Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics 0816669880, 9780816669882

Rap’s critique of police brutality in the 1980s. The Hip Hop Political Convention. The rise (and fall) of Kwame Kilpatri

417 76 3MB

English Pages 240 [256] Year 2011

Report DMCA / Copyright


Table of contents :
Introduction: Follow Me into a Solo
1. In This Journey, You’re the Journalist: Rap Lyrics, Neoliberalism, and the Black Parallel Public
2. A Little Knowledge Is Dangerous: Consuming Rap and Political Attitudes
3. Follow the Leader: Hip-hop Activism and the Circulation of Black Politics
4. Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick
Conclusion: Obama and the Future of Hip-hop Politics
Appendix A: Political Platforms for the Hip-hop Social Action Network and the Black Panther Party
Appendix B: National Hip-hop Convention Agenda, 2004
Appendix C: Top Hip-hop Albums for the Week of December 1, 2006
Appendix D: Ownership of Top Market Urban–Urban Adult Contemporary Radio Stations
Recommend Papers

Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics
 0816669880, 9780816669882

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview


This page intentionally left blank


The Limits of Hip-hop and Black Politics LESTER K. SPENCE

University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis London

Copyright 2011 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by the University of Minnesota Press 111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290 Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Spence, Lester K. Stare in the darkness : the limits of hip-hop and black politics / Lester K. Spence.   p. cm.   Includes bibliographical references and index.   ISBN 978-0-8166-6987-5 (hc : alk. paper)   ISBN 978-0-8166-6988-2 (pb : alk. paper) 1. African Americans—Social life and customs. 2. African Americans—Politics and government. 3. Hip-hop—Social aspects. 4. Hip-hop—Political aspects.  I. Title.   E185.86.S687 2011  305.896'073—dc22                                                            2010032606 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and employer. 17 16 15 14 13 12 11   10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To the Spence clan: The world is yours

This page intentionally left blank

Contents Introduction: Follow Me into a Solo. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 1. In This Journey, You’re the Journalist: Rap Lyrics, Neoliberalism, and the Black Parallel Public.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 2. A Little Knowledge Is Dangerous: Consuming Rap and Political Attitudes. . . . . . . . . . 55 3. Follow the Leader: Hip-hop Activism and the Circulation of Black Politics.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 4. Put Here to Be Much More Than That: The Rise and Fall of Kwame Kilpatrick. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131 Conclusion: Obama and the Future of Hip-hop Politics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 177 Appendix A: Political Platforms for the Hip-hop Social Action Network and the Black Panther Party. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181 Appendix B: National Hip-hop Convention Agenda, 2004. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 Appendix C: Top Hip-hop Albums for the Week of December 1, 2006. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191 Appendix D: Ownership of Top Market Urban–Urban Adult Contemporary Radio Stations. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193 Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195 Bibliography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211 Discography. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235

This page intentionally left blank

Introduction Follow Me into a Solo The year was 1998, and the event was the Grammys. Lauryn Hill stood at the dais accepting her fifth award for her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. An intensely personal album for Hill, it was nominated for ten awards, exploding records for female recording artists, black recording artists, and hip-hop recording artists simultaneously. Looking out at the crowd in wonder and shock, Hill ended her acceptance speech with a simple phrase: “All this from hip-hop.” Almost thirty years before the album’s release, black and Latino kids from the Bronx created hip-hop, the most explosive form of youth culture in the modern era. Breaking (break dancing), MCing (rapping), DJing (turntablism), and graffiti, hip-hop’s core elements, were created. They used these to reduce conflict between warring gangs, to react to and express an alternative to urban disinvestment, and to entertain themselves. Miseducation dealt with gender politics, from the reproductive politics of Lauryn’s decision to have a child (in “To Zion”) to the (implicit) politics of black love (the embedded conversations between Newark city councilman–poet Ras Baraka and a group of black children about love stand out here). Sonically, the album was a love letter to black diasporal music, containing elements of hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and reggae. Hill represented hip-hop in critical ways, presenting a very different figure than typical male or female MCs, wearing her hair natural and refusing to wear sexually objectifying clothes. Accepting her awards, Hill was simultaneously well spoken, poised, and true to hip-hop. After the Grammys, she became not only a spokesperson for hip-hop but a spokesperson for African Americans—later that year, Ebony named her one of the one hundred most influential African Americans, and the NAACP gave her three Image Awards. 1


The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences made her award possible by formally recognizing rap. Although rap artists had been recording and promoting rap singles and albums nationally since 1979, the Academy did not recognize rap as a Grammy category until 1996. Some think of politics as competition over scarce resources, adjudicated in democracies or in democratic organizations by voting. The decision to award Hill was the result of politics then, in part because the winner was determined by vote. The consequences of those awards were the result of politics as well. The awards increased Hill’s advances, royalties, and the resources she had to make other recordings. And because Hill represented hip-hop, her victory increased the resources of rap MCs in general. When Hill was at the dais taking it all in, what were the politics embedded in that moment? With all this said, however, Hill’s awards had no effect on the black poverty rate, which was 23.6 percent in 1999 and which has since risen. Nor did it have any effect on the black incarceration rate, which, at 11 percent, is more than seven times the white incarceration rate. In tracks like “For Zion,” Hill sang about the birth of her son and about the struggles she experienced giving birth to him, struggles with which other single black women could likely sympathize and empathize. But it would be a stretch to argue that her work had any effect on childbirth policies at the national, federal, or local level, nor did it have any effect on the virulent pace of welfare “reform.” Now we can point to the New York gang wars of the late 1960s and early 1970s and to the 1992 Rodney King riots as moments of “formal” politics, of competition over the various life-altering resources that are shaped, allocated, and determined by the state. We can, too, take songs like “F*ck Da Police” and examine them as political critiques against the growing role police play in the expansion of the American prison industrial complex. But though black citizens in cities across the country rail as much against police brutality as they do against black-on-black crime, there is no significant anti–police brutality movement led by prominent rap MCs. In fact, some argue that rap and hip-hop are not attached to political movements, that they generate a reaction that exacerbates the problems black communities face. In 2007, Pew conducted a


survey on racial attitudes. According to that survey, 61 percent of African Americans believe that there is a growing values gap between the black middle class and the black poor. Similarly, 53 percent of those polled believed that the reason blacks can’t get ahead is because of their own failures, as compared to only 30 percent who attribute this to racial discrimination (Cohn 2007). So outside of the politics that shape whether rap MCs will be eligible to win Grammys for their recordings, a variety of individuals connect rap and hip-hop to black politics, arguing either that it is the biggest internal threat African Americans face or that it has the greatest potential to build a new black politics. Inasmuch as popular culture does shape how we view the world, this argument is important. However, in this book, rather than taking sides, I ask a subtly different question: taking a step backward, I ask, what are the politics embedded in rap and hip-hop’s production, circulation, and consumption? Four aspects—rap and hip-hop’s popularity, visibility, and speed; its use to speak to black politics; the political and economic context of the “post–post”–civil rights era; and the political nature of black popular culture in general—make the question I ask one of critical importance. MCs, activists, pundits, and citizens alike believe that rap lyrics communicate politics; they believe that hip-hop can be used to circulate and generate a new form of political activism, and they believe that rap consumption shifts political attitudes. Rap and hip-hop are not only “Black America’s CNN” (Chuck D 1997); they are also the key to generating a new black political movement. They are spaces in which blacks create new meanings of “blackness” and develop critiques that offer alternatives to the status quo. Adolph Reed (1999) is perhaps the foremost critic of those arguing that black popular culture constitutes politics, positing that this move smoothes over the critical distinction between formal attempts to garner resources from the state and stylistic modes of popular representation. He makes an important point. We have to take great care to distinguish Rosa Parks’s decision to stay seated in Montgomery from the decision to wear a zoot suit in Harlem in the 1940s. But we can acknowledge the differences between these two acts while still placing them on a continuum.


Furthermore, Reed implicitly argues that one of the reasons black politics has not modernized is because black culture and arguments about black culture are privileged over reasoned consideration of black political interests. For Reed, black cultural institutions like the church and black popular culture are opiates of the masses and of the intelligentsia (inasmuch as this latter group turns its gaze to these subjects rather than critical issues of political organization and public policy). However, whether we want them to, cultural institutions and cultural productions help to organize our thoughts and feelings consciously and at several subconscious registers (Connolly 2002). Rather than juxtaposing aesthetics against reason, I work to understand how the two inform one another. For me, the central question is not whether there are politics embedded in popular culture. Popular culture is rife with politics. Rather it is a matter of where these politics can be found, what these politics are, how these politics are shaped by (even as they shape) the context in which they occur, and under what circumstances black popular culture informs and sustains political movements. Scholars have begun the task of studying rap and hip-hop. What looms large are the politics of rap and hip-hop’s production, circulation, and consumption. In the following, I examine the growing literature on the politics of hip-hop and chart my interventions.

