HARDLY OZ, BUT WE'RE NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT THE BRONX ANYMORE... (Global Hip Hop Part One)
In the retrospective shadow of the first full decade of the twenty-first century, it seems clear that the culture of hip hop has become a global culture and phenomenon. For most it has become quite easy, and something of a vogue articulation, to declare hip hop suddenly "global," but as renowned black scholar Robin D. G. Kelley affirms, in his 2006 preface to The Vinyl Ain't Final: Hip Hop and the Globalization of Black Popular Culture (2006), from its inception hip hop has been a globalized production. That is, beyond just being the music of those late 1970s' Bronx beboppers and hippopers, those breakers and shakers, urban emcees and diasporic deejays, soul-babies and their disco ladies, those bboys and, well, you get the point, hip hop was also already a global product, as music produced through a convergence between many marginalized cultures, communities, and ethnic practitioners. As the most technologically innovative, musically excavative, expressively appropriative, music of the postindustrial urban environ, most scholars have located the development of hip hop in the Bronx, New York with incipient turntablist Jamaican deejay, DJ Kool Herc. As a collaborative mixing of Jamaican sound systems and deejay culture, Afro-infused beats and rhythms, techno and disco-infused breaks, hip-hop emerged out of a history of transnational and multicultural connections and connectivities. Yet, the music is no longer the localized product of American youth expression. Hip hop has grown in its reach and its techniques of expression, in its scope and in its influence. An account of just how lucrative (and how influential, by way of its creating and redirecting massive pockets of wealth), the business of hip hop has been around the world can be found in the number of international record sales, global concerts, and global downloads. Influencing the lives of billions around the world, in a global marketplace, the influence of hip hop can no longer even be seen as one-directional. With the recent emergence of producers such as Pharrell, or rappers like Lupe Fiasco (with his Japanese fashion/tech-savy persona, "Japanese sensibilities" as he terms it), it has become harder and harder to discuss hip-hop as moving out from any strict national point of origin.
In my larger work, I am interested in looking at the ways in which hip-hop has expanded its domain. Scholars are just beginning to take notice of much of the creative, intellectual, and philosophical cross-pollination that has been occurring within hip hop over the last thirty-plus years. Reference to figures like Mao-Tse-Tung, Alexander Pushkin, Fidel Castro, Yao Ming, to name but a few, have continued to seep into the singles and LPs of hip-hop artists thousands of miles away--artists who are often separated not only by national shores, but also by the political boundaries of their time.
Of course these references aren't anything new for hip hop fans. For the last quarter-century, hip-hop has pushed beyond national borders and ethnic and racial divisions to develop into what can only be described as an example of a world-culture's most dominant expressive forms. Alongside fashion and film, it seems that no single industry has had as much global say as hip-hop music. As such, it occurs to me that we might want to begin theorizing a "hip hop diaspora." That is, a community of individuals spread out across multiple continents who share a common language, political point of view, practice of expression, history and, perhaps to summarize, culture. Theorizing a diasporic community as centered around hip hop culture calls for an understanding of belong as emergent from an aesthetic that allows for conventionally non-naturalizable modes of connection, linkage, and association between disparate political and cultural, racial, and ethnic communities.
An example of this might be drawn from the connections between the hip hop being produced in the United States and the hip hop being produced in Taiwan currently. Compare the following two videos, one perhaps familiar to the everyday, American hip hop fan, a song entitled "I Can" by Queensbridge-born (New York) Emcee, Nas. The other, a song perhaps a little less familiar to American hip hop audiences called "I Can" (我可以) by Taiwanese rapper 大支 (Dog G). Both show hip hop to be a practice of diaspora or at least as having the potential to be used to form diasporic community. As a set of aesthetic practices, hip hop can serve as a non-spatial site of origin(s), such that each time someone practices its aesthetics, the musical production can act as a figured return to the homeland. Diaspora traditionally has been articulated in terms of forced migrations and racializations, but I would like here to rethink diaspora as a terms that highlights the willful and intentional transnational connections of groups politically dispossessed of certain rights and responsibilities who see themselves as sharing, historically or politically, aspects of common expressive culture. Just some deep thoughts to ponder.
Enjoy the transnational grooves in our sonic interconnectivity and try to imagine the ways in which hip hop's movement across global channels over the next decade will continue to transform the world in which we live.
Keep sending me your feedback, family. And thanks to all my "Zhong Guo Ren" readers...
Signing Off (Zai Jian),
Hip Hop Illiterate