Tag Archives: hiphop culture

“Negus” Dance Film

Negus- noun: Kingship, royalty.

Inspired by the works of artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kehinde Wiley, I wanted to explore different levels of identity and representation of the black male in the United States. “Negus” is a Hip-hop work that asks African-American males, where do we come from, who are we now, what values do we uphold, what obstacles do we face in this society, and how do we overcome them?

In asking these questions, “Negus” seeks to use Hip-hop as a way to portray the humanity of the black male figure. In doing so, it directly opposes the commercial rap world– a primary source for the portrayal of the stereotypical black man–and delves deeply into some complications about certain aspects of the African-American experience.

“Negus” premiered at Urban Art Space in Columbus, OH in January of 2016. This film both captures the essence of the original work and completely wrecks it simultaneously. Within the film aspects of controversy between who we are and who we could/should be are portrayed as well as lighter themes such as rhythm, fun, etc. I hope this helps give you a way into viewing the film and I hope you enjoy!

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and the Fate of the Black Male pt 4

As much as the prison complex and the rap industry affect the livelihood of black males in society, they also affect the way in which black males are seen in this society. Again, the understanding of how a criminal label can affect how you are seen is fairly simple, but the role of the commercial rap industry is more complicated and subdued. If the prison complex is used to label African American males as criminals, then the commercial rap industry substantiates that labeling by portraying an enjoyment of the lifestyle that leads to prison. Take the industry’s use of Travis Scott, for example. Scott is a contemporary rapper worth 2.5 million dollars whose most recent song, Antidote, has been on Billboard’s Top 15 rap songs for weeks. Here is an excerpt from Antidote, “I might do it all again / I just hit a three peat / fucked three hoes I met this week / I don’t do no old hoes / my nigga that’s a no-no / she just want the coco / I just want dinero / who that at the front door? /if it’s the feds oh-no-no” (Travis). Travis Scott grew up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas in a two-parent home with his father running a business and his mother working for Apple. He went to college, but dropped out. Travis Scott lived in a socio-economic status that is less likely to be influenced by gang culture and criminal behavior yet, his counter-cultural lyrics still portray a blatant and monotonous display of criminality while rejecting the idea of instilling value through socially conscious poetry.

The commercial rap industry has used African American males like Travis Scott to rid the diversification of Hip-hop’s counter-cultural mentality in order to display African American males as a demographic that embraces the lifestyle of a criminal. Therefore, the commercial rap industry is aiding in the dehumanization of African American males by portraying the notion that we as a community enjoy lifestyles that lead to second-class citizenship.

Using lyrics from the 7-grammy award winner Kendrick Lamar, the commercial rap industry is saying, “Fuck niggas’/No better than Samuel or Django/No better than a white man with slave boats” (Kendrick). Yet, Kendrick’s words can also be used to show the battle that Hip-hop culture is currently fighting against the criminalization of African American males:

“Retraced my steps on what they never taught me/Did my homework fast before government caught me…[this is] straight from Ethiopia/N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty- wait listen/N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish/The history books overlook the word and hide it/America tried to make it to a house divided/The homies don’t recognize we been using it wrong/So I’ma break it down and put my game in a song.” (Kendrick)

In showing the royal lineage of African Americans, Kendrick Lamar exemplifies Hip-hop culture’s resistance against the “second-class citizen” stigma of said demographic. However, the emcee element of Hip-hop is not the only one fighting this battle. Hip-hop dance, with its growing influence in American mainstream culture, can have a massive impact on the identity and perception of African American males in this country. As a Hip-hop choreographer and teacher in graduate school, I have studied the ways in which the values of Hip-hop culture—Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun—can be cultivated within a studio classroom and a concert stage environment (Chang 105). As a result I’ve created artistic works that use street dance styles to raise awareness on issues such as police brutality, and explore ideas of identity and representation in regards to African American males living in this society. I’ve also created weekly Hip-hop dance classes in the city of Columbus called “onCUE” where “CUE” is an acrostic for create, unite, and empower. These dance classes are for the entire community where students learn foundational street dance techniques in order to grasp a new way to connect with themselves and to converse with others; thus, encouraging the dissolution of social, economic, political, and criminal barriers.