Production A number of scholars interested in the politics of black popular culture have examined production (Baraka 1963; Cruse 1967; Gilroy 1993a, 1993b, 2000; Hanchard 2006; Henry 1990; Iton 2008; Kofsky 1970; Neal 1999). Some focused on the production process itself, with Harold Cruse (1967) arguing that black communities should control it. Others focused on the content of black popular culture, as opposed to the way it was made. In part to combat the idea that black music was apolitical before rap, Mark Anthony Neal (1999) combed through rhythm and blues lyrics to show that the type of politics that Nina Simone and Billie Holiday communicated through their works was not uncommon among black artists. Studying the political content of rap music and rap videos has become an essential component of this body of work (Beatty 2005;


Cheney 2005; Emerson 2002; Herd 2005; Jones 1997; Kubrin 2005a; Lena 2006; Perry 2004). Scholars suggest that rap music communicates a gendered form of black nationalism (Cheney 2005), the death of civil rights–era politics (Boyd 1997, 2002), and nihilism (Kubrin 2005b; Lena 2006; West 1993a, 1993b). It also contains misogynist ideas about black women, ideas that have a long and tragic history (Collins 1998, 2000; Davis 1983; hooks 1982). This body of work is extremely valuable. Although hip-hop encompasses more than rap music, rap music is not only the most consumed aspect of hip-hop but is arguably the easiest form to infuse with politics. But with exceptions, these analyses are more anecdotal than systematic, and as a result, we are not able to make larger claims about the political content of rap. In chapter 1, I analyze the lyrical and visual content of rap using a random subsample of a database of thirty thousand rap lyrics. The moral panic expressed in black middle-class critiques of rap reflects a concern that rap’s thematic content will not only reflect poorly on African Americans but will also engender negative attitudes and negative behavior. But others argue that rap represents a powerful critique of contemporary black urban circumstances. In this chapter, I pay particular attention to the links between rap and the reproduction of neoliberalism, links that, among other things, emphasize a narrative of urban dysfunction and “the hustle.”

Consumption There is a growing literature on the consumption of hip-hop and rap (Dawson 1999; Harris-Lacewell 2004; Johnson, Adams, and Ashburn 1995; Johnson, Jackson, and Gatto 1995; Johnson, Trawalter, and Dovidio 2000). Here scholars are interested in the shifts in attitudes that accompany rap consumption and exposure. The literature suggests that rap consumers possess different attitudes and orientations than non–rap consumers. The majority of African Americans polled in the Pew survey I cited earlier are arguably concerned about the content of rap music because they feel that rap communicates and circulates problematic images and ideas about black people, and about black women specifically. They express concern not that this content is simply negative in and of itself but that it is negative because of the way it shapes the attitudes of consumers.


But though scholars have posited that rap influences attitudes, there have been very few empirical attempts to test this proposition. There are exceptions—Michael Dawson (1999, 2001) and Melissa Harris-Lacewell (2004) examined the attitudinal consequences of rap consumption. But to the extent that critics of rap are concerned about its effect on black attitudes, they are really concerned about black youth attitudes. Though Dawson and Harris-Lacewell both show that youths are more likely to consume and express appreciation for rap than their older counterparts, they do not separate the attitudes of the post–civil rights generation from older cohorts. Similarly, while various media studies find that direct exposure to media often influences political attitudes, there has been no attempt to test how exposure to rap may influence political attitudes. Chapter 2 examines consumption. In this chapter, I empirically measure the influence of rap music on black political attitudes, examining its effects on those most likely to consume it (black youths) at two historical periods—in 1994, the year before the Million Man March, and in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. Using both national and local data sets, I examine the degree to which rap consumption is correlated with traditional American attitudes toward the police. I find that rap consumption is correlated with attitudes that go against the American grain (attitudes toward the police are a notable example). However, in a number of instances, rap consumption is correlated with very mainstream American racial and gender attitudes. I also examine the effect of rap exposure on attitudes via an experiment to test the independent influence of rap video exposure on the attitudes of black youths.

Circulation Audiences cannot consume popular culture unless it is somehow circulated to them—the very concept of “popular” culture implies movement through space and time. But the politics of circulation is not solely about the way a particular type of popular culture is circulated; it is also about the ideas that move through space and time alongside the popular culture under consideration. Robin Kelley (1994) argued that the zoot suit represented a form of political resistance in part because people attached political significance to it. The circulation of the zoot suit as a fashion choice


communicated ideas about black youth, modernity, and resistance. For scholars focused on the circulation of rap and hip-hop politics, what looms large are comparisons with the civil rights movement and discussions about its place in the public sphere (and within the black counterpublic specifically) (Alridge 2005; Bernard-Donals 1994; Boyd 1995, 2002; Kitwana 2002; Stapleton 1998; Trapp 2005; Watkins 2005; Willis 1991). Both Todd Boyd (1995, 2002) and Craig Watkins (2005) posit that changes in the material and social context generated a new form of black popular culture (hiphop) that circulated a new approach to black politics. Chapters 3 and 4 consider the politics of circulation. I adopt a case study approach examining the structure and mobilization efforts of the Hip-hop Social Action Network and the National Hip-hop Political Convention in the third chapter, and in the fourth chapter, I examine Detroit politics, focusing on former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (the “hip-hop mayor”). When Kilpatrick was elected, there was a sense that he would usher in a new mode of governance that was in some ways sensitive to “hip-hop constituencies.” But in his second term, Kilpatrick resigned after being found guilty of perjury. I use Kilpatrick and the city of Detroit to talk about how the authentic aspects of black masculinity, reproduced by hip-hop, reproduce ideas about intergenerational conflict within black politics, on one hand, and ideas about self-regulation that preclude substantive discussions about urban politics and policy, on the other. My work addresses the politics of rap and hip-hop’s production, consumption, and circulation, but the growth and spread of rap and hip-hop occur within a modified black political context. In examining this context, some scholars refer to the “black counterpublic.” I argue instead for a black parallel public. Tricia Rose and others note that rap and hip-hop represent a response to the black political context and to neoliberalism. But they often take the reader’s understanding of neoliberalism and the connection between neoliberalism and hip-hop for granted. Neoliberalism here often becomes a synonym for the “Reagan-Bush-Clinton era.” But we cannot understand the latter years of the twentieth century without understanding what neoliberalism is, how it is reproduced, and how it circulates within black politics. To this extent, if hip-hop


actually is a response to the neoliberal order, it behooves us to actually examine neoliberalism as well as how a given set of practices (in this case, those practices associated with hip-hop) respond to it.

The Black Parallel Public Defined Recall my central questions—how are the production and consumption of rap and the circulation of hip-hop shaped by black politics? In turn, how do they shape black politics? Scholars, pundits, and analysts routinely trot out an array of statistics that depict the reality of the post–civil rights era. Black unemployment rates approximately double that of whites. The black median income is approximately half that of whites. Black education gaps abound. Black incarceration rates are astonishingly high. Conservative arguments to the contrary, these gaps suggest an enduring structural racial hurdle. But what these statistics reveal when examined over time is not just an enduring gap. They reveal that black life outcomes rise and fall as white ones do. The macro-level dynamics that influence American political, economic, and cultural life shape black and white outcomes in a similar manner. When the economy is flush and incomes surge, black incomes rise just as white incomes rise. When the economy is failing, black incomes fall just as white incomes fall. Black and white unemployment rates are subject to the same shocks. Blacks will often be hurt more, and will benefit less, but their fortunes run in parallel to their white counterparts. Furthermore, over time, black aggregate political attitudes also parallel those of their white counterparts. Just as with the economic data, there is a gap—blacks are much more likely than their white counterparts to express support for government efforts to deal with poverty and racial discrimination. However, white and black attitudes on these and other issues rise and fall at around the same pace and at around the same degree (Page and Shapiro 1992). In her work on violence against women in India, Susan Dewey (2009, 125) describes the parallel public: [The parallel public sphere] operates in tandem with and according to established gender and other social norms and is neither altogether subversive nor a complete instrument of domination. . . . The parallel public sphere is as much a consequence of oppression


as an agent of it because it fills the dual role of the provision of a space for certain groups to evaluate the appropriateness or acceptability of their needs while simultaneously reinforcing dominant norms in a restricted cultural context.

