Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

Brothers Gonna Work It Out: Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism


Brothers Gonna Work It Out considers the political expression of rap artists within the historical tradition of black nationalism. Interweaving songs and personal interviews with hip-hop artists and activists including Chuck D of Public Enemy, KRS-One, Rosa Clemente, manager of dead prez, and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers, Cheney links late twentieth-century hip-hop nationalists with their nineteenth-century spiritual forebears.

Cheney examines Black nationalism as an ideology historically inspired by a crisis of masculinity. Challenging simplistic notions of hip-hop culture as simply sexist or misogynistic, she pays particular attention to Black nationalists' historicizing of slavery and their visualization of male empowerment through violent resistance. She charts the recent rejection of Christianity in the lyrics of rap nationalist music due to the perception that it is too conciliatory, and the increasing popularity of Black Muslim rap artists.

Cheney situates rap nationalism in the 1980s and 90s within a long tradition of Black nationalist political thought which extends beyond its more obvious influences in the mid-to-late twentieth century like the Nation of Islam or the Black Power Movement, and demonstrates its power as a voice for disenfranchised and disillusioned youth all over the world.


While in Europe for a recent academic conference, I walked the streets of the Marais district in Paris in search of a restaurant an epicurean friend promised would be both trendy and tasty. However, after thirty minutes of wandering aimlessly, I found myself quickly losing affection for the “City of Love.” I had spent forty-eight hours navigating a foreign terrain alone, and I was frustrated, hungry, and longing for home. Just when I was about to surrender to hopelessness, I saw something strangely familiar out of the corner of my eye. Retracing my steps, I came face to face with Bobby Seale and Kathleen Cleaver. More accurately, I was in front of a retail store and its window displayed a t-shirt that featured a reprint of a Black Panther Party flier. The flier announced a March 5, 1971, event to celebrate the birthday of party founder Huey P. Newton and to publicize the cases of political prisoners Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, Angela Davis, and Ruchell Magee. I was intrigued: Why would a merchandiser in Paris, France, be selling this t-shirt, a throwback to the American Black Power movement? Who was the intended market? It seemed so random. I decided: I need that shirt.

Unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled upon a hip-hop specialty shop, and the t-shirt served as advertisement for a local hip-hop group. When I marveled to the young white Parisian assisting me, “It just seems so strange to find a Black Panther Party t-shirt in Paris,” he answered with righteous indignation, “Why? We get American pop culture here. We listen to rap music.”

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