By introducing a pro-cultural agenda through Hip-hop dance, I am combatting both the “second-class citizen” label brought on by mass incarceration and the criminalization of commercialized rap music. My efforts might not be enough to change the system, but I’ve witnessed the affects enough to know that it changes lives including my own. I’ve gone from seeing myself as solely a thief to proclaiming that I am a dancer. I am a teacher. I am an artist. I am a scholar. But most importantly, I am an embodiment of the positive influence that a criminal can have on this society through Hip-hop.

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press, 2012. Print.

“Billboard Hot Rap Songs.” n.p. n.d. Web. 23 February 2016.

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-hop Generation. New York: St. Martin’s, 2005. Print.

Cummings, Pond. Andre Douglas. “Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice.” Social Science Research Network (2009): 19. Web. 23 February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar. “i.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap. dir. Ice T. Indomina Releasing, 2012. DVD.

Travis Scott. “Antidote.” Genius. 23 February 2016.

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and The Fate of the Black Male pt 3

Part 3:

Ice Cube—previous member of the rap group, NWA—in The Art of Rap says, “What [street knowledge] means to me is letting the streets know what the politicians is trying to do to them and then letting the politicians know what the streets think of them, if they’re listening.” In the same interview, Ice T then responds with, “I wanted somebody to take my album, when they done, be more intelligent about the game than they were. Versus me saying that I’m tough…” (Something From Nothing). This insinuates that even the “gangsta’ rappers” of the 1980’s who dropped the F-bomb like it was a preposition had an intent to instill values into their hood and into the minds of anyone who would listen.

The rappers of today previously mentioned in the list of chart toppers don’t seem to have any similar kind of intent behind their music. Social conscious messaging is either completely void from these artists’ work or it exists and is swept under the rug by the rap industry. When you look at a rapper like Yo Gotti, his latest album The Art Of Hustle—which features a Billboard top 15 song, Down In The DM—begins with the track My City, which is an authentic reflection of life in Yo Gotti’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Yet, Down In The DM holds almost 11 million views on Youtube compared to My City’s 43,000 views, thus showing the disparity in the kinds of counter-cultural Hip-hop music that is played on a commercial level today.

Michelle Alexander in the New Jim Crow established what the label of “second-class citizen” implies in this country: discrimination equal to the treatment of blacks during slavery and the Jim Crow era. However, how is commercialized Hip-hop related to this label of second-class citizenship? The number of incarcerated African American males is at an all time high in the United States. Simultaneously, the most influential medium for black men to be heard by a mainstream audience has shifted towards a counter-cultural movement that represents excessive sex, illegal drug use, and violence. I suggest that the combination of the two is a powerful force that negatively influences the ways in which African-American males identify themselves in this country and the ways in which others identify them.

When I was ten years old I moved to the edges of inner city Philadelphia. It was the first time I had been in an environment where the majority of people around me resembled my ethnicity and racial make-up on a daily basis. As a boy trying to fit in, I found myself listening to rap music and watching Hip-hop music videos through 106 and Park on BET (Black Entertainment Television) despite my parents’ strict opposition against such things. I was a part of a Christian home with both parents invested into my life, yet I remember how my mind solely desired the fruits of my Hip-hop influenced environment. I wanted to wear the baggie clothes of Puff Daddy, talk like 50 Cent, and get the girls like Nelly. Naturally, I started cursing whenever my parents were absent, I sagged my pants as soon as I left the embrace of my mother to go off to school, and I talked to females like they were meant for only one thing. The black males I looked up to in the media influenced the way in which I viewed the world, even in contest with my own parents’ teachings. If my ten-year-old mind was so influenced by the counter-culture of commercialized Hip-hop that my parents felt a need to move me from Philadelphia after 3 years, I can only imagine the magnitude of influence it has on young black boys whose fathers are in jail.