The parallel public allows subjugated groups to address their particular issues and to further develop both a group identity and a group consciousness. However, it does so constrained by societal norms. The black parallel public operates according to established class, heterosexual, and gender norms, providing a space within which blacks can accommodate, criticize, and generate alternatives to the so-called mainstream public sphere. In its capacity as an accommodating space, it both inculcates and enforces both at-large and internal norms and values. Rap MCs, like other black cultural workers, both accommodate and criticize mainstream norms and values. They are not dominated in the traditional sense of the term because they have relative artistic and political autonomy. They use and reproduce contemporary ideas about urban space and about black masculinity and black representation writ large but do so in a way that grants them access and a modicum of political and cultural power. To the extent that attitudes of black youths are shaped by rap, rap consumption and exposure crystallizes preexisting (and prominent) attitudes within the black parallel public—increasing support for black nationalism during the time in which black nationalism is ascendant, increasing hostile attitudes toward the police in a local context in which the relationship between blacks and police officers is already contentious, and separating blacks by class when the neoliberal turn has already distinguished exceptions within black communities. For Michael Hanchard (2006, 50), political parallelism and displacement are key conceptual components of his theory of quotidian politics: I define parallel political communities as those that operate alongside or at the periphery of dominant macropolitical practices and communities. Protests, assemblies, and marches that seek to critique the substantive content as well as the processes of closed proceedings, such as the meetings of the so-called G8 nations in


2005, are examples of political parallelism. The attendant concept of displacement emphasizes the spatial and temporal components of political parallelism. In response to general conditions of subordination or specific acts of racist violence and oppression, subordinate actors respond in spheres of society and in cultural forms that are not the medium or spheres in which the acts of deliberation or violence first occur.

Hanchard, who goes on to note that certain forms of rap represent prime examples of displacement and parallelism, offers a helpful way to understand black politics. Protests of neoliberalism that occur while the G8 holds meetings for the purpose of perfecting neoliberalism can be viewed as politically parallel communities— they occur at or near the same time, and they occur in response to the same general phenomenon. But the example Hanchard uses reads more like an example of political concurrency. The events happen at the same time if not the same place, but they have very different purposes and forms. G8 protestors held meetings, but their protests were messy and uncoordinated. Because neoliberalism’s critics possess a wide range of political ideologies, the various groups only agreed that neoliberalism was problematic; they did not agree on solutions. In contrast, the G8 was orderly; the members of the G8 were on a single accord (again, not absolutely, but in contrast) and offered a set of clear policy proposals—they extended their African debt relief program for two years and arrived at consensus on a Middle East reform program. It isn’t that hard to imagine these two sets of activities almost literally occurring at the same time, with G8 leaders debating policy minutiae while protestors were outside calling for their ouster. The concept of political parallelism refers to some of the ways in which the parallel public is reproduced. When Marcus Garvey calls for blacks to organize as a race, he relies on nationalist imagery similar to that of the European powers he sets blacks against. When activists like Rosa Parks worked to protest against Jim Crow racism, they garnered black and white (northern) support by turning to mainstream middle-class values. When Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke at the Million Man March in 1995, he did not call for expanding social services but rather


for a sepia-toned version of the antigovernment ideas promoted by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Party, which had just taken over Congress a year earlier. In this work, I refer to two forms of parallelism. One form of parallelism is spatial parallelism, by which I refer to ideas and practices that are mirrored at the same general time, albeit in a different space. Marcus Garvey was an antiracist and used his organization to rail against black inferiority; however, on the issue of imperialism, he mirrored some of the ideas and practices of the West, urging Americans, in effect, to modernize Africa. Similarly, Farrakhan used some of the same language and imagery of his conservative white counterparts. But another form of parallelism is temporal parallelism. Whereas spatial parallelism refers to a dynamic by which ideas and practices happen concurrently and are mirrored across space, temporal parallelism refers to the mirroring of ideas and practices across time. To the extent that groups parallel dominant approaches, here they parallel dominant intragroup responses. The wave of marches that various black actors have taken on Washington, D.C., since the 1960s represents an example of temporal parallelism. The 1995 Million Man March consciously hearkened back to the 1963 March on Washington, which itself represented an attempt to follow through on an idea promoted by A. Philip Randolph. The institutionalization of black politics occurs via political parallelism, with the process of isomorphism truncating the types of political options that elites have at their disposal. Looking specifically at rap and hip-hop, I argue that rap and hip-hop’s productive, circulative, and consumptive politics both mirror and reproduce what I call the neoliberal narrative across space and the most dominant aspects of black politics across space and time. This brings me to Rose’s important but underexamined ideas about neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism Neoliberalism promotes the idea that individual freedom and liberty are best attained by reducing the role of government in ameliorating social suffering and relying instead on the market (Brenner and Theodore 2005; Hackworth 2007; Harvey 2005).


Rather than being simply a set of public policies or an ideology, neoliberalism is also governmentality, as a systematic (rational) way of thinking about the attempt to direct (govern) human conduct (Barry, Osbourne, and Rose 1996; Dean 1999; Foucault 2008; Foucault et al. 2003; Larner 2000; Lemke 2001; Ong 2006; Rose 1993). Aihwa Ong (2006, 3) conceptualizes neoliberalism as “a new relationship between government and knowledge through which governing activities are recast as nonpolitical and nonideological problems that need technical solutions.” Ong refers here to actions undertaken by the state or by state actors, and by individuals and nonstate institutions, with government being defined broadly as “the conduct of conduct” (Foucault 2008). Recasting governing problems as nonpolitical and nonideological explicitly switches out political considerations for rational ones. In creating governing policies, the question then becomes not whose interests are best served but rather which sets of policies are the most optimal. What distinguishes neoliberal governmentality from other forms is its attempt to simultaneously shape individual desires and behaviors and institutional practices according to market principles, while simultaneously creating the market through those individual and institutional desires and behaviors. Its roots can be found in the writings of von Hayek (1944), who argued that left-leaning government made people less free by forcing them to rely on government rather than empowering them to make their own choices within the marketplace. Even before the election of Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain and Ronald Reagan in the United States, intellectual, business, and political elites promoted neoliberal ideas and policies, beginning the push for a new neoliberal consensus as early as 1972 by rolling back Keynesian programs and rolling out neoliberal ones (Blyth 2002; Peck and Tickell 2002). Neoliberalism devises techniques and means by which the market can be embedded in spaces, institutions, and bodies. The exception is essential to this mode of governmentality as the exception justifies “losers” and also policing and surveillance. As recently as the 1960s, the idea of maximizing individual freedom within a city or state through reducing government regulation was viewed with extreme skepticism. But by the 1980s, this idea was taken for granted locally, nationally, and internationally. The consequences


of the neoliberal turn are several, but a few consequences are particularly important—increased inequality and insecurity, decreased transparency and accountability, decreased use of government to ameliorate suffering, and increased incarceration of undesirable populations (of exceptions) (Wacquant 2009). Three developments accompany the neoliberal turn: rhetoric that emphasizes market-based initiatives and productivity over government programs and human rights, disciplinary policies that punish individuals and institutions that do not comport with the neoliberal program and that reward individuals and institutions that do, and public investment in private priorities (Brown 2003; Foucault 2008; Hackworth 2007; Harvey 2005; Peck and Tickell 2002). It occurs in two stages: Keynesian policies and programs that redistribute resources or provide public goods are rolled back, and neoliberal policies and programs that emphasize market solutions are rolled out. If constituency support for a given public good is too high to privatize that good outright, then the public service of that good is scaled back gradually until the rollout can occur. Also rolled back are the various public protections that prevent the flexibility of capital. Rolled-out programs reinforce and embed neoliberal norms and practices. Under this category are initiatives that take formerly public goods and open them up to market competition—market-based incentives to create low-income housing, for example, or vouchers and charter schools that create competition within public school systems. The move to “end welfare as we know it” by “rewarding work” and programs that use the market to provide services formerly provided by some combination of federal, state, and local governments both fit here (Hackworth 2007). Also placed in this category are national, state, and local policies that punitively enforce the values of neoliberalism. The growth of the prison–industrial complex fits here, as do the various programs that were designed to ensure that the working poor eligible for benefits were actually working (Peck and Tickell 2002). Here I would also place those rules that make it harder for labor to organize and easier for capital to pit municipalities and states against one another. Combined with programs that either roll back aspects of the welfare state or roll out aspects of the neoliberal state is rhetoric


