Monday, March 05, 2007

public face

Well, now.. Hello all the folks in the Bay who may be coming here purely due to an article in the Sf Chronicle on Hip-Hop in Academia. As someone who is a dj (though not strictly hip-hop, or even loosely, really), and also an academic, I ended up being a bit of a poster child. What is unfortunate is that I NEVER EVER said "I lived hiphop." I said I was DJ. But the relationship implied by the author between hiphop as I study and hiphop "as I live it" is on the nebulous side. I listen to a good amount of hip-hop, as those of you who listen know, I incorporate it into my sets, but the idea that I live hip-hop is, well, funny. I'll concede THAT much the the concept of authenticity in hiphop (much as I despise the use of the word real or authentic) - it's not something I have, or even something I'm going for.

Ah well. I can say I'm representing one of the ways that hip-hop is making its way into academia, and I was also hoping to mention SuryaDub (at Club Six on the 4th Saturday of every month), I thought the Chron would be a good audience for that. Unfortunately that part got left out of the paper version, though I hear tell on the online version mention will be made. So much for venality.

So, they used a couple of pics of me, which was nice, and combined about a paragraph of words I said into a single-sentence quote that kinda makes no sense and leaves out the main points I was trying to make. I know everyone's on a deadline and overall I think the article is quite good, although of course I wish that my own words represented me better.

My over-arching point (which I think the article represents pretty well) is that on one level, hiphop has to be a subject of academic study to the extent that academics study anything that is a force in society. If you study politics - hiphop is there. Economics, hiphop is clearly there. Media, culture studies, well of course. I don't think that in itself should be much of a newsflash. It would be weird for fields that purport to help us understand society better to ignore huge influences on various groups in that society. That's not to say that those studies are necessarily about furthering hip-hop or will do hip-hop any favors. -But academia needs to be useful, realistic and honest about the world it is supposed to be analyzing.

Beyond that, there are good reasons for people in academia to be familiar with hip-hop (at least in terms of how it is significant to society) so that they can connecting with students who are familiar with hip-hop. I am still in the camp that college does not have to be only about reproducing or enforcing white middle-class heterosexist values. I have seen the transformative effect that college can have on people who have in the past been historically excluded. That kind of effect is helped by a college curriciulum and coursework that accurately reflects the world. In the past, people had to take World History classes that were really about Europe - the rest of the world was made visible only as it came under European domination and exploitation. People studied American history as (as my mom puts it) "a history of presidents and their advisors." But that's not the whole story. It simply isn't an accurate representation of what was going on --and certainly not an accurate representation of what was important to the majority of the world (or Americans). As well as being inaccurate, it had the effect of making students feel they had no place in what mattered. So now, for both these reasons, as we tell stories in history, economics, law, literature, and maybe in some ways the sciences as well, we need to include the voices of people around the world and they way they see it. Of course this includes hip-hop.

The issue of whether academics who write about hip-hop have credibility in hip-hop circles can be a problem, depending on what the purposes of the writing is. It's not like the only purpose of academia is representation, sometimes one is interested in case studies, examples, new ideas, alternate stories about the world. In that vein I'd like to think that studying hip-hop can teach us things we don't already know, to the extent that studying anything well can do that. I don't think it's disrespectful to hip-hop to use it in that fashion, because that's a lot of what academia does with everything. Of course that should always be critiqued, from all sides, but I don't think hip-hop itself is necessarily going to provide the only or best critique for academic practice - hip-hop itself (whatever you think it is) is not necessarily transformative (witness the recurring breast-beating and self-analysis within hip-hop, people trying to "get hiphop back" or revive it), although it can be.. same for academia.

As far as my own quote, what I was trying to get at was that hip-hop artists have an interesting relationship to law - the stories in lyrics and in personal experience often tend to paint law (in terms of its enforcement) in a negative or troubling way, but simultaneously call on the functioning of law in the music industry to enforce their ability to get paid for music.

And nowadays, the role of law in music industry is doubly vexed: on the one hand good musical practice may require sampling, mixtapes, things that appear in a legal gray area, and beyond that *not thinking about law,* in that artists maybe shouldn't have to (and usually don't) start by considering the legal implications of their musical decisions.

On the other hand, people often assume that getting paid for selling musical recording sis a normal occurrence (despite the reality that it is rarely the case, for reasons that have nothing to do with downloading), which assumes that law is set up in their favor, or at least to give them a fair shake. The reality may be different, but regardless I find it interesting.

Looking at that, I'm not surprised that it wasn't easily compressible into one sentence!


  1. Adam (from intensive German '05)Tue Mar 06, 06:24:00 PM EST

    Nice to see your reflections on this - and nice to see you & your huge record collection in the paper! I suppose it's probably to be expected that a newspaper would simplify and fuck up your quotes, though it's still a bit disappointing.... It's hard to talk in soundbites. Hope you're doing well otherwise - and drop a line if you're ever dj'ing in Santa Cruz.

  2. good to read this. i recently got in a discussion about the relevance of academic study--both in general and specifically to do with hip-hop and dancehall. i wish i had your blog entry to cite! did i just say that? gawd, i am an annoying academic.