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and The Fate of the Black Male pt 2

Part 2:

Interestingly, there has been another movement, the Hip-hop movement, transpiring in urban environments, especially amongst African American males. Hip-hop’s music has always been used to represent a counter-cultural movement. However, the ways in which Hip-hop has accomplished this has shifted since it has become more commodified. In the 1980’s and 90’s Hip-hop was an amalgamation of messages and sounds as artists from all over the United States gained the access to rep their hood on a mainstream platform. Therefore, Hip-hop as a whole began to reject the norms of American culture by both positively empowering the black community and glorifying criminal behavior. Andre Douglas and Pond Cummings in Thug Life: Hip Hop’s Curious Relationship with Criminal Justice emphasize the latter part of this complex discourse in saying:

Hip-hop exposes the current punishment regime as profoundly unfair. It demonstrates this view by, if not glorifying lawbreakers, at least not viewing all criminals with disgust, which the law seeks to attach to them. Hip-hop points out the incoherence of the law’s construct of crime, and it attacks the legitimacy of the system. (19)

Songs such as Me So Horny by 2 Live Crew, Fuck The Police by Niggaz Wit Attidudes (NWA), and 6 In the Mornin’ by Ice T, which perpetuated violence and a gangsta lifestyle, stood in harmony with the socially conscious messages of My Philosophy by Boogie Down Productions, The Message by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, and Fight The Power by Public Enemy. Ultimately, they all told their own story in their own way without apology, and it created a plethora of counter-cultural themes within the same genre.

This brought up the question for me, “Is the diversity of rap music still prevalent today on the commercial level?” I did an analysis of Billboard’s “Hot Rap Songs” of 2016 to explore this query. The top rap artists played through a commercial medium are Drake, Yo Gotti, Travis Scott, Future, Young Thug, Fetty Wap, and 2 Chainz. These rappers account for over 90% of the Billboard’s top 15 rap songs in 2016 (Billboard). I’ve listened to every song created by these artists that are posted on Billboard this month, and every single one falls into one or more of the counter-cultural themes of drugs, violence, or excessive sex while not one represents education or the exposing of issues within our government, our cities, or our country.

 

The b(AA)ttle

This project explores the impact of many commercial rap songs on our society in regards to the representation of blackness in America.

It also combats the use of glorifying criminalization within rap songs as a way to silence the productive voices of blackness and black people in this country.

Enjoy!

Put Your Hands Up: Hip-hop, Incarceration, and the Fate of the Black Male pt1

Hey y’all,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Honestly, I’ve tried, but for my last semester of grad school…let’s just say senior-itis has not had any room to hit me. In grinding through this busy semester I did accomplish one of my goals– write a research paper and present it at Ohio State’s most distinguished graduate school research competition (applause applause “thank you very much” applause applause)! It got a lot of great reception and I thought it would be something people are interested in. Since it’s a 7-page paper I decided to split it into 4 parts to share with you all throughout this month. I hope you all enjoy!

Part I:

 

I am a graduate. I am Hip-hop. I am a criminal. In a few short weeks I will proudly graduate with a Master’s degree in Dance from Ohio State University with a focus in Hip-hop dance and culture. Graduation should be a time to celebrate, as I have accomplished an educational milestone that allows me to become a productive and influential citizen to society. However, sometimes I truly dread graduation because, for me, life transitions mean uncertainty—the uncertainty caused by poor decisions as a young adult. I wonder if my criminal record will deter me from opportunities that I could otherwise have. Two misdemeanors of theft have stigmatized me in the eyes of many—just another negative Black statistic.

Consider the correlation between the incidences of incarcerated African American males and the heightened glorification of criminality within contemporary commercial rap music. Today, the African American male is the prominent figurehead of both the industrial prison complex and the commercial rap industry in the United Sates. I will discuss how both discourses aid each other in the marginalization of the black male in American society through a textual analysis of scholarly literature and rap lyrics. I will also explore how Hip-hop dance can combat the stigmatization of African American males perpetuated by both the criminal system and the rap industry through a critical analysis of my work as a graduate student in Hip-hop dance.

Since the 1970’s the number of people incarcerated into the prison system has quintupled from 350,000 to over 2 million (Alexander 8). In some cities, more than fifty percent of the prison population consists of African American males. Today, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost one of every three African American males will go to prison in their lifetime. One out of every three. Look around. 1-2-Prison. That means over 7 million African American males will be labeled “criminal.” Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow provides insight as to what that label entails in saying:

Even when released from the system’s formal control, the stigma of criminality lingers. Police supervision, monitoring, and harassment are facts of life… a criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind—discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote. (141)

The charges that most of these criminals face are for non-violent crimes such as the illegal use of drugs or the illegal selling of those drugs. Yet, these non-violent offenses, though largely self-induced, have laid the foundation for a pernicious, socially violent, movement that labels African American males as second-class citizens—a permanent stigma that is difficult to overcome.