that supports private initiative and the market over the inefficiencies of government. In the United States and Great Britain, a series of think tanks (including the conservative Heritage Foundation as well as the liberal New America Foundation), combined with the neoclassical brand of economics made famous by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School economists, have promoted market-based initiatives over initiatives of the state. The market is, in effect, naturalized, and market-based institutions are presented as the standard in efficiency and productivity.1 Neoliberalism relies on two technologies. Technologies of subjectivity are developed and deployed for the purpose of inducing self-animation and self-government in citizens, institutions, and spaces. These technologies include self-help programs, activities that emphasize entrepreneurialism, and campaigns that promote and encourage healthy living. Technologies of subjection permeate political strategies that differently govern populations, institutions, and spaces for optimal productivity, distinguishing them from persons, institutions, and spaces that are unable to be productive (Ong 2006, 6). These technologies include punishment, surveillance and control, and severe disciplinary policies. The growth of the prison–industrial complex and the bureaucracy associated with the repeal of welfare should be seen as technologies of subjection. Expertise is an important component of both technologies. In writing about the rise of psychology as a discipline, Nikolas Rose (1996, 86) defines expertise as “a particular kind of social authority, characteristically deployed around problems and exercising a certain diagnostic gaze, grounded in a claim to truth, while asserting technical efficacy and avowing humane ethical virtues.” It is important to note that neoliberalism is not about returning to the market or simply repealing the welfare state, nor is it about removing government from the “free market”; rather it is about continually using the state to create the conditions under which the market can exist.

Race and Neoliberalism In examining the development of the neoliberal consensus, scholars have pointed to institutions (Campbell and Pedersen 2001), to the deployment of neoliberal economic ideas (sans race) in a period


of crisis (Blyth 2002). In examining the process by which the neoliberal turn was instantiated, the most persuasive account argues for the twofold rollback and rollout process I noted earlier (Peck and Tickell 2002). But arguably, the turn toward neoliberalism is not possible without the use of ideas about race—about racialized bodies and racialized spaces. The American city as we know it is not only a hub for the well-fitting entrepreneurial class but also for the poor and nonwhite. Indeed, ideas about the exception help generate support for the shift toward neoliberal governmentality in the first place. The work that race does responds to contextual changes in both the material and ideational contexts (Holt 2000; Sawyer 2006; Winant 1994). Support for the neoliberal turn is often generated via the representation of black and brown bodies, arguably the populations that suffer most from the neoliberal turn. Associating these bodies with problematic aspects of (non-neoliberal) government works to generate an affective shift away from progressive government and its solutions and toward more punitive ones. Neoliberalism relies on three populations, institutions, and spaces: those perfectly formed according to market logic, those able to be re-formed according to that logic, and the exceptions unable to be re-formed. African Americans constitute the exception. They are routinely depicted as lazy, sexually libidinous, crime prone, and culturally dysfunctional. The cities in which they live are depicted as dangerous, crime ridden, and inefficient. The institutions they govern—indeed, government itself to the extent governing is associated with service provision to black citizens—are depicted as corrupt. Neoliberalism is not simply forced on black and brown populations. It would be logical to suppose that these ideas were generated and promoted by white elites and imposed on black urban populations,2 but black parallel publics reproduce it as well, blaming diminished black life chances on subpopulations of blacks (on “down-low” black men in the case of the scourge of HIV–AIDS, on black working-class and poor parents in the case of educational outcomes) (Cosby and Poussaint 2007; Spence 2010). Black elites blame communities that are viewed as not working literally and figuratively for their circumstances. Rap and hip-hop respond to this new consensus, but in their response, they reproduce


neoliberalism through narrative, through representation, through aesthetics. I referred earlier to expertise. Black social scientists work to depoliticize neoliberal representations of black bodies, spaces, and institutions through their work. The works of social scientists William Julius Wilson (1987, 1996, 2009) and Elijah Anderson (1990, 1999) stand out here, but also worth noting are the works of Cornel West (1993b) and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (1992), among others.3 Unlike works written by their white counterparts, these scholars do acknowledge the role of economic shifts in reducing job opportunities for people caught in so-called inner-city ghettos and make an attempt to render black behavior intelligible. Wilson argues clearly that the manufacturing exodus of the 1970s and 1980s decimated the ability of black high school–educated men to find jobs in urban cores. He also argues against the idea that women on welfare make the decision to have children to increase their welfare benefits (Wilson 1996). However, Wilson and others also acknowledge that structural factors are not enough to explain concentrated urban poverty; culture has to do at least part of the heavy lifting.4 Support for neoliberal logic came not only from black social scientists; black political and civic leaders in the black parallel public engaged in the type of problem solving and rhetoric emblematic of neoliberal governmentality. Black elites represented images of blackness and of black space that were essentially modern and open to neoliberal discipline. Simultaneously, black elites also argued that cultural dysfunction played a role in structuring the opportunities available to people living in contexts of concentrated poverty, and in structuring the contexts themselves. Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, has long argued that black men are responsible for the plight of urban neighborhoods. The Million Man March brought well over one million black men and women to the nation’s political capital to shout loud and clear that they did not need anything from government and would take responsibility for their own neighborhoods (Farrakhan 1995). Bill Cosby (2004), in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, argued that “low-income people were not holding up their end of the deal.” On Father’s Day 2008, then senator Barack Obama gave a speech tying the explosion of


black fatherhood rates in black communities to a host of social ills. And finally, support for neoliberal logic comes from black popular culture. Black social scientists, policy makers, and politicians rely on rational arguments to generate support for neoliberal policies and programs. Black artists, on the other hand, rely on sentiment and affect, reproducing neoliberal narratives in their movies, their television shows, and their music. Within rap, MCs use the concept of “the real” to reproduce neoliberal ideas about space, taking previously underdeveloped spaces like Compton and the Bronx and using that underdevelopment to brand these spaces according to neoliberal dictates. Furthermore, in emphasizing the “hustle,” they offer not so much an alternative as a hip-hop-inflected spin on the concept of human capital. Finally, they, too, generate an exception, a population within rap and hip-hop worthy only of derision. In 1993, the Wu-Tang released their first album, Enter the Wu-Tang. “CREAM” was their highest-charting single. The song is an acronym for “cash rules everything around me,” and although they likely did not intend to do so, with this song, the Wu-Tang clearly articulated not only the state of hip-hop in the 1990s but its connection to the state of neoliberalism. Even as black artists used hip-hop and rap to create a vibrant alternative to the status quo, they reproduced neoliberalism in their lyrics, in their music videos, and in some of their attempts to create political organizations. Almost forty years ago, a group of black and Latino youths created what we now recognize as hip-hop. They did so never imagining that decades later, MCs, b-boys, b-girls, taggers, and DJs the world over would use hip-hop to speak to their own political, economic, cultural, and social needs. They did so never imagining that almost forty years later, a black former Illinois state senator would use it to stave off critiques that he was not authentic enough for working-class voters, not only to run but to win a presidential campaign. But the progenitors of hip-hop understood that rapping, DJing, break dancing, and tagging were more than simply kids rhyming, making beats, dancing, and painting. It is clear to me that hip-hop was created (like most black diasporal music forms) to affirm, to celebrate, to recognize, to journal, and to show the world that another reality is possible. In this work, I examine how that other reality ends up looking remarkably like our own.

This page intentionally left blank

1 In This Journey, You’re the Journalist: Rap Lyrics, Neoliberalism, and the Black Parallel Public Historically, black music has been a powerful vehicle for black political expression. This is partially because of historical constraints placed on black speech because black music requires the least amount of persistent engagement (Iton 2008). Finally, a third reason is because it works at rational and emotional registers. Song lyrics travel faster than even the most powerful political speeches. Those fearful and hopeful of rap and hip-hop acknowledge this. Those hopeful believe that these messages and images can progressively transform black identity and black political practice, stabilizing and nurturing the black parallel public. Focusing specifically on the lyrics of someone like 50 Cent, Imani Perry (2004) argues that even though he represents the outlaw, he provides a critical perspective on the conditions that make the black outlaw possible—a critical perspective that can lead to political intervention. But the other possibility is that 50 Cent could actually destabilize the black parallel public. By performing their lyrics in integrated spaces for integrated audiences, these MCs publicize a problematic form of racial representation that many middle-class African Americans believe should be private. Some blacks evince concern that when presumably “black” lyrics expressing support for blackon-black violence taint the airwaves, these lyrics will compromise black progress. Furthermore, some are concerned that the spread of such lyrics will, in effect, “poison the minds of the lower orders,” causing them to wreak all types of havoc in their cities.1 Michael Dawson (1999, 2001), Cornel West (1988, 1993a), and Todd Boyd (1997, 2002) all come close to taking this perspective. Black popular culture is a component of the black parallel 19


public. It primarily critiques racism but at times promotes alternative visions for black America (visions that often go against those promoted by black elites). In this chapter, I examine the politics of rap production, weighing in on the politics of rap realism.

