Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness

Duke University Press
Free sample

Hip Hop Desis explores the aesthetics and politics of South Asian American (desi) hip hop artists. Nitasha Tamar Sharma argues that through their lives and lyrics, young “hip hop desis” express a global race consciousness that reflects both their sense of connection with Blacks as racialized minorities in the United States and their diasporic sensibility as part of a global community of South Asians. She emphasizes the role of appropriation and sampling in the ways that hip hop desis craft their identities, create art, and pursue social activism. Some desi artists produce what she calls “ethnic hip hop,” incorporating South Asian languages, instruments, and immigrant themes. Through ethnic hip hop, artists, including KB, Sammy, and Deejay Bella, express “alternative desiness,” challenging assumptions about their identities as South Asians, children of immigrants, minorities, and Americans. Hip hop desis also contest and seek to bridge perceived divisions between Blacks and South Asian Americans. By taking up themes considered irrelevant to many Asian Americans, desi performers, such as D’Lo, Chee Malabar of Himalayan Project, and Rawj of Feenom Circle, create a multiracial form of Black popular culture to fight racism and enact social change.
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About the author

Nitasha Tamar Sharma is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Aug 17, 2010
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Pages
366
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ISBN
9780822392897
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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 / Asian 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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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.

Written by scholars of various disciplines, the essays in this volume dig beneath the veneer of Hawai‘i’s myth as a melting pot paradise to uncover historical and complicated cross-racial dynamics. Race is not the primary paradigm through which Hawai‘i is understood. Instead, ethnic difference is celebrated as a sign of multicultural globalism that designates Hawai‘i as the crossroads of the Pacific. Racial inequality is disruptive to the tourist image of the islands. It ruptures the image of tolerance, diversity, and happiness upon which tourism, business, and so many other vested transnational interests in the islands are based. The contributors of this interdisciplinary volume reconsider Hawai‘i as a model of ethnic and multiracial harmony through the lens of race in their analysis of historical events, group relations and individual experiences, and humor, among other focal points. Beyond Ethnicity examines the dynamics between race, ethnicity, and indigeneity to challenge the primacy of ethnicity and cultural practices for examining difference in Hawai‘i while recognizing the significant role of settler colonialism. This original and thought-provoking volume reveals what a racial analysis illuminates about the current political configuration of the islands and, in doing so, challenges how we conceptualize race on the continent.

Recognizing the ways that Native Hawaiians or Kānaka Maoli are impacted by shifting, violent, and hierarchical colonial structures that include racial inequalities, the editors and contributors explore questions of personhood and citizenship through language, land, labor, and embodiment. By admitting to these tensions and ambivalences, the editors set the pace and tempo of powerfully argued essays that engage with the various ways that Kānaka Maoli and the influx of differentially racialized settlers continue to shift the social, political, and cultural terrains of the Hawaiian Islands over time.
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.

Hiplife is a popular music genre in Ghana that mixes hip-hop beatmaking and rap with highlife music, proverbial speech, and Akan storytelling. In the 1990s, young Ghanaian musicians were drawn to hip-hop's dual ethos of black masculine empowerment and capitalist success. They made their underground sound mainstream by infusing carefree bravado with traditional respectful oratory and familiar Ghanaian rhythms. Living the Hiplife is an ethnographic account of hiplife in Ghana and its diaspora, based on extensive research among artists and audiences in Accra, Ghana's capital city; New York; and London. Jesse Weaver Shipley examines the production, consumption, and circulation of hiplife music, culture, and fashion in relation to broader cultural and political shifts in neoliberalizing Ghana.

Shipley shows how young hiplife musicians produce and transform different kinds of value—aesthetic, moral, linguistic, economic—using music to gain social status and wealth, and to become respectable public figures. In this entrepreneurial age, youth use celebrity as a form of currency, aligning music-making with self-making and aesthetic pleasure with business success. Registering both the globalization of electronic, digital media and the changing nature of African diasporic relations to Africa, hiplife links collective Pan-Africanist visions with individualist aspiration, highlighting the potential and limits of social mobility for African youth.

The author has also directed a film entitled Living the Hiplife and with two DJs produced mixtapes that feature the music in the book available for free download.

In this lively ethnography Ian Condry interprets Japan’s vibrant hip-hop scene, explaining how a music and culture that originated halfway around the world is appropriated and remade in Tokyo clubs and recording studios. Illuminating different aspects of Japanese hip-hop, Condry chronicles how self-described “yellow B-Boys” express their devotion to “black culture,” how they combine the figure of the samurai with American rapping techniques and gangsta imagery, and how underground artists compete with pop icons to define “real” Japanese hip-hop. He discusses how rappers manipulate the Japanese language to achieve rhyme and rhythmic flow and how Japan’s female rappers struggle to find a place in a male-dominated genre. Condry pays particular attention to the messages of emcees, considering how their raps take on subjects including Japan’s education system, its sex industry, teenage bullying victims turned schoolyard murderers, and even America’s handling of the war on terror.

Condry attended more than 120 hip-hop performances in clubs in and around Tokyo, sat in on dozens of studio recording sessions, and interviewed rappers, music company executives, music store owners, and journalists. Situating the voices of Japanese artists in the specific nightclubs where hip-hop is performed—what musicians and fans call the genba (actual site) of the scene—he draws attention to the collaborative, improvisatory character of cultural globalization. He contends that it was the pull of grassroots connections and individual performers rather than the push of big media corporations that initially energized and popularized hip-hop in Japan. Zeebra, DJ Krush, Crazy-A, Rhymester, and a host of other artists created Japanese rap, one performance at a time.

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