 

Hip-Hop and Christianity: Mutually Exclusive or Nah?

HIP-HOP: Healing, Intelligence, Purpose- Hate, Obnoxious, Pain. Like anything and everything in this world, Hip-hop contains both good and bad. However, what side you stand on as you claim, “I am Hip-hop” is what decides the fate, memory, and trajectory of the culture.

KRS-One claims that one of the first rules to being a Hip-hoppa’ is that you have to claim to be Hip-hop (40 Years of Hip-Hop). So, I sit here today and profess that I am Hip-hop. I also profess, even more strongly, that I am Christian. For me, I’ve never seen an issue with claiming both of those things. Actually, I’ve constantly been aware of how the philosophies of both Hip-hop and Christianity intertwine with each other: I’m a king and you’re a king, we’re all kings (J. Cole) and love your neighbor as you love yourself (J.Esus) just as an example. I know a huge part of being a Christian is showing God’s love through your actions towards yourself and towards others on a daily basis. I also know a foundational mentality in Hip-hop is the importance of creating a community where each individual can express their true selves freely as a result of the love from the community. Since I’ve searched for a deeper understanding of who I am, what Hip-hop is, and who God is, I’ve only seen the parallels and connections between all three. Not that I am oblivious to the negatives of Hip-hop culture—quite the opposite actually—but I decide to focus on Hip-hop as another way of cultivating the spirit of God through ourselves and to each other.

But…I’ve come across a different mindset recently. I had an intriguing and informative talk with a good friend who didn’t see how Hip-hop glorifies God. To him, the culture and the mindset is too focused on materialism, misogyny, drugs, and gangs to be something of God. How can Christians be a part of something so foul—so anti-God? He showed me this article that perpetuated his query of Hip-hop culture in the eyes of a Christian. In this article (published through a site called “exministries”) it claimed that Christians should not be a part of Hip-hop because it is a religious sub-culture that glorifies the self rather than Christ. Since the culture was created by ex-gang members, embraced by gang members, and cultivated through parties, the fabric of the culture is one that Christ rejects; and therefore, we as Christians should not be a part of it.

Well yes, Hip-hop certainly does seek to encourage self-worth: Hip-hop says I am a king/queen, Hip-hop says I can achieve anything that I want to do, and Hip-hop says learn about yourself and your own history. But why does that have to mean that God cannot be within Hip-hop? To me, I am a king because God called me to be one. God says I am perfectly and wonderfully made…so if the King of all kings made me perfectly and wonderfully, who am I not to say that through Christ, I am a king? Yes, I can achieve whatever I want to because I have the Holy Spirit guiding my thoughts and actions, and whatever God claims is mine is mine, so I’m going to seek to take what I want whether it be status, power, influence, success, purpose, or whatever through the name of Jesus. Yes, I need to learn about myself because how else will I move forward towards God with clarity if I do not work to remove my chains that are holding me down? And finally, yes, I need to know my own history because God placed people here before me so that I may stand on their shoulders with a sense of gratitude and praise as God shows me where I come from and where I can go.

To me, Hip-hop is a tool. Like any sub-culture it is a manifestation of the people who live within it. Without people, Hip-hop does not exist. Therefore it is simply something to be used. Now, how you use it… that’s up to you. If you as a person represent gang culture, drugs, misogyny, violence, etc. and you love Hip-hop, well Hip-hop is going to show itself in that way. If you bring God into Hip-hop, then Hip-hop is going to show Godliness. And, honestly, even though Hip-hop was created and embraced by people who were a part of gangs, the movement was created as a way to get a way from that life style. The foundations are peace, love, unity, and having fun… three out of the four Hip-hop elements, arguably four, are elements of Godliness and are shared by the philosophy of Christianity. And although Hip-hop has veered towards a lot of negative things—especially through the commercialization of the culture and the commodification of Hip-hop music—that is still not a reason to not embrace it as a Christian. There’s this thing that we believe as Christians and its called redemption. If we as humans can be born into sin and yet be forgiven and raised anew through Jesus, then why can’t we bring the same concept to Hip-hop? As I go into the professional Hip-hop dance world, there are going to be a lot of struggles as I will be in an environment where many people don’t use Hip-hop in the way I do. Yet, I feel very strongly about going into the world anyways so that I can show another way, a truly positive and loving way, for Hip-hop to be used.