I Keep It Real: Rap Realism Scholars have cast their gaze on the “real” within rap. Imani Perry (2004, 87) does the most work in fleshing out the role realism plays within rap music: The real is . . . an authenticating device responding to the removal of rap music from the organic relationship with the communities creating it. It demands that artists maintain or use symbols asserting their allegiance to black youth populations, or subgroups within that community. The real for hip-hoppers means setting the terms for allegiance. It does not disallow fiction, imaginative constructions, or hip-hop’s traditional journey into myth. Rather, it is an explicitly political stand against selling one’s soul to the devils of capitalism or assimilation as one sells the art form and lives life. The frequent calls in the hip-hop community to keep it real not only require the maintenance of an authentic black urban identity; they also constitute a theoretical space that functions as a living testimony to African American experience. . . . Being “real” is a call to authenticity that becomes a political act.

The two most important forms of realism Perry identifies are descriptive realism, which creates a world for the listener in which he or she can experience the neighborhood on its own terms through the eyes of the MC, and argumentative realism, which critiques the reality that MCs depict. As an authenticating device, MCs and consumers use the real to distinguish between those who are true representatives (i.e., those who truly represent not only rap and hip-hop but black communities) and those who are not. Because it is used as the key determinant of truth, the real becomes a location from which to judge and to situate African American experience. But the real is a constructed label. Artists selectively choose what to depict in their work and then what to consider real, routinely ignoring an entire host of activities and populations. They


select those activities that are the most interesting to them, to their producers, and to their markets. These selections then become real, although they are no more real than nonselections. Like the decision to award an MC a Grammy, labeling something as “real” or “authentic,” whether that label comes from critics writing for hip-hop magazines or from hip-hop bloggers, or simply from word of mouth, has stakes. Labeling something as “real” increases record sales. High-volume sales generate cultural capital within hip-hop, which can be used to determine rap’s artistic direction. Cultural capital also generates political capital within the industry inasmuch as top-selling MCs become tastemakers who then exert influence by shaping who gets record deals and recording labels. But there is more at stake than this. Recall that the black parallel public is the space in which blacks come together to articulate and debate their interests, needs, and identity. Black artists have long used their art as a vehicle to fight for and against black representation (Johnson 1928/1993; Hughes 1926). When MCs attach the real to being authentically black, they promote and project a limited conception of blackness within that parallel public and, through that public, onto other black populations. By defining themselves as the arbiters of blackness, they also promote themselves as its representatives, claiming the right to define African American needs, interests, and identity. They do so against other artists—against rhythm and blues singers, for example, or jazz artists—but they also do so against political representatives. The public sphere purportedly brackets the social identities of individuals, making them unimportant in discerning truth claims (Habermas 1989). Participants of Habermas’s public sphere did not participate as dukes or princes but rather as individuals whose arguments were judged solely on their merits. Reason (what was spoken or written) supposedly trumped identity (who spoke or wrote it). Critics attacked Habermas on this ground. Neither women nor nonpropertied whites could truly participate in this public because they were either excluded or derided because of who they were (Dawson 1995; Fraser 1990). But some critiqued Habermas on aesthetic grounds. Habermas did not only assume that people’s identities would be bracketed; he assumed that their arguments


would be assessed on reason alone. Not even the quality of argumentation was supposed to matter. But for critics of deliberative democracy, reason alone is not a sufficient basis for making claims, determining interests, or organizing. Culture and all its layers are important as well. MCs unbracket themselves, fusing identity, truth, and cultural performance, generating affect (and in some populations, disdain) for their performance and their articulation of the real. More to the point, they figuratively flip the script and privilege the historically (black) voiceless over the historically (black) articulate elite. MCs do not distinguish between being committed to rap and hip-hop and being committed to black youth, black people, and urban neighborhoods. In making this move, MCs implicitly juxtapose themselves against political representatives, on one hand, and cultural representatives who promote a conception of blackness connected to black middleclass values, on the other. Furthermore, they also implicitly privilege their hypermasculine perspective over women and over men who do not perform their masculinity in the same way. Rap here works like blues and black folklore, communicating and critiquing reality and providing tales of black men (“bad niggers”) who were individually willing to flip the status quo on its head (Henry 1990). But both the blues and black folklore worked as parts of the black parallel public, often helping blacks negotiate conditions of subjugation but not necessarily helping blacks to overturn them. For Perry, MCs rail against their conditions by creating realist narratives that critique contemporary ideas about poverty, crime, and urban ghettos. And in linking artistic representation and political representation the way they do, they also rail against attempts by black elites to police and sanction them. For others, the real becomes a venue for progressive political expression but also for antiradicalism. These narratives often connect real stories about urban spaces and the people within them to black cultural dysfunction. There are, of course, counternarratives, but they are few and far between. For Tricia Rose, the lyrics of MCs work to show how the neighborhoods they depict reveal the lies embedded in the promise of success offered by neoliberalism. However, I argue that rap lyrics, particularly those of realist MCs, reinforce neoliberalism.


Realism and Neoliberalism in Rap Production With the rise of the Internet, the amount of information available on rap and rap lyrics has increased significantly. The Original Hiphop Lyrics Archive2 has an extensive database of lyrics, not only of well-known artists, such as 2Pac, but of underground artists who do not receive (or in some cases, even want) mainstream record play. I selected a random sample of 478 lyrics (by 337 different artists) taken from singles released between 1989 and 2004. Approximately 5 percent of the singles had appeared on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues Top 40, indicating that the sample was not top-heavy with popular artists and/or records. The lyrics were analyzed in three stages. First, they were read once and double-checked against the songs themselves, to make sure that the lyrics were transcribed accurately. Then the lyrics were analyzed line by line and coded for the presence of various ideas and words. A given idea was coded as being present if a single idea unit (the smallest unit of words able to express the idea) appeared within a song. The various ideas were then combined into larger nodes. The node “drugs,” for example, contained references not only to specific drugs but also to drug dealing, to drug consumption, and to both the causes and consequences of drug consumption and dealing, among other things. The node “crime” contained references to crime in general, to specific crimes (homicide, breaking and entering), and to criminals and the criminal system (references to the law and/or juries). Perry defines rap realism as rap that is chiefly concerned with the social conditions of (black) workingclass (urban) life. After coding at the various nodes, I labeled records that dealt chiefly with urban life as realist, records that depicted urban reality without critique as descriptive realist, and records engaged in critique as argumentative realist.3 In the following, I compare descriptive realist, argumentative realist, and nonrealist records. Realist tracks constituted 36 percent of the sample. Since their inception, rap and hip-hop have generated an opportunity for black and brown working-class men to exert voice. Originally, MCs did not address explicit political themes, nor did they use their music to examine the various ailments associated with urban spaces.4 A


record like “Funky Song” by Low Profile spends no time dealing with cities, urban neighborhoods, or the conditions therein. Low Profile does refer to drugs, but note how: Funk—the word for the day that I speak upon It’s like a drug, you could say that I’m sprung Every time that I speak I pertain to a funky crowd Turn up the radio, make sure that it’s loud (Low Profile 1990)

Low Profile only refers to drugs in the metaphorical sense. When he says that he is addicted (“sprung”) to funk, he’s saying he really likes it. Similarly, he refers to violence later in the record, but there he also speaks metaphorically (he talks about being so good on the mic that he makes weaker MCs choke). Records not coded as realist do contain politics—records like “Funky Song” can also be read as ruminations on black masculinity, and to the extent they deal with women, as ruminations on gender relations as well. But these politics are very different than those expressly concerned with the urban context.

