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Hip-Hop Metaphysics

Adam Mansbach with a treatise on the intellectual state of hip-hop:

    In ever-evolving forms, hip-hop rules planet Earth, or at least the global entertainment economy from Japan to Cuba. But is there something deeper going on than the flash of 50 Cent’s platinum chains and Eminem’s silver tongue? Where is hip-hop’s artistic vanguard, its intelligentsia? Wasn’t this $1.6 billion-a-year industry once rooted in resistance?

    It was, and if you know where to look, it still is. Many of today’s most vibrant young artists — from rapper Jay-Z to solo performer Sarah Jones to novelist Zadie Smith — can best be understood through the matrix of hip-hop.

    ….”Our generation is a different breed, intellectually,” says Jeff Chang, author of “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop,” a political history of hip-hop due out from St. Martin’s Press in 2004. “We’ve grown up with multiculturalism, grown up in a world where pop culture has always mediated how we analyze the world. We’re not afraid of the media anymore; there’s a constant dialogue in hip-hop about the gaps between our reality and the ways we’re represented. We’re naturally interdisciplinary; we mix signifiers, we break everything down to bits and bytes and rebuild something new.”

    ….Today’s hip-hop intellectual collages ideas with the same democratic, genre-crossing, do-it-yourself attitude. In any poem by Paul Beatty, for example (he’s now primarily a novelist — see the review of “Tuff” by Ishamel Reed), one of the first poets to be dubbed ‘hip-hop’ after winning the 1993 Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe Slam and still regarded as a leading voice — one finds a field of reference that obliterates high-culture/low-culture distinctions: He rhymes African nationalist Jomo Kenyatta’s name with that of white boxing great Jake LaMotta and moves seamlessly from Martin Luther King Jr. to Saturday-morning cartoons.

    Hip-hop theater artists such as the pioneering Danny Hoch and Hanifah Walidah (“Straight Black Folks’ Guide to Gay Black Folks”) cobble together underrepresented voices, taking on multiple identities in their one-person shows to create a fluid new paradigm. In his award-winning “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop,” for example, Hoch, 31, embodies 10 characters — from an inmate with AIDS to a Montana rapper to New York street kids — with a sociolinguistic dexterity that comes straight from his roots in multicultural Queens.

    The fiction of writers such as Toure (“The Portable Promised Land”), Zadie Smith (“White Teeth”), Junot Diaz (“Drown”) and Oakland native Danyel Smith (“More Like Wrestling”) crackles with cross-stitched rhythms and multicultural wordplay. And hip-hop activists such as William Upski Wimsatt — who mixed marketing with graffiti in the advertising campaign for his book “Bomb the Suburbs,” writing the title on sidewalks nationwide and selling 30,000 copies, unheard-of for a self-published work — have begun to take the notion of uniting and amplifying disparate voices to a political level. Wimsatt’s new project is an attempt to create a national voting bloc of young people hungry for change. Using hip-hop as a common language, he hopes to network his generation politically, create voter guides and force candidates to “take our power seriously.”… [SF Gate]

Much more groovy philosophizing ensues. I’m no sure there is much more here than the meeting of postmodern collage – which derives from “sampling” in the broadest sense and is certainly not particular to hip-hop – with old-fashioned consciousness raising as exemplified by the civil rights movement. I’m not sure, ultimately, that there is any “there” there with hip-hop.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted, Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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