When Will the Ghetto’s Creation “Infest” the “Pristine” Fabric of the Institution?

I want to tell y’all a story ‘cuz Hip-hop showed me something…

I remember witnessing 20-plus students in my classroom allow fear and insecurity to inhibit them from comforting and helping a couple of vulnerable students. See, I had given the class a task:

 

  1. Create a circle
  2. One person at a time: go into the circle, dance, and continue dancing until everyone is in the middle of the circle
  3. Once everyone is in the middle, one person at a time, exit back to the edge of the circle in the order in which you entered

 

I ask if everyone understands. They say they do. I ask if anyone has questions. They say they don’t. I play the music. And the aura of the room stiffens. I’ve never felt so much tension in a room before as people looked to their-left-and-their-right in an awkward attempt to say, “anyone but me is going to enter that circle first!” Finally, after about a minute or so, this brave female enters the space. Kicking her knees and legs in a frivolously rhythmic pattern, she overcomes the tension in order to share herself with her classmates. After her, one, two, three more students sequentially come to the middle in order to connect physically and spiritually with this first energetic soul. We’re on a roll! But not really. Because almost two minutes later those same 4 students are dancing and exerting themselves in the middle of the circle as their fellow students simply watch like an audience at a golf tournament.

My patience quickly turned into a gamut of dramatic emotion. I snap the music off and frustratingly spill out, “It’s interesting to me how we can have these four people overcome their insecurities in order to do what most of us could not do (go into the middle of the circle) and tire themselves out in the process; yet, instead of joining them, thus putting an end to their exhaustion and vulnerability, we’d rather stand here and watch them continuously suffer…”

I believe all dance forms allow the opportunity for practitioners to apply their experience with dance to the challenges and achievements of life. However, I have rarely felt any Eurocentric dance form make me look at my culture, my worldview, and my society quite like Hip-hop dance has. I think it’s because Hip-hop is not just a dance, but also a convoluted and complex culture that spawns the arts such as dance, visual art, music, fashion, and poetry. As I reflect on that mentioned teaching experience, I fascinate at Hip-hop’s ability to reveal ourselves to ourselves. The way in which we think and behave in society was transferred into a fairly simple, yet clearly complicated exercise.

Despite this, rarely is Hip-hop embedded into the foundational Eurocentric structure of dance departments throughout America. The stigmatization of Hip-hop as a recreational and commercial fad has blinded institutions to see Hip-hop as a useful, powerful, and educational tool that can be beneficial for dance majors as well as elective students. As a result, students are graduating into the professional world without valuable Hip-hop lessons that would not only inform the way in which they move, but also the way in which they tap into their potential as thinkers and social beings.

I’ve been so blessed to be here at Ohio State as it has allowed me to see how important Hip-hop dance is to critiquing our flaws and displaying our potential as citizens in America. As I prepare to graduate I am nothing but excited to see how else this Hip-hop dance form can change lives, communities, and societies for the better.

Where White People Say “Nigga” Freely: Reflection of my Kendrick Lamar Concert Experience

Two weekends ago I was the most excited I’ve been in a while. I was going to see one of the most prominent figures in Hip-hop music and culture: Kendrick Lamar. I was hype because although I’m a Hip-hop dancer, I really don’t get down with a lot of rappers. Kendrick, however, is one of the few rappers who I consider to be an artist within the emcee element of Hip-hop culture. I don’t agree with how he says a lot of things, but that is beside the point as he produces products that allow for one to take an introspective look into their character, their relationships, and their society. Kendrick’s lyrics personally encourage me to search for a deeper knowledge about the different cultures I represent and how that affects the way I negotiate myself within the structures of American society. Whether it’s replaying the words of Tupac Shakur in order to discuss a philosophy of revolution that spawns from the enlarging gap between the rich and the poor, or providing historical knowledge of the convoluted n-word that goes beyond the African-American experience of slavery, I can count on the words of Kendrick Lamar to constantly help me question what is happening in today’s society. So yea, I was pretty hype to let loose and enjoy the concert; and I paid enough money, waited enough time in line, and suffered through enough bad weather to deserve enjoying that concert! However, I quickly realized that my being at this event was not for my blissful enjoyment, but rather for a heavy educational experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about black males who identify themselves through Hip-hop culture and how stereotypes of that demographic serve as evidence for mainstream audiences to justify devaluing black males within American society. All cultures have their own stereotypes, but there may be no other demographic whose stereotypes affect the way they are seen and treated in society as much as black men in America. Stigmatizations such as the dangerous thug, the uncontrolled sex symbol, the violent drug dealer, and the primal athlete aid in many people’s reasoning as to why so many black males are incarcerated, why so many black females are single mothers, why black-on-black crime is so high, and why the black male academic dropout rate is so high. And, Hip-hop culture, specifically rap music, is constantly dealing with receiving ridicule for enforcing these stigmatizations.

