The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the LA Underground

Duke University Press
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Project Blowed is a legendary hiphop workshop based in Los Angeles. It began in 1994 when a group of youths moved their already renowned open-mic nights from the Good Life, a Crenshaw district health food store, to the KAOS Network, an arts center in Leimert Park. The local freestyle of articulate, rapid-fire, extemporaneous delivery, the juxtaposition of meaningful words and sounds, and the way that MCs followed one another without missing a beat, quickly became known throughout the LA underground. Leimert Park has long been a center of African American culture and arts in Los Angeles, and Project Blowed inspired youth throughout the city to consider the neighborhood the epicenter of their own cultural movement. The Real Hiphop is an in-depth account of the language and culture of Project Blowed, based on the seven years Marcyliena Morgan spent observing the workshop and the KAOS Network. Morgan is a leading scholar of hiphop, and throughout the volume her ethnographic analysis of the LA underground opens up into a broader examination of the artistic and cultural value of hiphop.

Morgan intersperses her observations with excerpts from interviews and transcripts of freestyle lyrics. Providing a thorough linguistic interpretation of the music, she teases out the cultural antecedents and ideologies embedded in the language, emphases, and wordplay. She discusses the artistic skills and cultural knowledge MCs must acquire to rock the mic, the socialization of hiphop culture’s core and long-term members, and the persistent focus on skills, competition, and evaluation. She brings attention to adults who provided material and moral support to sustain underground hiphop, identifies the ways that women choose to participate in Project Blowed, and vividly renders the dynamics of the workshop’s famous lyrical battles.

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About the author

Marcyliena Morgan, Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, is the founder and executive director of the Hiphop Archive and the author of Language, Discourse, and Power in African American Culture.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Apr 13, 2009
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Pages
224
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ISBN
9780822392125
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / Genres & Styles / Rap & Hip Hop
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Dr. Dre. Snoop Dogg. Ice Cube. Some of the biggest stars in hip hop made their careers in Los Angeles. And today there is a new generation of young, mostly black, men busting out rhymes and hoping to one day find themselves “blowin’ up”—getting signed to a record label and becoming famous. Many of these aspiring rappers get their start in Leimart Park, home to the legendary hip hop open-mic workshop Project Blowed. In Blowin’ Up, Jooyoung Lee takes us deep inside Project Blowed and the surrounding music industry, offering an unparalleled look at hip hop in the making.

While most books on rap are written from the perspective of listeners and the market, Blowin’ Up looks specifically at the creative side of rappers. As Lee shows, learning how to rap involves a great deal of discipline, and it takes practice to acquire the necessary skills to put on a good show. Along with Lee—who is himself a pop-locker—we watch as the rappers at Project Blowed learn the basics, from how to hold a microphone to how to control their breath amid all those words. And we meet rappers like E. Crimsin, Nocando, VerBS, and Flawliss as they freestyle and battle with each other. For the men at Project Blowed, hip hop offers a creative alternative to the gang lifestyle, substituting verbal competition for physical violence, and provides an outlet for setting goals and working toward them.

Engagingly descriptive and chock-full of entertaining personalities and real-life vignettes, Blowin’ Up not only delivers a behind-the-scenes view of the underground world of hip hop, but also makes a strong case for supporting the creative aspirations of young, urban, black men, who are often growing up in the shadow of gang violence and dead-end jobs.
At once the most lucrative, popular, and culturally oppositional musical force in the United States, hip hop demands the kind of interpretation Imani Perry provides here: criticism engaged with this vibrant musical form on its own terms. A scholar and a fan, Perry considers the art, politics, and culture of hip hop through an analysis of song lyrics, the words of the prophets of the hood. Recognizing prevailing characterizations of hip hop as a transnational musical form, Perry advances a powerful argument that hip hop is first and foremost black American music. At the same time, she contends that many studies have shortchanged the aesthetic value of rap by attributing its form and content primarily to socioeconomic factors. Her innovative analysis revels in the artistry of hip hop, revealing it as an art of innovation, not deprivation.

Perry offers detailed readings of the lyrics of many hip hop artists, including Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul, krs-One, OutKast, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Tupac Shakur, Lil’ Kim, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Method Man, and Lauryn Hill. She focuses on the cultural foundations of the music and on the form and narrative features of the songs—the call and response, the reliance on the break, the use of metaphor, and the recurring figures of the trickster and the outlaw. Perry also provides complex considerations of hip hop’s association with crime, violence, and misogyny. She shows that while its message may be disconcerting, rap often expresses brilliant insights about existence in a society mired in difficult racial and gender politics. Hip hop, she suggests, airs a much wider, more troubling range of black experience than was projected during the civil rights era. It provides a unique public space where the sacred and the profane impulses within African American culture unite.

In A Language of Song, Samuel Charters—one of the pioneering collectors of African American music—writes of a trip to West Africa where he found “a gathering of cultures and a continuing history that lay behind the flood of musical expression [he] encountered everywhere . . . from Brazil to Cuba, to Trinidad, to New Orleans, to the Bahamas, to dance halls of west Louisiana and the great churches of Harlem.” In this book, Charters takes readers along to those and other places, including Jamaica and the Georgia Sea Islands, as he recounts experiences from a half-century spent following, documenting, recording, and writing about the Africa-influenced music of the United States, Brazil, and the Caribbean.

