Representing Africa! Trends in Contemporary African Hip Hop

By Clark, Msia Kibona | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Representing Africa! Trends in Contemporary African Hip Hop


Clark, Msia Kibona, Journal of Pan African Studies


This special issue of The Journal of Pan African Studies focuses on hip hop music and culture on the African continent. This issue explores the ways in which Africans are using hip hop for self expression, often using the music to give voice to important social and political issues.

Emerging from the South Bronx in the 1970s, hip hop's origins are rooted in African storytelling and musical traditions and built on African American social and political resistance. In the 1980s hip hop made its way to Africa, where youth identified with the stories being told by the Black youth of urban America. Building upon hip hop's roots as a platform for social and political discourse, African hip hop has evolved the genre to fit the contours of contemporary African society. The musical exchange between the Diaspora and the Continent is not new. The music of Africa and the African Diaspora have a long tradition of borrowing from each other. Hip hop is one of the latest manifestations of that exchange.

Hip hop, as well as its controversial cousin, mainstream hip hop, have had significant influence in Africa. Mainstream American hip hop is a product of record corporations that have produced artists and images that are little more than apolitical, stereotypes of what Black culture is supposed to be (Rose, 2008; Charnas, 2011). Mainstream American hip hop or pop music has spawned pop music genres in Africa. There also exists significant crossover between hip hop and other urban youth music in Africa, such as Kwaito in South Africa, Hiplife in Ghana, Genge in Kenya, and Bongo Flava in Tanzania. However, a focus on hip hop to the exclusion of other genres of African music allows for an enhanced investigation into the ways in which African hip hop artists are building upon the foundations laid by hip hop's origins. Therefore, putting the research in the context of broader linkages with African American hip hop, assists in revealing African hip hop artists own participation in social and political discourses.

The issue features a collection of scholars from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds. The nine articles cover Southern Africa (South Africa and Zimbabwe), West Africa (Nigeria and Senegal), and East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania). An important contribution to studies of African hip hop, the majority of the contributions in this issue come from female scholars. This is significant because hip hop studies is dominated by male voices, and studies of hip hop in Africa are no different. Moving beyond expectations that female hip hop scholars must write on gender, the scholars in this issue address topics ranging from Mickie Koster's look at revolutionary hip hop in Kenya to Lanisa Kitchiner's look at the caricaturization of gangsta rap in South Africa. In addition, many of the authors represent both the African Diaspora and Africa, and several are based in institutions in various countries. This diversity of perspectives has led to contributions that contribute greatly to African hip hop studies.

Two papers examine hip hop communities in Southern Africa. Lanisa Kitchiner examines what she terms "thug minstrelsy" in her look at the appropriation of gangsta rap by the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord. Kitchiner takes a critical look at the distortion of both African American culture and gangsta rap by a group that emerged out of Cape Town's Coloured and poor White communities. Kitchiner brings to the fore contradictions in racial politics in post-Apartheid South Africa.

Katja Kellerer looks at the confrontation between hip hop and Urban Grooves (pop music) in Zimbabwe. Kellerer's research examines the emergence of a pop music genre, which, promoting materialism is completely non-threatening. Like Bongo Flava in Tanzania (see Msia Clark this issue), the emergence of Urban Grooves has served to marginalize hip hop artists, who's music has the potential to exert real political influence.

Levels of political engagement in West African hip hop vary. …

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