Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Tha Global Cipha: The Transcultural Dynamics of a Black Aesthetics in James G. Spady's Rap Oeuvre

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Tha Global Cipha: The Transcultural Dynamics of a Black Aesthetics in James G. Spady's Rap Oeuvre

Article excerpt

Philadelphia, 11 May 2007

10 p.m. Sitting on board of the Amtrak train back from Philadelphia to New York, I am exhausted. I have the feeling of having spent an entire week of intensive coursework in Hip Hop culture and street anthropology. This single day spent in Philadelphia has taught me more than my year as a visiting fellow at Columbia University. When I arrived early in the morning, James G. Spady picked me up at the station. I began my challenging program of study with a walking tour through North Philly, visiting neighborhoods, murals and historical sites of Black history--like Girard College or Webb's Department store--followed by a meeting with William Labov, Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and several scheduled interviews with MCs, the graphic artist Dave White and Hip Hop-photographer Leandre Jackson. I had spent "an incredible UMUM (timeless) Day in Philly," as James put it later in an email.

I will never forget this morning walk. I am a complete stranger, an outsider in North Philly, unlike James who is definitively an insider. This experience is very different from my fieldwork in New York where I biked through the Bronx and Harlem to conduct interviews with pioneers LA Sunshine, Melle Mel, Mighty Mike C, Spoonie G, Kurtis Blow, Pebblee Poo, and record store and Enjoy label owner Bobby Robinson (for an insightful reflection on the life-world of Philadelphia see E. Rivers, p.410f, in Spady & Eure, 1991), but also artists from the contemporary underground for my project on the transcultural and performative poetics of Hip Hop in Paris, Berlin and New York.

Realizing that European narratives and myths on the "Black" origins of Rap and Hip Hop always remained somehow abstract and cliche-like, I decided to investigate "where it all began." Some of my initial questions were: How has Rap music and the encompassing Hip Hop culture, rooted in the African-American and Latino experience, been transformed into a global idiom? Why has this form of Black aesthetic expression been adapted all over the globe? If U.S. culture is often regarded as mainstream, hegemonic and imperialist, what's the role of Black culture within all that? Could the many local adaptations of Hip Hop also be regarded as modes of resistance vis-a-vis the colonial past and the U.S. mainstream today? To what extent is Hip Hop culture, with its back and forth between fiction and reality, producing social realities? And how do they relate to U.S. Black experience? In what ways do new local styles all over the world connect to this history? How are they reshaping and redefining it? Are these new global connections a variation of pre-existing Black and Afrodiasporic practices? Is it "possible to consume hip-hop while remaining far removed from black culture altogether" as Jon Caramanica stated recently in the New York Times (2013)? Surprisingly enough, most European research on Hip Hop culture understates the racial dynamics, the history and presence of Black experience. When it comes to analyzing Rap music in Germany or France too often the complex ways in which Hip Hop has evolved is reduced to the influences of mass media, Americanization, misogynist lyrics and U.S. cultural hegemony.

James G. Spady's multidimensional work is groundbreaking and foundational in terms of exploring these questions. Spady has established the conceptual and methodological terrain for understanding the African American and diasporic roots and the cultural logic of global rap and Hip Hop culture. His work offers the most exceptional and innovative approaches within contemporary Hip Hop research. The careful and detailed microanalyses of "Philly Rap" and "Nation language," through a method of combining critical essays, visual language and interviews, and particularly historical, political and social contextualization, makes the work of this avant-garde thinker of transnational Black history so important for the analysis of global Hip Hop. …

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