So, I’m observing Kendrick Lamar express what I believe to be an authentic and artistic description of his life—an on-going struggle to find a sense of true and positive self in the midst of growing up in one of the most dangerous urban areas in America. As a result, lyrics with themes such as violence, drugs, gang life, and more are being portrayed as a representation of the culture in which Kendrick grew up in. And, in what I believe is an attempt to keep it real as an artist, the word “nigga” is constantly flowing from the voice box of Lamar’s throat to the ears of a sea of Caucasian college students in Columbus, OH (the crowd had a diverse mix, but still… it was mostly white folk). And, surprisingly—or maybe not—they are repeating the word right back to him.

Without going into the complication of the n-word in contemporary society, I just want to say that the historical baggage of the word has not lost its power regardless of whether its nigga or nigger. If a white person calls a black person a nigga in many contexts, especially out of malice, somebody is dying…just kidding…but not really. The point is that although the n-word still has the power to devalue a black person within a society that still carries the stench of racism within its foundational structures, all races in America find it okay to use the contemporary version of the word, and its mostly if not completely because of Hip-hop culture. Now, to go back to the concert, is it Kendrick’s fault that all these white people have no problem yelling out nigga? Many people would answer yea because he is responsible for the lyrics that he produces. Others have made the argument (and I’m generalizing) that these white people are going to say it anyways, so why not just be real with it, especially if the lyrics are authentic to the rapper’s experience?

Despite what side you’re on, and there are quite a few sides, there lies the fact that the word “nigga” is not used simply to describe a comrade. It is used to represent a commercial portrayal, specifically through Hip-hop culture, of what it means to be “real” as a black male in society: aggressive, strong, materialistic, misogynistic, homophobic, violent, and more. Yet, being “real” is exactly what is aiding in the devaluing of the black male in American society. For people who cannot understand the struggles of living against those stigmatizations on a daily basis to be yelling out this word, to me, is just ignorant. Furthermore, people who know about this struggle yet decide to say the word anyways…to each is own I guess. And, I get it. I’m a privileged black male from the burbs. I didn’t grow up in Compton or anywhere else where these stigmas are your daily reality. I just will never completely understand why anyone, especially black males, would so frivolously aid in the stigmatization of their own demographic within this hierarchical society.

So, anyways, yea…that’s why I couldn’t enjoy the concert featuring my favorite rapper.

Commercial Hiphop Dance as the New Face of Reverse Minstrelsy?

This post is pretty long, so if you’re more in for a shorter read, start at the asterisks below.
Yoooo…I’m headed into my last year as a graduate student at Ohio State! I am pumped, but the idea of delving into the professional world after years of anticipation is tripping me up. As the time approaches for me to graduate, I’ve been thinking a lot about where it is I want to reside and what exactly it is I want to do. Just a year ago that would have been an easy answer- Los Angeles, California to become a commercial Hiphop dancer. However, with the education I’ve been receiving in school, the answer is becoming less clear. I’ve been fortunate enough to find a value in delving deeply into the culture and the history of Hiphop in order to inform my dance, my creativity, and my life. Reflecting on the benefit of swimming within a sea of Hiphop knowledge, I now question whether I want to stand on the shore and simply let my feet get wet through dancing in the commercial world.

For right now, though, I still feel as though I owe it to myself to try out the mainstream scene before I put judgment on it. However, my skepticism about the mainstream culture has encouraged me to take a more critical look at it. I’ve found that my desire to gain cultural, historical, and social knowledge through dance is not the only thing holding me back from fledging fully into my once romanticized dream. I’ve now come to question whether the mainstream Hiphop dance culture represents themes that I even want to support. What I mean is that a massive amount of commercial dancers express themselves through movement by imitating and assimilating a certain rap culture that I cannot get down with.

