Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Hip Hop Videos and Black Identity in Virtual Space

Academic journal article The Journal of Hip Hop Studies

Hip Hop Videos and Black Identity in Virtual Space

Article excerpt

Blackness as an identity has never been fixed to place but rather finds itself articulated through space and, more importantly, time. Movement has defined black identity and served as an origin in and of itself. Simultaneously, technology has provided Hip Hop and the black community with the necessary vehicle to communicate the fluidity of American blackness. In this paper, I argue that technological innovation serves as the moment and the means to visualise evolving identity as is articulated by Hip Hop and the music video.

While plenty has been written on the political, economic, social and sexual nature of Hip Hop and its contribution to underscoring the black experience in North America, often the narrative is simply essentialised into monolithic blackness with a fixity rooted in time, as if to present an identity that is static and unchanging. I argue that further exploration of the music video as a tool will aid in the effort to problematize a monolithic black American narrative that has been fixed in time. I will first explore Paul Gilroy's work on the Black Atlantic, which frames the background of black music's emergence directly as a consequence of enslavement and forced migration out of West Africa.1 I will then briefly explore two case studies, which relate a spatial understanding of contemporary Hip Hop movements and resistance in American cities. I will then pursue a critical analysis of the music video as a tool and emerging art form, which is useful in representing the black experience in virtual space. Lastly, an analysis of one artist's journey of self-representation and identification through music video production will challenge the temporal fixity of this experience, one that is often misconceived as "doggedly monocultural, national and ethnocentric,"2 and provide insight into an understanding of blackness that defies Hip Hop regionalism and archaic geographic binaries.

The ubiquity of the screen is undeniable. Resting in our pockets, on our desks, and next to us when we sleep; screens have become the first thing we see in the morning and the last thing we check at night. Thus spatially, the screen has become more pervasive and the visual, more powerful. Doreen Massey writes that, "As a result of the fact that it is conceptualized as created out of social relations, space is by its very nature full of power and symbolism, a complex web of relations of domination and subordination, of solidarity and co-operation."3 It is precisely this concept of space that I will apply to the scope of this paper. In doing so, I hope to address the following questions: Where is black identity contested? How is black identity asserted? What role do music videos have in representing black identity?

The Music Video

The music video has been overlooked as simply a by-product of an overly commercialised music industry. Relegating it to the status of commercial rather than art, however, detracts from meaning and, consequently, as Diane Railton and Paul Watson contend in their work on the music video and the politics of representation, "academic work on music video is not common."4 I argue that the music video is important as a site of technological advancement as well as an articulation of spatial presence. Through an exploration of these elements, the usefulness of the music video as an instrument to articulate identity will become evident.

No longer confined to cable television programming and MTV-curated playlists that dominated the television screens of the 1980s and 1990s, the advent of mobile technology has created a venue whereby artists can produce music videos that necessarily challenge previously enforced restrictions and censorship rules. Additionally, videos can challenge the tastes of image producers who previously held the reigns in video production and distribution. Consumers are not forced to adhere to the old top-down system of media distribution and, as technology democratises the process of production and consumption, "the same technological infrastructure that allows record companies to promote their products more widely [enables] consumers to circumvent these official channels of broadcast and, instead, redistribute the music videos which they deem significant. …

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