Socially Grounded Ontology and Epistemological Agency: James G. Spady's Search for the Marvelous/imaginative within the Expansive and Expressive Domain of Rap Music and Hip Hop Self-Consciousness

By Yancy, George | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Socially Grounded Ontology and Epistemological Agency: James G. Spady's Search for the Marvelous/imaginative within the Expansive and Expressive Domain of Rap Music and Hip Hop Self-Consciousness


Yancy, George, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Hip Hop is preeminently a cultural free space.

--James G. Spady

Hip Hop culture is not exclusionary. It encompasses a very wide range of black stylings. The lyrics come out of life histories, the everydayness of their experiences.

--James G. Spady

Hip Hop culture embodies privileged social knowledge communicated in its own language.

--James G. Spady

The triumvirate epigraphs above constitute, though do not exhaust, essential philosophical struts that buttress James G. Spady's culturally thick description and analysis of the highly expansive and expressive interlocking domains of rap music and Hip Hop self-consciousness. For Spady, who I consider to be one of the leading, brilliant contemporary cultural theorists of our historical moment, rap music and Hip Hop self-consciousness are inextricably linked to a socially grounded ontology. As such, rap music and Hip Hop self-consciousness take their point of embarkation from the ground up. After all, to theorize the culturally complex sites of rap music and Hip Hop self-consciousness, one must be grounded analytically and synoptically. Indeed, one must be willing and able to traverse those highly activated streets where intelligibility itself gets negotiated. It is a mode of traversing that is not only physical, but conceptual. Indeed, for Spady, these modalities, the physical and the conceptual, do not constitute diametrically dichotomous poles, but are constantly in communication, inter-textual and interpenetrative. In short, within this context, Spady rejects a strict and pure metaphysical dualism.

Regarding the former, the physical, there is the need to negotiate complex physical urban spaces that have their own situational, geographical histories and markers of meaning. One must be attentive to and cognizant of the differential spatial logics that operate within particular locations. One must be equipped to be in those spaces--where one's body-schema is unstressed and one is indeed at home amongst the corporeal stylizations of a dignified people who know all too well when you're fakin' the funk. Regarding the latter, the conceptual, there is the necessity to understand how meaning is constructed and contested, how social worlds are constructed, understood and cognized--explicitly and implicitly. In short, to negotiate/traverse those spaces conceptually, it is important that one understands the emic dimensions embedded within those spaces, that is, how the social actors come to understand themselves and their world through symbol systems and folkways (the lore of it all) that are meaningful to them.

It is important, in other words, to comprehend how those who live within those spaces understand who they are, how they have become who they are, and what they make of the process of becoming who they are. One must also comprehend the complex tropes, mythologies, subtle paralinguistie gestures, imaginings, and narrative strategies that are deployed to frame who they have been/are/will be. In this way, epistemological respect is granted a priori. One must be prepared to keep abreast of those social worlds that are incredibly "fast-paced, urban, audacious, multivariant and highly auditory" (Spady, 1993, p. 93). These fluid oral and aural spaces, as Spady (1993) suggests, "will not only enable you to come into contact with yourselves. [They] may even allow you to apprehend the flame of life within you" (p.93). In short, such spaces are not only self-revelatory, but have the capacity to engender deep levels of renewed existential vivacity.

One must be prepared to enter those heightened states of Hip Hop self-consciousness that will inevitably challenge one's sense of reality, one's place in the normative order of things, one's epistemic assumptions about what is known and what is knowable. And even if one shares, as Spady does, "the cultural, philosophical values embedded in Black life stylings" (Eure & Spady, 1991, p. …

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