Since 1979 with Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, the musical branch of Hiphop culture has been popularized by the commercial world to the general American population more than any other element. With this massive explosion came a popularity of Hiphop that was never dreamed of by the founders of the culture. However, what also came was the general notion that Hiphop is music rather than a culture. Just last night, I was in conversation with a roommate of mine at the Bates Dance Festival and he asked me, “What is Hiphop?” And being me, I challenged him, “What do you think Hiphop is?” He went to say he believes Hiphop is a construction of certain sequencing and sounds that create beats…aka music.

From around mid-80’s to late-90’s (also considered the Golden Age of Hiphop), Hiphop musical artists were controlling a lot of the content that was being produced. As a result there were a vast array of styles and messages, good and bad, that Hiphop artists were portraying to the world; therefore, they were representing the true, complex nature of the culture itself through music.

Throughout the 21st century however, music corporations have stripped that power from the artists and have taken it upon themselves to repackage and redefine what Hiphop represents. Now, it’s to the point where too many Hip-Pop songs (mainstream Hiphop music) represent mainstream hegemonic themes—sex, drugs, violence, materialism, money— behind the mask of a stereotype of colored people.

(sigh)

*******************

I have always admired— and continue to do so— the commercial Hiphop dance scene for its intricate and virtuosic aesthetic. Again, as I think about entering into this world soon myself, I have taken a closer look at the culture and what it represents. What I have concluded is disturbing to me…and it is, in many ways, that the mainstream Hiphop dance scene, because of a certain ignorance of its choreographers and dancers, is a system conducive to the act of reverse minstrelsy.

(Gasp!) Now let me explain…

I’m not going to go deeply into the history, but ultimately minstrelsy was the act of white performers entertaining audiences through the dancing/mocking of African-American stereotypes during the 19th century. One way they did this was to paint their faces black and exaggerate typical facial features of the African-American such as the lips and the eyes. Eventually, in order to be recognized for their performance abilities and to take ownership of a degrading system, African-American themselves went under the blackface and participated in minstrel shows as well. Essentially, African-Americans imitated an imitation in order to get recognized for their craft- an act that I’ll call reverse minstrelsy.

Over a century later, as I mentioned above, American corporations are continuing this feeding of negative stereotypes of African-Americans to the masses through mainstream Hiphop music and music videos. However, this blame doesn’t simply belong to the money-hungry industries… it’s also on all the rappers who subjugate themselves to this role in their quest for the American dream. (It’s also the fault of the consumer who supports the music as well but I’ll leave that alone for now). These rappers are supporting this fallacious portrayal of African-Americans in order to be recognized for their craft and to support their family, which to me, falls under this definition of reverse minstrelsy.

Last of all, I blame the Hiphop dance community. As artists, we have a duty to be knowledgeable about the art and the culture behind the art. Why? Because if you knew the history of Hiphop culture and the African-American history behind that, I doubt you would be so eager to embody movement that imitates the lyrics that degrades the integrity of African-American people.

I specifically want to call-out all of the Hiphop choreographers who use these songs in their work, whether it be choreography in class or a dance video. With the dancers, one may argue that, especially with this generation, it’s just not that deep. Students simply come in to have fun, move, listen to hot beats, get their stank face on, and be out. But, Hiphop choreographers …we’re consciously listening to this music over and over again in order to replicate these songs in movement form; therefore, we’re engraining these negative messages into our soul, not only by listening, but by embodying. Then we go out and spread these messages, like a disease, to massive amounts of students as we teach all over the world. Then, to top it all off, we go and record this choreography for the world to see again and again online. But we don’t stop by simply recording the combination. Nah, that’s too easy. We have to go out and appropriate the themes within these songs by flashing our own fancy materialistic possessions, and dressing like we’re about to rob a bank…

What. the. hell, man. To me, we– as dancers, choreographers, and artists– cannot continue to consciously or unconsciously, imitate a false, negative imitation of what it means to be black in America. We need to realize the power and influence we have as we represent the future of Hiphop in America and do-away with this reverse minstrelsy mentality.

If you want to see a few examples of what I’m discussing here, click the links below:

1. U Mad- Ian Eastwood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THS7Ii1dhsI

  1. Bitch Better Have My Money- Tricia Miranda

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQraeOG-3L8

  1. I Don’t Fuck With You- Janelle Ginestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGzVbHZjRgc