Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Droppin' Conscious Beats and Flows: Aboriginal Hip Hop and Youth Identity

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Droppin' Conscious Beats and Flows: Aboriginal Hip Hop and Youth Identity

Article excerpt

Abstract: Hip hop culture is significant in Aboriginal youth identity formation. I examine the culture of "conscious' Australian hip hop as practised by three hip hoppers from the East Coast: Little G and MC Wire, both Aboriginal, and Morganics, a Settler who conducts hip hop workshops for Aboriginal youth. In dispelling the myth of American cultural imperialism, I argue that hip hop's critical appropriation has as much to do with its internal logic of sampling, representin" and flow as with the oppositional politics it often serves as a vehicle.


One morning last winter a bill poster plastered on a wall caught my attention. It advertised the Melbourne concert of hip hop's latest 'public enemy', the notorious American emcee, 50 cent, (1) a 'gangsta rapper' whose latest album has sold nine million copies worldwide. Given that 50 cent sells his records on the reputation that he is a drug-dealing, violent, womanising thug, who prides himself on having served time in gaol and on having been shot, it is no surprise that media commentators have called on the government not to allow him into Australia on the basis of his 'bad character' (Bolt 2003).

The furore surrounding 50 cent and other 'gangsta rappers' has elicited predictable reactions from the media. It is common for Australia's media to associate hip hop with crime and moral bankruptcy and identify it as an agent of American cultural imperialism. (2) With the spotlight firmly on the 'bad boy' image of 50 cent and his like, mainstream Australia overlooks Australian hip hop's 20-plus years as a flourishing underground youth culture.

Australian hip hop does not consist solely of 'wanna-be gangstas' mimicking 50 cent's 'thug life'. There is a diversity of hip hop forms lived and practised in Australia. I investigate one of its forms, the self-proclaimed 'conscious' hip hop scene, (3) because it is the form that is having a growing influence on Aboriginal youth. (4) This essay will focus on three Australian hip hoppers, their work, and the culture they inhabit and create: Little G and MC Wire (both Aboriginal) and Morganics (a Settler who conducts hip hop workshops with Aboriginal youth). (5) Beginning with a brief introduction to hip hop through an explication of its five major elements, I attribute hip hop's 'glocalisation' in Australia through what I term its 'internal logic' of sampling, representin' and flow. Having situated their culture in a wider framework, my engagement with these three key figures will be represented as a spatial narrative by presenting my research as changing scenes that map the locations, from pubs to school assemblies, where their hip hop is practised.

In conducting my research into hip hop, and more specifically Aboriginal hip hop, I confronted various methodological issues. Firstly, as a participant in the local hip hop community I wanted to conduct and present my research in a manner that remains true to hip hop's values of 'keeping it real'. Secondly, I wanted to proceed with a constant awareness of the history of scholarly objectification of Aboriginal people and the appropriation of their knowledge. These ethical constraints led me to adopt a methodology that draws from the work of Pierre Bourdieu, whose methodology espouses a reflexive sociology. (6) As part of my responsibility as a researcher I took into account the values of the hip hoppers I interviewed as well as my own investments as both a scholar and a member of the hip hop community. The importance of addressing these ethical concerns lies in the fact that hip hop is a lived culture and produces its own theory, and thus the subject matter is inherently interesting in itself when it speaks for itself. Throughout this article I have endeavoured to share my research in a way that does not create a radical break between hanging with Morganics, MC Wire and Little G, and then writing about it.

From New York--the five elements

Hip hop is more than just a style of music. …

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