Each of the book’s fourteen chapters is a vivid rendering of a particular location that Charters visited. While music is always his focus, the book is filled with details about individuals, history, landscape, and culture. In first-person narratives, Charters relates voyages including a trip to the St. Louis home of the legendary ragtime composer Scott Joplin and the journey to West Africa, where he met a man who performed an hours-long song about the Europeans’ first colonial conquests in Gambia. Throughout the book, Charters traces the persistence of African musical culture despite slavery, as well as the influence of slaves’ songs on subsequent musical forms. In evocative prose, he relates a lifetime of travel and research, listening to brass bands in New Orleans; investigating the emergence of reggae, ska, and rock-steady music in Jamaica’s dancehalls; and exploring the history of Afro-Cuban music through the life of the jazz musician Bebo Valdés. A Language of Song is a unique expedition led by one of music’s most observant and well-traveled explorers.

A hybrid of reggae and rap, reggaeton is a music with Spanish-language lyrics and Caribbean aesthetics that has taken Latin America, the United States, and the world by storm. Superstars—including Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Ivy Queen—garner international attention, while aspiring performers use digital technologies to create and circulate their own tracks. Reggaeton brings together critical assessments of this wildly popular genre. Journalists, scholars, and artists delve into reggaeton’s local roots and its transnational dissemination; they parse the genre’s aesthetics, particularly in relation to those of hip-hop; and they explore the debates about race, nation, gender, and sexuality generated by the music and its associated cultural practices, from dance to fashion.

The collection opens with an in-depth exploration of the social and sonic currents that coalesced into reggaeton in Puerto Rico during the 1990s. Contributors consider reggaeton in relation to that island, Panama, Jamaica, and New York; Cuban society, Miami’s hip-hop scene, and Dominican identity; and other genres including reggae en español, underground, and dancehall reggae. The reggaeton artist Tego Calderón provides a powerful indictment of racism in Latin America, while the hip-hop artist Welmo Romero Joseph discusses the development of reggaeton in Puerto Rico and his refusal to embrace the upstart genre. The collection features interviews with the DJ/rapper El General and the reggae performer Renato, as well as a translation of “Chamaco’s Corner,” the poem that served as the introduction to Daddy Yankee’s debut album. Among the volume’s striking images are photographs from Miguel Luciano’s series Pure Plantainum, a meditation on identity politics in the bling-bling era, and photos taken by the reggaeton videographer Kacho López during the making of the documentary Bling’d: Blood, Diamonds, and Hip-Hop.

Contributors. Geoff Baker, Tego Calderón, Carolina Caycedo, Jose Davila, Jan Fairley, Juan Flores, Gallego (José Raúl González), Félix Jiménez, Kacho López, Miguel Luciano, Wayne Marshall, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Alfredo Nieves Moreno, Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo, Deborah Pacini Hernandez, Raquel Z. Rivera, Welmo Romero Joseph, Christoph Twickel, Alexandra T. Vazquez

*NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER*

“A gripping journey.”—People

The highly anticipated memoir from hip-hop icon Rick Ross chronicles his coming of age amid Miami’s crack epidemic, his star-studded controversies and his unstoppable rise to fame.

Rick Ross is an indomitable presence in the music industry, but few people know his full story. Now, for the first time, Ross offers a vivid, dramatic and unexpectedly candid account of his early childhood, his tumultuous adolescence and his dramatic ascendancy in the world of hip-hop.

Born William Leonard Roberts II, Ross grew up “across the bridge,” in a Miami at odds with the glitzy beaches, nightclubs and yachts of South Beach. In the aftermath of the 1980 race riots and the Mariel boatlift, Ross came of age at the height of the city’s crack epidemic, when home invasions and execution-style killings were commonplace. Still, in the midst of the chaos and danger that surrounded him, Ross flourished, first as a standout high school football player and then as a dope boy in Carol City’s notorious Matchbox housing projects. All the while he honed his musical talent, overcoming setback after setback until a song called “Hustlin’” changed his life forever.

From the making of “Hustlin’” to his first major label deal with Def Jam, to the controversy surrounding his past as a correctional officer and the numerous health scares, arrests and feuds he had to transcend along the way, Hurricanes is a revealing portrait of one of the biggest stars in the rap game, and an intimate look at the birth of an artist.
“In its original run on HBO, The Sopranos mattered, and it matters still,” Dana Polan asserts early in this analysis of the hit show, in which he sets out to clarify the impact and importance of the series in both its cultural and media-industry contexts. A renowned film and TV scholar, Polan combines a close and extended reading of the show itself—and of select episodes and scenes—with broader attention to the social landscape with which it is in dialogue. For Polan, The Sopranos is a work of playful irony that complicates simplistic attempts to grasp its meanings and values. The show seductively beckons the viewer into an amoral universe, hinting at ways to make sense of its ethically complicated situations, only to challenge the viewer’s complacent grasp of things. It deftly exploits the interplay between art culture and popular culture by mixing elements of art cinema—meandering plots, narrative breaks, and an uncertain progression—with the allure of a soap opera, delving into its characters’ sex lives, mob rivalries, and parent–child conflicts.

A show about corrupt figures who parasitically try to squeeze illicit profit from the system, The Sopranos itself seems a target of attempts to glom on to its fame as a successful TV series: attempts by media executives, marketers, critics and writers, and even presidential candidates. “Everyone wants a piece of Sopranos action,” says Polan, and he traces the marketing of the series across both official and unauthorized media platforms, including cookbooks, games, DVDs, and the kitschy Sopranos bus tour. Critiquing previous books on The Sopranos, Polan suggests that in their quest to find deep meaning, many of the authors missed the show’s ironic and comedic side.

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