Technologies of Subjectivity and Subjection Neoliberalism relies on technologies of subjectivity and subjection. These technologies work to reward and punish individuals, institutions, and places. These technologies rely on two ideas: first, that there are populations, institutions, and places that operate optimally and require minimal intervention, and second, that there are populations, institutions, and places that can operate optimally and that require intervention. They need (market-based) discipline, but the assumption is that they have the capacity at some point to discipline themselves. In response to the perceived lacuna in economics literature about the role of labor, Chicago School economists developed the idea of human capital. Instead of arguing, as does Marx, that capitalists purchase labor power from workers, who, in applying their labor power, develop a product that is sold, the neoliberals argue instead that individual workers develop their own human capital for the purpose of garnering a wage. The individual worker under this


idea is remade into an entrepreneur who has to make (rational) decisions about whether to improve her human capital and then how to do so. If the individual worker decides to have children, she will have to make rational decisions about with whom to mate and then, later, how to improve those children’s levels of human capital (Foucault 2008). The entrepreneur is self-directed and in control of managing and developing his own human capital and is also imminently rational and innovative, able to adapt to the high speed of knowledge production, circulation, and consumption that characterizes the global (neoliberal) market (Bowman 2007). He is also flexible, able to quickly pick up new skills, place himself within new networks, and live in new spaces, as the situation requires. The entrepreneur is disciplined, being able to manage his time and resources effectively and efficiently. Finally, as noted by my use of the masculine pronoun, the entrepreneur tends to be male (as well as middle to upper class and white). Technologies of subjectivity are designed to affirm and reward the homo economicus best able to build on and further develop his capital. Similarly, these technologies develop and mark certain types of spaces. Real estate values are a fundamental component of measuring urban worth. Urban experts strive to brand cities as places of cultural vibrancy, entertainment, and tourism to compete for (upper-class) residents, (upper-class) tourists, and corporate investment. These marketing campaigns, combined with downtown redevelopment projects that cater to upper-middle-class professionals, seek to transform cities into hubs for innovation, creativity, entrepreneurialism, leisure, and culture. Ideas about efficiency, consumption, and the market are moored to ideas about speed and fluidity, generating aesthetic resonance. In representing these spaces and populations, experts emphasize the freedom to produce, circulate, and consume as well as the ability to build one’s human capital, and desire for them and for “authentic” spaces, people, and things is cultivated (Zukin 2009; Jackson 2001). Spaces like New York City’s Times Square are transformed from ones that accommodate working-class people on the fringes to ones that laud not simply corporate development but creative corporate development. Urban spaces unlike Times Square are


developed to become like Times Square, and if they cannot mirror Times Square’s success perfectly, they attempt to use their own unique history to generate alternatives.5 Finally, these two technologies rely on the idea that some populations, institutions, and spaces cannot be remade or optimalized. These populations, institutions, and spaces are the exception and are the primary focus of technologies of subjection. Significant resources are deployed to manage, contain, control, and punish these populations, institutions, and spaces. Just as nations that cannot govern according to neoliberal dictates are put on austere structural adjustment programs, municipalities and individuals are governed similarly. Expertise allows these technologies to be deployed absent of politics—the policies and programs associated with these technologies are viewed as the only option, as the only technical alternative, as opposed to being the result of political contestation. Experts use narratives and images to produce and reproduce representations of bodies, spaces, and processes and to cultivate an aesthetic based on these representations. These representations soak up bandwidth through corporations and corporate-funded think tanks (Blyth 2002). Filmmakers, artists, writers, and musicians (among others) play a role in this process, creating and reproducing narratives and representations with the aid of corporate labels, film production houses, lifestyle magazines, and so on, as well as on their own. To remake the spaces that in fact can be remade, urban planners and politicians often use the rhetoric of obsolescence to engage in creative destruction, tearing down buildings and neighborhoods in unprofitable spaces to make way for more profitable ones (Weber 2002).6 Experts deploy technologies of subjectivity and subjection to solve problems of governance. Individuals are both driven and forced to work on themselves and to develop the human capital they need to acquire the types of lives they want to lead. Cities and regions create ways to market themselves to attract capital for the purposes of developing their own capital. Cities, institutions, and individuals who are deemed uniquely unable to work are either ignored—cities and institutions that cannot compete receive no funding—or surveilled and disciplined. Realist rap does expose the exception. The spaces realist rap


depicts are the ones least likely to be developed. The individuals they depict are the most likely to be treated exceptionally by institutions and individuals. With the steady erosion of manufacturing jobs, young, black, working-class men are the ones hardest hit, having little capacity to develop the requisite human capital needed to become disciplined. Indeed, they are most likely to be disciplined. And given that the voices rap enables are ones that were not traditionally heard within the black parallel public, rap plausibly expands the number of participants within black discursive spaces. I note that I deal with descriptive and argumentative realism. There are distinct differences between these two types. As I show subsequently, the descriptive realist records are much more likely to emphasize narratives that laud violence, crime, and drug use than critique them or address the causes for them. But a significant portion of the argumentative records reproduces neoliberalism as well through what I call crack governmentality. Governing is a problem-solving activity. Among the problems that neoliberalism attempts to solve is the problem of the city and its denizens. How do we make them work better? How do we make them more efficient and productive? How do we make them take advantage of and build on their physical, cultural, and human capital? And how do we make this process internal, a process that the individual subject tackles on her own, as opposed to relying on an external agent. MCs deploy technologies of subjectivity and subjection to develop their human capital and discern who is capable of self-regulation from those who are not. Furthermore, just as urban elites (planners, policy analysts, and politicians) are forced to market aspects of their cities to generate tourist traffic and corporate development, MCs do the same with their cities and neighborhoods. Scholars have emphasized the constructions of realness and authenticity but have not gone far enough in attaching them to neoliberalism. Through what I call crack governmentality, realist MCs deploy realness and authenticity as vehicles of urban and human capital and as a technology of subjectivity within subjected places and populations. Urban planners, policy analysts, and elites use various space- and culture-based aspects of cities to market them


to developers, situating themselves as experts while doing so. MCs take contemporary representations of poor urban neighborhoods in part devised and articulated by experts, politicians, and other artists and use them in their lyrics as marketing tools, becoming experts through the aesthetic choice of adopting the first-person point of view and choosing the same type of urban subject matter. They then emphasize character traits that further establish their expertise and separate the subject from the subjected. In the following, I examine how MCs tie notions of the real to hypersegregated black space and then to hypersegregated black populations.

Once upon a Time in the Ghetto We know that the ghetto plays a significant role within rap and rap videos, but it plays a particularly powerful role in realist rap, in general, and in descriptive realist rap, in particular. It should therefore come as no surprise that whereas only 49 percent of nonrealist records contain spatial references either to specific cities or neighborhoods or to generic places, a full 88 percent of descriptive realist records in the sample do, compared to 76 percent of what Perry refers to as argumentative records. Spatial references set the context. The dynamics that set urban hypersegregated places apart (high rates of crime and unemployment combined with high numbers of poor African Americans) for policy experts become the same dynamics that establish their authenticity. MCs refer to place at three different geographic scales—the unnamed “ghetto,” the specific city, and the specific neighborhood. Many MCs refer to the ghetto or the “hood” writ large, either referring to their ability to represent these spaces or to the behaviors that occur within them. Memphis Bleek (1999) says, “I got the hood in me, so I guess I’m no good, nigga” in “Regular Cat.” Here Bleek makes an implicit statement about representation—that he in turn symbolizes and represents the hood, even (and perhaps especially) when he is not in it. But he is saying something else as well—that the hood is inscribed within him and travels with him wherever he goes. Bleek slyly critiques and affirms the argument that poverty has a significant cultural component. This consequentially privileges values, mores, and modes of behavior over structural and spatial


deficits—but Bleek is making this claim to establish his agency. Mystikal (1998) rhymes in “There He Go,” “This is for the projects and ghettos with the scatter sight  /  And every street nigga that’s duckin’ them flash lights.” Here he professes allegiance not to a specific ghetto (or its specific residents) but to the ghetto as a translocal entity and to ghetto residents everywhere. Again, there is a representational element at play here, as Mystikal’s nod can be read as him identifying and speaking to his constituency. In other instances, MCs rhyme about specific places. Rhyming about Richmond, California, for instance, Master P (1991) says the following in his record “Richtown”: Ya see the Rich ain’t no joke 4-1-5 brothers slide through the ghetto Suckers get sent It’s the city of the drug lords, pushers, and pimps

Here P makes three different statements. The first statement emphasizes how hard core Richmond, California, is. The second and third lines emphasize both the ease with which certain black men move through urban neighborhoods and the difficulty others (“suckers”) have in doing that same thing. Finally, Master P notes that the city is home to not just one but three types of hustlers—big-time drug dealers, small-time drug dealers, and pimps. Again, according to experts, the hypersegregated black urban spaces are primarily home to criminals and welfare queens. Master P takes the essence of that expert narrative and reconstructs it for his purposes—making the real city the home of three discrete types of black (male) criminals. It is important to note here that the city is technically home to far more than drug dealers and pimps—otherwise, the drug dealers and pimps would have no one to exploit! But these populations work best at promoting Master P’s representation of the city and of realness. Just as chambers of commerce routinely ignore the presence of large numbers of poor residents in selling their city to potential investors and tourists, here Master P does something similar: he ignores thousands of denizens, connecting realness to a thin demographic slice. There are also significant gender politics


here. Although women are implied—the presence of pimps implies the presence of female prostitutes—women are not subjects. Rhyming about Oakland (part of the 415 area code), Richie Rich makes a similar move: See this is a hype tip cause in the O that’s how we do this Handlin’ boys and punks, I thought you knew this Gangsters bred on a daily basis And then the punk police they try to face this. (415 1991)

