James G. Spady is a scholar whose work within the area of rap and Hip Hop cultural self-consciousness remains unmatched in methodological innovation and deep cultural and broad semiotic analysis. Indeed, to come to terms with Spady's work within this area it is requisite to deploy a hermeneutic lens that is capable of discerning culturally embedded signs and symbols, modes of ontological being and becoming, multifaceted epistemological ways of knowing and imagining, and broad historical trajectories that are always already protean and in process. In short, Spady's work demands a radical bracketing of assumptions that are antithetical to a dynamic social and historical ontology specific to the life-world of Black people and people of color.
Spady is a preeminent twenty-first century cultural theorist and a cognoscente of the complex narrative and existential spaces of Hip Hop modes of being. His theoretical and epistemic point of embarkation vis-a-vis rap and Hip Hop self-consciousness demand our fullest attention and the best of our critical cognition. Moreover, Spady's work stipulates that it is our duty--assuming that we are genuinely and earnestly prepared to engage the marvelous world of rap and Hip Hop self-consciousness--to exercise fundamental respect for the interior/phenomenological and nuanced meaning-making and world-creating actualities and possibilities within rap and Hip-Hop culture. For Spady, it is about both the ethics of knowledge-production and the ethics of recognizing the integrity and imaginative agency of those Hip Hop beings who have created and continue to create rap and Hip-Hop culture. Spady is unique in this regard. His approach to rap and Hip Hop culture militates against the superimposition of an extraneous explanatory framework that places under erasure the voices, perspectives, and subjectivities of those Hip Hop beings who are actively cognizing and creating their complex worlds on their own terms, within their own spaces. This makes his work especially difficult as it requires epistemic humility, the recognition of multiple geographies of cognition, the capacity to comprehend diverse and complex linguistic expressions and bodily articulations, the capacity to dwell within complex imaginative domains, and the cultural capital required to be respected within the emic spaces of Hip Hop beings. As such, Spady's work, in the areas of rap and Hip-Hop culture, is methodologically innovative and rich in its theorization of the multiply complex cultural terrain and dynamics of rap and Hip-Hop.
Spady's work is incredibly sensitive to and profoundly cognizant of cultural specificity and cultural global dynamics--and their dialectical interplay. Spady's work in the area of rap and Hip-Hop is driven and informed by an epistemology of both spatially shared meaning and the dynamics of shared ontological space/place that constitute matrices that presuppose mutually shared intelligibility. In short, as a quintessential actor-participant, Spady has remained grounded, which means that he has remained true to Hip Hop beings who activate and are activated by their own legitimation practices. He does not theorize Hip Hop space ex cathedra, that is, the sort of process indicative of hermeneutic hegemony. Rather, Spady endeavors to deconstruct hierarchal relationships. His objective is to dwell within spaces of shared equality.
The cadre of scholars (Leandre Jackson, Samir Meghelli, Tom Perchard, Susanne Stemmler, and me) assembled within this special issue are all cognizant of the importance and innovative work of James G. Spady. The sheer range of Spady's intellectual expertise and historical fund of knowledge is spellbinding. This work spans the Africanist scholarship of Cheikh Anta Diop, the poetics of Larry Neal, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and the revolutionary Black aesthetics within the Black Arts Movement (BAM), the life and philosophy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the complex institutional facets of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the life and philosophy and theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. …