Stakes is High: Representations of Blackness in Hip-Hop Culture, 1975-Present
Thesis DT 3.5 2000 Z4359
vi, 164 leaves; 29 cm.
The use of the phrase "keepin it real" is commonly expressed in the lyrics of hip-hop music and the jargon of its culture. Within hip-hop's discourse, this expression reinforces a notion of "authenticity" around the concepts of race, gender, sexuality, and Black culture. This thesis argues that there is a need for a dialectical treatment of authenticity in order to propel the art progressively. Without it, the notion of "keepin it real" becomes an essentializing jargon-so confined, limiting, and marginalizing that it becomes nonsensical and meaningless to large portions of the hip-hop community (and in a larger sense, the Black community).
The first part of the thesis explores the ideology and philosophy of Black Existentialism and its relevance to hip-hop as an expression of Black culture. It also explores the ways in which hip-hop's origins may be considered a part of the Black existentialist tradition because of the ways in which hip-hop reclaimed and transformed the urban public space.
The second half of the thesis confronts the notion of Black authenticity, its limitations, and the way it has guided hip-hop's lyrics and culture from 1979 to the present. The discussion of hip-hop is chronologically divided into periods. In each period, different meanings of "realness" correspond to the temporal and spatial meanings hip-hop categories entail. The visual culture of hip-hop is awarded a whole chapter because of its strong significance in the musical video and marketing, as well as its influence on clothing styles and the fashion industry.
This thesis is premised on the claim that hip-hop is fundamentally an expression of "Black Existentialism," and while the metatheme of authenticity can in some instances be seen as a method of resistance, only a dialectical treatment of authenticity that rejects essentialized notions of Blackness, gender, and sexuality is capable of utilizing hip-hop as a site of transformation that is aesthetically and culturally progressive.