Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Listen to the Story: Banksy, Tyler the Creator, and the Growing Nihilistic Mindset

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Listen to the Story: Banksy, Tyler the Creator, and the Growing Nihilistic Mindset

Article excerpt


Art acts as a collective mirror through which we can more closely examine and learn about our society, our surroundings, and ourselves. As John Lennon once said, "My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all".1 We can learn about an oppressive government from the art of the oppressed; we can learn about the insane asylum from the art of the patient; we can learn about the jail from the art of the inmate. It follows, then, that we can learn about urban environments by examining the art of the urbanite. This paper will examine the work of two urban artists, Tyler the Creator and BANKSY, in order to argue that the disillusionment and nihilism once found primarily within inner cities is now spreading to new frontiers.2 Originally, urban artistic expression such as graffiti art and rap music served as a way to respond to the growing nihilistic mindset in the inner cities, but today a broader subculture is beginning to utilize this tool to express their dissent. Using graffiti artist BANKSY and rap artist Tyler the Creator as models of this new frontier of urban art, this paper will establish that nihilism is a prevalent theme within their work and use this analysis in order to raise questions as to the possible causes and consequences of this spreading nihilistic mindset.

Charis E. Kubrin's essay "I See Death Around the Corner: Nihilism in Rap Music,"provides the most relevant and comprehensive examination of nihilism in urban artistic expression within the current literature. In her essay, Kubrin engages in an in-depth analysis of over four hundred rap songs from 1992 to 2000 and explores how the nihilistic themes in these songs reflect the street code present in black youth culture in the inner city.3 Kubrin focuses her work specifically on gangsta rap, a genre of rap pioneered by gang members describing "life in the ghetto from the perspective of a criminal."4

This paper will build upon Kubrin's work by examining the work of rap musician Tyler the Creator and graffiti artist BANKSY in an effort to focus in on a new, post-2000 wave of urban art. This new direction of urban art draws heavily on the same themes of nihilism as in the past, but arises from a broader subculture and appeals to a wider audience. Originally, Kubrin did not explore post-2000 music due to the increasing influence of record labels on rap lyrics and the fear that more recent lyrics would focus more on "exaggerated fantasies" than on real issues.5 Through the example of Tyler the Creator, this paper will propose that although such fantasies may not always represent reality on the streets, they are reflective of a larger nihilistic attitude and mindset that is a reality within the urban community and beyond.

"Nothing is true, nothing is good, God is dead": What is Nihilism and Why Do We Care?

There are two branches of nihilism, negative nihilism and reactive nihilism. Negative nihilism refers to the degradation of life through the belief in higher values- by believing in the fiction of higher values, we then render the rest of life unreal. There are no higher values, as they are inherently fictional, and thus no life, as the belief in the fictional has rendered reality nonexistent.6 Reactive nihilism is the response to the realization of negative nihilism. Realizing that higher values only depreciate life, the reactive nihilist begins to reject higher values, coming to the conclusion that, to paraphrase Nietzsche, "Nothing is true, nothing is good, God is dead."7,8 This paper will focus specifically on reactive nihilism. The three characteristics of nihilism that Kubrin chooses to focus on in her analysis are: "bleak surroundings with little hope, pervasive violence in the ghetto, and preoccupation with death and dying."9 Based on the literature consulted, this paper will utilize a broader definition. …

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