Grown Folks' Business:
The Problem of Maturity
in Hip Hop
LEWIS R. GORDON
Conventional wisdom says that hip hop speaks to inner city black and Latino youth and their counterparts in the white suburbs. In the case of the latter, their membership in what is often called “the hip-hop community” is a function of their performance of blackness despite their racial and political designations as white. Yet, the blackness they perform, as hip-hop culture, is what members of black communities could easily recognize as black adolescent culture.
The same conclusion applies to blacks and Latinos. Hip hop has, however, become a primary exemplar of authentic black culture. This development is attested to not only by the multitudes of black adolescents and folks in their twenties and thirties (and even older) who are drawn to it in their quest for an authentic black identity, but also globally as even adolescents in Africa and among black indigenous populations in the South Pacific do the same. We could add performances of blackness in Asian and Latin American countries to this roster of loose membership. We may wonder, however, about the consequence of investing so much of a claim to black authenticity into what is in practice and sentiment black adolescent culture. From a philosophical perspective, there is already a fallacy and a form of decadence at work when part of a community subordinates the whole, when what is in effect a subgroup eliminates the legitimacy of the larger community from which it has sprung.
One effect is that there seems to be more lay-ethnographic interest in black teenagers (and older black folk who behave