Session/Séance 5f: IASPM Panel 3 Hip-Hop Infrastructures, Identity and Social Change

Session/Séance 5f: IASPM Panel 3. Friday/vendredi 26 May 2017. 11:00AM-1:00PM, EJB Geiger-Torel Room.
Hip Hop Infrastructures, Identity and Social Change
     Moderator: RON NELSON (Canadian Hip-Hop Radio Pioneer)


1. Hip-Hop Infrastructures
     Alexandra Boutros, McGill University

Canadian hip-hop culture is hardly unified, constituted by overlapping historicities and identities of multiple indigenous communities; African and Caribbean diasporas; “francophonies”; and distinct geographic and urban environments. And yet, the plurality of Canadian hip-hop is often subjected to a unifying set of infrastructures that shape hip-hop’s reception and success both within the Canadian context and outside it. This paper maps how iterations of Canadian hip-hop circumscribe and liberate particular affective and practical transnational and transcultural affiliations even while carving out spaces of belonging inside the Canadian pop culture imaginary. I explore how policies (from ‘Canadian content’, to noise ordinances), performance infrastructures (from the availability of venues for independent artists to hip-hop’s relationship to the Juno Awards), and conditions of production and distribution (from DIY production to piracy) shape the visibility (or invisibility) of Canadian hip-hop in multiple public spheres. By looking at the cultural production of Canadian hip-hop, I hope to open up a discussion about how assumptions about race and ethnicity, belonging, and nationhood, are encoded into the structures that make hip-hop public. This paper explores how Canadian hip-hoppers navigate both popular discourses about the genre and transnational flows of popular music production. Redressing a failure to plot Canadian hip-hop production as part of a larger cartography of the black diaspora (Gilroy 1993; Palmié 2008), this paper will examine how grassroots Canadian hip-hop reaffirms the local as both a site of production and cultural belonging, albeit a sometimes contested one.

Keywords: hip-hop, Canada, black diaspora, cultural production, infrastructure


2. #blacklivesmatter: Social Change Through Krump
     Deanne Kearney, York University

On June 15th, 2016, The New York Times interviewed a local Toronto Krump dancer, Amadeus “Primal” Marquez, about the experiences of young black men in Canada being profiled by police. Primal, along with other Toronto dancers, during the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, performed locally and on video to represent their own experiences of racial profiling. For this project, I interviewed krumpers, including Primal, to think through the relationship of dance, music and violence. In this talk, I argue that popular music scholarship has neglected the meaningful role of dance in representations of violence in music videos and live performances. Likewise, analyses of dance performances have neglected to think through the relationship between popular music and dance in the aesthetics of dance performances. In this case, Primal and his collaborators notably danced to Kendrick Lamar and JCole in their online video about racial profiling. I address the different typologies of violence from symbolic violence (Bourdieu) to social movements related to police brutality through an investigation of Primal, Rhino, and OG’s video Black Fruit.


3. “She a Yardie”: Translocalism and Jamaican/Canadian Identity in the Music of Michie Mee
     Niel Scobie, Western University

For many members of black diasporic communities in Canada, music has played a vital role in remembering – and maintaining a sense of connectedness to – one’s cultural heritage while simultaneously providing opportunities to construct and perform hybridized identities. A case in point is Jamaican-born Michie Mee, a prominent figure in Canadian hip-hop for several reasons. She is a successful female MC in a highly male-dominated performance sphere. Furthermore, she was the first Canadian rapper to gain acknowledgement and support from established hip- hop acts such as Boogie Down Productions. However, what makes Michie Mee especially unique is her articulation of a recognizable hybrid identity that projects both Canadian and Jamaican sensibilities. Throughout her career, she has promoted a Jamaican/Canadian identity within a range of lyrical, visual, and sonic signifiers, thereby affirming what Murray Forman identified as the “highly detailed and consciously defined spatial awareness” that is so central to hip-hop culture. By examining select recordings and videos, I analyse the ways in which Michie Mee, like many Canadian hip-hop artists, articulates a sense of translocality, performing a particular kind of double consciousness that has set the work of many Canadian hip-hop artists apart from their American counterparts historically.

Keywords: translocalism, hybridity, identity, hip-hop, Jamaica


4. Picturing Wild Style: Photography from the Bronx Block to the Gallery Wall
Vanessa Fleet, York University

How are the actions and performances of urban street art and hip-hop music communities captured and re-presented in the discursive spaces of the photographic archive and exhibition? What are the social, political, and aesthetic factors that affect how intangible forms of street art are documented, made permanent, curated, and disseminated? What broader implications and consequences does visual documentation carry for street performance? Focusing on Martha Cooper’s photographs of urban youth communities and hip-hop subcultures in New York in the post-civil- rights era of the 1970s and early 80s, this paper examines the interplay between action and observation, and the impact of lens-based media in disseminating street art forms. An American photojournalist born in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1940s, Cooper began documenting the esoteric yet quotidian art practices, lives, and performances of young graffiti writers, artists, and street dancers in New York’s African American and Latino neighbourhoods in the 1970s. B-boying and graffiti writing presented subversive triumphs of wit that acted counter to the social and economic circumstances that excluded young artists from the dominant narrative of white middle-class America. Rather, the circulating image economy brought such subjects into relation with new spectators, expanding the field in which practitioners of hip-hop’s subcultures operated. Critics and community members alike have linked the increased visibility and inclusion of hip-hop's art forms and its rise in mainstream culture with the commercial exploitation of its talented young practitioners and a negation of the movement's original countercultural imperative. Drawing connections between the visual imperatives of artists such as Gil Scot-Heron and Beyoncé Knowles, the paper concludes by questioning the politics and parameters of hip-hop’s visual expansion, and the curatorial embrace of hip-hop aesthetics in museum and gallery culture and the sphere of ‘high’ art.

Keywords: photography, hip-hop, art exhibitions, collections, graffiti

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