concert for Haiti's elite, they used the money for the benefit
concert the next day- an unheard-of opportunity for Port-au-Prince's
masses of urban poor. Wyclef's own Haitian identity is woven
through his solo album, The Carnival, which is incredibly significant
for a tiny nation whose early independence from French colonisers
has resulted in long term ostracism from world media. This is
only one example of Hip-Hop's power as a liberating force, which has
become a world-wide phenomenon, incorporating not only people who
could conceivably fit under the 'black' umbrella, but countless white
and Asian followers as well.
Wu Tang MC Method Man says of the group's Japan tour: "By the
time we leave we gonna have 50 new Wu Tang members".28
The unbelievable force of Japan's Hip-Hop following has Japanese youth
going to tanning parlours to darken their skin- a stark turnaround
from common post-colonial third-world perceptions of paleness as the
accepted measure of beauty. (e.g. the 'whitening' cream which
is advertised in Bollywood fan magazines.) Japanese youth, brought
up in a haven of western media imperialism, are now looking to join
the category 'black' instead- and indeed, many at the Wu Tang concert
look black in their dreadlocks, braids and streetwear. This
phenomenon isn't limited to 'other' cultures like Japan, but is happening
in cities all over the world (including Dunedin). The category
'black', publicised and spread by Hip-Hop culture, has become a political
identity signifying resistance to cultural domination, media imperialism,
So, Hip-Hop culture has demonstrated Hall's view that "[p]aradoxically,
in our world, marginality has become a powerful space".29
Through Hip-Hop, marginalised youth cultures have been able to reclaim
the local as a place to speak from, and to reclaim and re-invent their
cultural roots. Alternative art forms such as graffiti and breaking
have ruptured the flow of media imperialism in the ghettos of America
and more recently, the cities of the world. Rap music has critiqued
aspects of mainstream society through language and lyrics, and highlighted
difference against today's "sophisticated economy of sameness".30
Hip-Hop has brought the idea that "..blacks and whites might
both celebrate black values, instead of blacks simply having to accept
white values" to countries like New Zealand and Japan, who have
tailored its messages to fit their own needs for expression.31
While global communications technologies have facilitated Hip-Hop's
world-wide visibility as an alternative culture, they have also placed
it within the constrictions of commercial viability. While some
MCs have capitalised on appealing to the lowest common denominator
by reproducing mainstream stereotypes, others have managed to incorporate
the contradictions of commerciality and social conscience, using their
superstar status in positive ways. Hip-Hop culture has been
at the centre of a new production of black political identity, which
has never been monocultural or national but has syncretised different
ethnic groups on the basis of shared social and political
aims. 'Black' identity has meant making the voices of black
and other marginalised peoples speak out from their communities about
the reality of racism, inequality, and representation, and sent powerful
messages of pride and peace into international discourse.
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24 Dreamworlds 2: Desire, Sex and
Power in Music Videos [video recording], Sut Jhally (1995) 57 mins.
25 Che Fu, 2 B Spacific, BMG
New Zealand, (1997).
26 Tricia Rose, A Style Nobody
Can Deal With in Microphone Fiends: Youth Music and Youth Culture
eds. Tricia Rose & Andrew Ross (New York: Routledge, 1994).
27 Bakari Kitwana & Selwyn Hinds
, Haitian Homecoming in SOURCE Magazine, July 1997, p. 86.
28 The Show, [video recording],
29 Stuart Hall, "The Local
and the Global" (1991), p. 34.
30 Steven Connor, Postmodernist
Culture: An Introduction to the Theories of the Contemporary (Oxford:
Blackwell Publishers 1989), p. 235, quotes: Nelly Richard.
31 Kerry Buchanan, Ain't Nothin'
but a 'G' Thing in Midwest, No. 3 (1993), p. 27.
Buchanan, Kerry. "Ain't Nothin' but a 'G' Thing" Midwest
Connor, Steven. Postmodernist Culture: an Introduction to the Theories
of the Contemporary. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1989.
Delpit, Lisa. The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating
Other Peoples Children Harvard Educational Review. 58.3 August,
Grixti, Joe. Normalising the Unspeakable in New Zealand Journal
of Media Studies. 5.1 (1998).
Hall, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation
in Framework. 36 (1990-92).
--- The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity in
Culture, Globalization and the World System. Ed. Anthony King.
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Kitwana, Bakari, and Selwyn Hinds. 'Haitian Homecoming' SOURCE Magazine.
Perkins, William. ed. Droppin' Science: Critical essays on Rap Music
and Hip-Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
Rose, Tricia. A Style Nobody Can Deal With in Microphone
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Rose. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Dreamworlds 2: Desire, Sex and Power in Music Videos.
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The Show. Russell Simmons and Brian Robbins. 1996.
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Roots of Rap. Sugarhill Records/Rhino Home Video. 1998.
Che Fu. 2 B Spacific. BMG New Zealand. 1997.
Public Enemy. Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos in It Takes
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