Session/Séance 6e: IASPM Panel 2. Friday/vendredi 26 May 2017. 3:30PM-5:30PM, EJB 216.
Historicizing the 6ix: Hip-Hop Cultures’ Coming of Age in Toronto
Moderator: MURRAY FORMAN (Northeastern University)
Four hip-hop scholars unpack what their research can reveal about concealed aspects of music, dance and fashion history: whose stories are seen to matter, whose contribute to a sense of collective belonging and which accounts have been neglected or forgotten. We focus on how dancing in hip-hop culture tends to be isolated from broader cultural formations in many accounts, proposing instead a scholarship devoted to putting the pieces back together, in dialogue with their cultural contexts. The panel explores the past and present of hip-hop culture, with a strong focus on Toronto’s contributions to music, dance and fashion. From historical accounts about the origins of breaking and hip-hop more broadly as an allegedly ‘unacceptable art form,’ to a discussion of how its ‘dark years’ produced new aesthetic forms in new locations, such as Toronto’s contribution to the development of a global dance style, to the aesthetic silos that developed in attempts to understanding of Toronto’s various hip-hop scenes, to the intersection of fashion, basketball and hip-hop in recent debates about race and politics.
1. Hip-Hop and the Transformative Appeal of ‘Unacceptable’ Art Forms
Serouj Aprahamian, York University
The term ‘Hip-Hop’ was originally a pejorative label. Taken from phrases used by rappers in the 1970s, disco enthusiasts began ridiculing the new subculture by calling it ‘Hip-Hop’ in a derogatory manner. They would say, “Get out of here with that hippity-hoppity stuff,” when they saw African American youth in the Bronx, New York, practicing the emerging art forms of rapping (emceeing), dancing (breaking), and DJing (turntabilism). Dances such as breaking, with its prolonged floor movements and radical aesthetics, were particularly looked down upon by those outside of the subculture. Even many later practitioners of the dance recall “a feeling of deep embarrassment” when they were first exposed to breaking. Going down on all fours and moving around sporadically to music on the ground was not exactly the norm. This paper will examine the initial public reaction to breaking in the context of 1970s New York, highlighting its departure from traditional ethnic dances, packaged dance crazes and partner-based practices that had come before it. Using open-ended interviews with early practitioners and media content analysis, I will trace how such forms went from being marginalized and ‘unacceptable’ to admired and globally adopted phenomena. I argue that properly understanding the ability of Hip-Hop to attract adherents and shape a sense of belonging throughout the world, requires an account of the counter-hegemonic elements embedded within it early on. I also aim to situate the dance practices of Hip-Hop within a broader trajectory of creative responses to marginalization forged by African Americans forms of expression, both past and present.
Keywords: hip-hop, breaking, rap, urban dance, counter-hegemony
2. Following the Thread: Toronto’s Aesthetic Contributions to Hip-Hop Dance Histories
Mary Fogarty, York University
In February 2014, Jimmy Fallon and Will Smith performed a version of dance history on the Tonight Show that they called the “evolution of hip-hop dances.” Starting with dances such as the Cabbage Patch and the Running Man, they catalogued various hip-hop dance steps. As a comic sketch, accuracy was of little consequence, as movements and terminologies were jumbled or loosely ordered. At one point, they each grab a foot with the opposite hand and make a failed attempt to thread their other leg through the opening they’ve made with their bodies by jumping. The move they attempted to perform was listed as the “Leg Thing No One Can Do.” This move, popularized in hip-hop dances of the 1990s, is often referred to as “threading the needle”; despite the Tonight Show’s vaguely dismissive nomenclature, “threading the needle” was in fact an important aspect of Toronto’s aesthetic contributions to breaking. This talk will offer a serious historical counterpart to that comedic performance. I want to suggest that the aesthetics of breaking are best understood within the contexts of other hip-hop dances, especially in relation to the lineage of African American dances. Through a case study of local hip-hop dance traditions, I will also address broader aesthetic trajectories, tying local histories to considerations of how styles circulate globally. I will identify the formal contributions that b-boys in Toronto have made to the global aesthetics of breaking and, in so doing, also make some suggestions for new directions in the historiography of popular dance.
Keywords: hip-hop dance, breaking, genre, running man
3. Hip-Hop/Fashion: Basketball, Cornrows and Drake’s OVO
Jacqueline Melindy, Ryerson University
This talk is a close reading of Drake’s music video for the song “HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right) (Explicit) ft. Lil Wayne” from the album Take Care which was released in 2011. In the video for “HYFR” directed by Director X, Drake has a bar-mitzvah. I will use the terms racial mobility as presented by Priscillla Rena Ovalle and “optional ethnicity” presented by Mary Thompson to explore how Drake is destabilising his own brand of blackness by introducing his Jewish background. In the video, we see Drake wearing a kippah and reciting passages from the Torah. The video also has shots of traditional Jewish food such as bagels, challah bread, lox, pastrami, and matzo balls. The question I am posing for this analysis is, what did the introduction of Jewish identity have for Drake’s brand as related to distinguishing himself from his American rap counterpoints? I argue that Drake’s introduction of his full cultural background after one successful studio album was a calculated moment of rebranding for him. Part of this rebranding included the launch of Drake’s fashion line OVO, which began with a collaboration with Roots Canada. I argue that Drake’s rebranding of himself and his OVO clothing line is an example of how musicians are now making money through fashion and branding in the music industry.
Keywords: optional ethnicity, racial mobility, Drake, Jewishness, hip-hop
4. “Scenes in the 6”: The Emergence of Toronto’s Battle Rap Scene
Sean Robertson-Palmer, Humber College
Battle rap is the competitive format of emceeing that was an early fixture of hip-hop culture alongside the other foundational elements of DJing, graffiti and breaking. As battle rap continued to evolve into an organized and professionalized subculture, battle rappers, promotors and organizations have altered the art form from a series of improvised raps over music to an a capella, pre-written rapping format. This paper highlights the role Toronto’s battle rap scene has played in the evolution of professionalized battle rap’s format and aesthetics over the past decade. At the crux of this study is the Toronto-based battle rap league King of the Dot (KOTD), the largest and most influential battle rap league in Canada, and one of the largest platforms for professional battle rappers in the world. My project will identify the ways in which Toronto’s battle rap culture is changing the performance landscapes of the culture, raising the city’s international profile among the global battle rap community and creating initiatives to ensure the long-term health of the battle rap community.
Keywords: hip-hop, Toronto, scenes, performance, audiences