Richardson – Hiphop Literacies

Elaine Richardson’s Hiphop Literacies examines African American Hip-hop past, present and future and clearly locates Hip-hop discourse within the Black discourse trajectory and secondary oral contexts within the United States and abroad. Richardson’s placement of Hip-hop discourse in these contexts is significant because it highlights the fact that although Black culture and discourse are enlisted at best and hijacked at worse through increasing globalization, the people and culture that they represent continue to be vilified and manipulated for profit both in the United States and abroad. Richardson sets the stage for the complex space that Hip-hop occupies by juxtaposing two quotes at the beginning of chapter 5: AAL in German Hiphop.

“The absorption of [African American Language] into Eurocentric culture masks its true origin and reason for being … a way of talking that has taken surviving African language elements as the base for the creation of self-expression in an alien tongue” (Smitherman, 1998: 216).
“Hip-hop and rap cannot be viewed simply as an expression of African American culture; it has become a vehicle for global youth affiliations and a tool for reworking local identity all over the world” (Mitchell, 2001:2).

This dual-reality that Hip-hop occupies is fairly harmless when, as Richardson points out, terms such as “chill” and “fresh” cross over into the mainstream and are appropriated by German hiphoppas. After all, Richardson also points out in Chapter 2, Cultural Vibrations, that language borrowing occurs quite frequently between African American Hip-hop and Jamaican Dancehall. However, when a term such as “nigger” which is “a controversial term stemming from the history of slavery, racism and White supremacy” (85) is used by German hiphoppa Kool Savas, the globalization of this homegrown  discourse can become problematic. “Though he (Kool Savas) might get a pass from the German rap crowd, intimate African American rappers, and perhaps American rap fans if/ when he is collaborating … currently his usage would be problematic with unfamiliar Blacks or a Black non-rap audience,” (86). Kool Savas’ staying power on MTV’s Hitlist Germany shows that German hiphoppas are “feelin his Germanized AAL/ Hiphop flow” (86), which translates into profit/ benjamins/ scrilla. This would not present a problem if in fact the examination of the global reach of Black youth culture resiliency and creativity resulted in us doubling up our effort to nurture and elevate the culture as Richardson proposes it ought to, but that is not the case.

Richardson presents another example of the rape of Hiphop flava. She calls the merging of Hip-hop and the video game industry a double-edged sword. While the gaming industry allows young people of color to profit off of their intimate knowledge of Hip-hop, it also distorts the culture and projects a narrow view of Black people that has historically had the effect of essentializing them. Richardson sites Adam Banks (2006) and others that argue that the video game design itself is rhetorical and “Blacks have been designed into positions of exclusion” (102).

In essence, to take comedian Paul Mooney’s famous line, “Everybody wants to be a nigger, but nobody wants to be a nigger,” a step further, it can be said that everyone wants to perform Blackness in order to get paid, but nobody wants real “niggers” to get the high score on screen or in reality as also shown in chapter 4 – Lil’ Kim and Women’s AAL Practices. Nigger, in this context, meaning “Rebellious, fearless, unconventional, in-yo-face Black man (or woman)” (Smitherman 2006).

In conclusion, Richardson gives an overview of the rhetorical language and literacy practices of Hip-hop and the tremendous impact it continues to have on language in the United States and around the globe. Gonzalo Frasca (2004) argues that “the game,” should be designed so players can explore complex societal problems, and question the values and assumptions of the games (104). Richardson’s Hiphop Literacies shows that the commercial Hip-hop “Game” and the way we as a society approach it could also use a makeover.

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