Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism

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Spectacular Vernaculars examines hip-hop’s cultural rebellion in terms of its specific implications for postmodern theory and practice, using the politics of reception as its primary rhetorical ground. Hip-hop culture in general, and rap music in particular, present model sites for such an inquiry, since they enact both postmodern modes of production—the appropriation of tropes, technologies, and material culture—and a potential means of resistance to the commodification of cultural forms under late capitalism. By paying specific attention to the historical and cultural context of hip-hop as a black artform and locating its practice of resistance in terms of a postmodernist reading of consumer culture, this book offers a complex reading of hip-hop as a postmodern practice, with implications both for theories of postmodernism and cultural studies as a whole.
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About the author

Russell A. Potter is Assistant Professor of English at Colby College. He hosts a weekly radio program, Roots-n-Rap, in Waterville, Maine.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
197
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ISBN
9781438416397
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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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.

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia's parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run "Quiet War" in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia's pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Parents and doctors both wanted the best for Lia, but their ideas about the causes of her illness and its treatment could hardly have been more different. The Hmong see illness aand healing as spiritual matters linked to virtually everything in the universe, while medical community marks a division between body and soul, and concerns itself almost exclusively with the former. Lia's doctors ascribed her seizures to the misfiring of her cerebral neurons; her parents called her illness, qaug dab peg--the spirit catches you and you fall down--and ascribed it to the wandering of her soul. The doctors prescribed anticonvulsants; her parents preferred animal sacrifices.

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