Again, though women play an implicit role in their reproductive capacity—Richie Rich argues that cities breed gangsters on a regular basis—they play no explicit role in Rich’s representation of the city. Rich uses some of the same logics employed by social science experts, but unlike them, he lauds this rather than critiquing it. Both Master P’s and 415’s records refer to the police as a nuisance, but in neither case do the artists use the reference to police to deal with the root causes that produce the “O” or “Richtown.” In fact, the police within these and other records in the descriptive realist genre are depicted as regulative burdens—similar to the ways that neoliberalism posits certain forms of government regulation as burdensome. Calling the city of Oakland the “O” or the city of Richmond “Richtown” is not just a form of slang; it should also be read as an attempt to generate another expert read on contemporary expert understandings of place used to market and sell the place and themselves. Of all the records that refer to place, 59 percent of them refer to a specific place, with 51 percent of these referring to West Coast cities (Los Angeles, Watts, Compton, Oakland). The most notorious example of MCs lyrically marketing place is Compton, California. Whereas Oakland and South Central Los Angeles (in general) already had well-known histories—Oakland, for example, was known as the birthplace of the Black Panther Party—Compton had no such history. NWA effectively took the most troublesome contemporary problem the city faced—and there is no evidence that the drug or gang problem was worse in Compton than it was in a number of other urban areas—and used it to create a new and


vibrant identity both for it and for the rap group itself. Prodeje (pronounced “prodigy,” though he has no relation to Prodigy, the East Coast MC of Mobb Deep fame) rhymes about South Central in “Do It South Central Style”: . . . creep on another ho’ And drop his ass like a ’64 It’s just a G-thang niggas straight street-bang You either hang with a gang or you dope-slang (South Central Cartel 1994)

Over and over again, descriptive realist MCs make a distinction between the subject and the subjected. Prodeje makes the same move as both Master P and Richie Rich. The South Central economy was devastated during and after the neoliberal turn. Even given this, there are literally thousands of citizens (black and nonblack) who are employed in both the formal and informal economy and who have little direct connection to the scene that Prodeje describes. Just like Master P before him, Prodeje lyrically posits the existence of only two subjects within these spaces: drug-dealing men and male gang members. In other cases, the MCs refer to a specific neighborhood or housing project. Ill Bill’s record “Glenwood Projects” takes this approach. The housing project itself is only referred to twice; however, both references leave indelible impressions on the listener. The record itself begins with a firsthand, minute-long description of the projects, with Uncle Howie (Howie Tenenbaum, Ill Bill’s uncle) not rapping but talking about the supposed glory days of the projects: Glenwood mothafuckin’ projects. That was the fucking place man. Crack smoking all night, cooking it up, selling C-4, weapons, blowguns, every mothafucking thing. What a fucking rush! (Ill Bill 2004)

Again, the very things that made the projects (which later burned down) a place that bred unemployment, criminality, drug use, and so on, become markers of realness and authenticity, aspects to laud rather than critically analyze. When Uncle Howie speaks of how


he was almost killed because the projects became ground zero of a drug war with Jamaicans, he refers to it as a “rush.” Howie is a ghetto expert because he has firsthand knowledge of how the projects purportedly used to be. Only a few descriptive realist records describe the ghetto as a physical place. In the Cypress Hill record “Hand on the Glock,” B-Real rhymes about “Rollin in the hood  /  that’s already shot up,” referring to both the widespread nature of violence and its physical effects on the city (Cypress Hill 1993).

Picture Like a Photo: Beats and Video in Rap Realism The MC’s flow as well as the sounds DJs and producers employ are important in conveying authenticity and increasing the speed at which audiences consume and embrace their lyrics. In selecting sounds for the record, arguably the most important criterion is crowd response—how will the sounds “move the crowd”? But it is also about authentically re-creating the street; it is about taking the sounds that people associate with urban life and using them to generate the same associations within the song. Some critique hip-hop and other genres that heavily rely on electronic music as not sounding real enough, but such critiques miss the point—the reality that the electronic beats seek to evoke is not the reality of a live music instrument but rather the reality of the street. Using samples from productions created or largely consumed by black audiences represents a form of black temporal parallelism. Here music evokes memories and sentiments that go beyond and underneath consciousness. Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up,” a popular song that appeared in one of the first hip-hop movies, New Jack City, served as the sonic backdrop for Master P’s “Richtown.” The producers could have chosen the Color Me Badd sample for a number of reasons, but the song’s popularity and its connection to a movie that itself emphasized the urban drug trade were likely among them. South Central Cartel’s “Gang Stories” samples liberally from Compton’s Most Wanted’s “Hood Took Me Under”—here the samples work to explicitly establish connections between the two rap groups. The West Coast style popularized by NWA comprises two components. The first component is composed of the themes I examine


throughout this chapter, but the second is a lazy sound pioneered by Dr. Dre (formerly of NWA) that combines hip-hop beats with 1970s-era funk samples. These samples not only sound pleasing to the listener but also create an interesting dichotomy given the lyrics they complement. They evoke a more pleasant time—if not economically, then culturally, with Wattstax and the explosion of black media. To the extent there is an affective gap that an artist has to cross to connect to the listener, using sounds that are familiar to the listener as well as sounds that evoke affective responses can bridge that gap. The growing use of the music video within hip-hop gives MCs an opportunity to add a visual layer to their lyrics—a layer that allows them to articulate these spaces as being authentic and to articulate the physical condition of these spaces as well as their roles within it. Three techniques stand out—the first is the wideangle tracking shot that establishes the general setting, with the shot often taken in a moving car with a video camcorder instead of more professional equipment, working to enhance its authenticity. The second is a wider-angle stationary shot of groups of people in front of a neighborhood place that is recognizable either because of its uniqueness (a particularly popular street or club) or because of its ubiquity (a nondescript housing project, neighborhood block, or party store). The third is a close-up of the MC or group that is wide enough to situate the MC in the environment, and the final technique is the choice of clothing that those in the video (and the MC, in particular) wear. Listeners and nonlisteners already view the urban spaces hip-hop represents as black, but the techniques discussed in the preceding paragraph visually crystallize this. The tracking shot that takes the viewer through poor urban neighborhoods depicts the residents’ race without their visual presence because of hypersegregation and the way the media routinely represent them. These crystallized ideas work to further cement the MC’s status as an authoritative source by presenting the neighborhood reality in ways people already understand. Several of the videos of the descriptive realist records in the sample, including Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. II,” employ these techniques. The first scene of this video takes place in a kitchen,


depicting a close-up shot of a stovetop burner interspersed with two young black men talking about getting paid while smoke rises from the burner. This shot establishes the men’s status as low-level drug dealers—dealers cook powder cocaine to make crack. The next shot is a wide-angle tracking shot of Queens. We first see Prodigy here, driving over the bridge as he begins to rap. The video then shifts to a close-up shot of black men shooting dice in a neighborhood, then to a street-level tracking shot of housing projects, then back to Prodigy, first in the car, then in an alley—with the alley shot being wide enough to include not only him and Havoc (Mobb Deep’s other member) but other members of their extended crew. The two MCs wear gear (red and blue T-shirts emblazoned with “Hennessy”) to distinguish them, but all wear clothes typically associated with young, black, working-class men.7 The aesthetic choices made here establish the setting, emphasizing its uniqueness (particularly through the bridge shot) and, at the same time, those characteristics that connect it to other, similar places. These aesthetic choices also work to establish the MCs’ street credentials as experts. They go a bit further in fleshing out the city than the lyrics do because the visual references convey a plethora of information in the interstitial spaces between lyrics. However, they, too, often erase whole swatches of urban denizens—workers, nonsexualized women, babies, schoolchildren, shopkeepers, and so on. Finally, they establish the hypermasculinity of the city in general and of the ghetto in particular.

Ghetto Human Capital, or How to Survive in South Central Human capital as developed and deployed in neoliberalism traditionally refers to mainstream schooling. However, in the case of the descriptive realist MCs, human capital is garnered through a different form of education, in the spaces to which I referred earlier. There both Master P and Prodeje depicted the real residents of the city as being either drug dealers or gangsters. The skills imparted in these spaces include the willingness to engage in violence and crime in general and the ability to hustle, particularly in the drug economy. These survival skills enable the MC to survive and thrive as a ghetto subject, giving her the ability to navigate between subjects (some of them friends, some of them enemies) and to


make money through both the informal and formal economies. Violence and crime are both much more prevalent in the realist records than in the nonrealist records. References to violence appear in 86 percent of realist records but only in 37 percent of nonrealist records. References to crime appear in 74 percent of realist records but only in approximately 28 percent of nonrealist records within the sample. Within the descriptive realist genre, approximately 98 percent of the records not only contain lyrics dealing with violent episodes but recount tales of violence involving the MC—this compared to only 68 percent of argumentative realist records and 29 percent of nonrealist records. Similarly, within the descriptive realist genre, approximately 48 percent of the records contain lyrics not only dealing with (non-drug-related) crime but dealing with it from the perspective of the MC, compared to only a paltry 9 percent of records coded as nonrealist and 32 percent of the argumentative realist records. The “bad man” is the individual willing to commit acts of violence, often in self-defense, in an effort to retaliate, or in response to disrespect, and he is willing to commit crime for the purpose of making money. In “Murder by Reason of Insanity,” Scarface begins rhyming about his willingness to commit violence if someone disrespects him: Niggas get stomped when they step with that bullshit If you got a firearm go ahead and pull it Cause I’ma put it dead on yo’ ass when you reach I got a little friend on my shoulder I think you want to meet (Scarface 1991)

Later in the track, he rhymes about being attacked by a rival drug gang. He responds by killing the perpetrator and his family, even though they lived in a profitable neighborhood (he refers to not caring about the drugs he leaves there). I take care in distinguishing here between the ability to act violently and the ability to respond violently. Though there are MCs who refer to casual acts of violence to emphasize their unpredictability, in the majority of cases, violence works as a response. Neoliberalism relies on agency. The homo economicus has to


be able to discipline himself to pursue his goals, developing and deploying his human capital in doing so. Committing violence in response to violence is an important technology of subjectivity for the MC, particularly given that institutional agents poorly regulate the spaces they represent and about which they rhyme. In the record “Late Night Hype,” MC Eiht not only gives allegiance to the city of Compton—references to the city and its streets are rife within the recording—but uses an attempted carjacking (of him) to slyly critique the concept of rap representation even as he embodies it. Giving the listener his response to the jacker, Eiht rhymes: I said, “Look my name is Eiht, and I’m your local town rapper” He said (“So what? I’m your local town jacker”) Right then I knew I couldn’t reason with the chap So the thought came (E, peel his cap) (Compton’s Most Wanted 1990)

The “show and prove” challenge is important in crack governmentality. To indicate their status as subjects, MCs have to show that they are willing to engage in the behavior about which they rhyme. MC Eiht acknowledges that challenge. Furthermore, even though he states that he couldn’t “reason with the chap”—here playing with the idea that rappers (and subjects of urban areas in general) are neither able to use standard English nor able to employ logic—he employs reason in deciding to kill his (attempted) jacker. Within the narrative of the record, not only does he save his own life but he saves his reputation as a representative and reproduces the prominent representation of Compton. Juvenile talks of the “G Code” in “400 Degreez”: How I’ma be runnin’ with these killas and backin’ down How I’ma look in front of my people, like a clown The G Code is what we live and die by The book is what we will never abide by (Juvenile 1998)

In the first two lines of the stanza, Juvenile expresses the same anxiety and tension that Eiht and many other MCs in the genre


exhibit. If Juvenile himself is not willing to engage in violence, even as he rhymes about it and aligns himself with people who do, what type of subject–representative will he be? The G Code (with “G” being short for gangster) is the bad man’s code that is not so much imposed on him as being self-imposed. Committing violence in response to disrespect, in self-defense and in retaliation for another act of violence, is necessary to protect his human capital. I noted that the spaces about which the MCs rhyme are hypersegregated and predominantly black. Although there are tracks in the sample that refer to interracial violence and crime, the vast majority of the records refer to intraracial violence and crime, either implicitly or explicitly. Black (male) MCs rhyme about committing or defending themselves against acts of violence perpetuated by other blacks; they rhyme about committing crimes against other blacks. Although cities on the West and East coasts are multiracial, they are depicted in videos as being predominantly black—there are no nonblacks in “Shook Ones Pt. II” or “Appetite for Destruction,” for example, even though New York City and Los Angeles, respectively, are far from predominantly black cities. Their depiction combined with the use of the term nigga—which can refer to people in general but is often read as referring to black people—makes the conflict one that occurs primarily within segregated, predominantly black spaces.

I’m a Hustler Baby: The Drug Dealer, the Entrepreneur Until now, I have examined the way MCs use expertise to represent the city and its denizens for the purposes of marketing them to consumers. I have also examined the way MCs use first-person tales of crime and violence both to emphasize their status as bad men and to build their human capital. But though I have dealt with violence and crime that does not directly deal with drugs, I have not yet tackled drug dealing itself. Approximately 81 percent of the descriptive realist records refer to drugs, while only 35 percent of the records not coded as realist and 74 percent of records coded as argumentative realist refer to them. The following lines from Mack 10’s “Tonight’s the Night” (off the aptly named album Based on a True Story) deal with violence but also implicitly with drug dealing:


. . . you do what you do I do what the dollar say I’m a street nigga punk my pistol smoke like Doc Holliday I sell everything homie now tell me what you want You got to have this caviar fool don’t say that you don’t (Mack 10 1997)

Establishing himself as a “street nigga” here establishes his status as a bad man willing to commit violence. What I am particularly interested in here is how he connects his bad-man status to his status as a hustler. The hustler plays a prominent role in black popular culture and—if we include critiques of black civil rights leaders such as Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton—black political culture as well (Henry 1990; Levine 1978; Perry 2004). Rather than reading the hustler as one who shirks work, within crack governmentality, the hustler is one who is constantly working, constantly reading the needs of consumers and constantly producing either to meet these needs or even to generate them. Mack 10 is willing to sell literally everything to the consumer who wants it (as well as the things the consumer may think she does not want but really does).8 Earlier, I quoted Prodeje, who noted that there were only two populations within the city worth mentioning—the gangbanger and the drug dealer. Here and in other records, we see the two come together. In a context in which federal, state, and local support is limited, representatives are forced to market the unique physical and cultural attributes of the spaces they represent under the rubric of authenticity and tradition. Individuals are forced to develop their human capital and, in effect, to become entrepreneurs, if not corporations of one. For rap artists, the real becomes a means of separating the authentic from the inauthentic, but more important, it becomes both a technology of subjection—articulating how one has to live to live according to these specific neoliberal dictates and distinguishing bodies that work from bodies that cannot—and an entrepreneurial device, a technology of subjectivity. Places like Compton and the Bronx are viewed as exceptional spaces because they cannot be remade for the purposes of capital. The implication here is that the microspaces, institutions, and/or people within these spaces do not operate according to market


dictates. And from a neoliberal perspective, a number of statistical indicators (poverty rates, crime rates, unemployment rates, etc.) lend empirical support to this position. However, this implication is wrong. Realist rap takes the most prominent representations of these spaces and uses them as marketing and branding tools, similar to those used by urban political and business elites. However, this market logic is driven by the realities of narcocapitalism. The neoliberal subject, the homo economicus, is the entrepreneur, the enterprise–corporation of one, the hustler. He exhibits discipline, a desire to improve himself through human capital, and the willingness to compete. In poor and working-class urban areas across the country, African Americans hustle as the public street peddlers of the drug trade. Many MCs claim to have begun their rap careers hustling in the drug trade. Approximately 44 percent of songs in the descriptive realist genre that refer to drugs deal with drug selling in the first person. In “Pocket Full of Stones,” for example, Bun B details how he took the raw product that a relative sold him, cooked it up, sold it, then put the money back into more product, which he presumably cooked up, then sold again, repeating the process. Soon he had enough to buy a house on the lake, a nice car, and a business he used to launder his money. If we think not so much about the product (crack cocaine) but rather about the activity, it is clear that rather than being lazy, or shiftless, or lacking in work ethic, Bun B is an extremely hard worker (he cooked the crack himself), is extremely disciplined (disciplined enough not to become addicted to the product he was creating; disciplined enough to produce and reproduce the product over and over again), and is extremely entrepreneurial. Similarly, one of the first scenes we see in Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. II” is a scene of young black men cooking crack cocaine. Rather than shirking work, these MCs work incessantly, not even outsourcing the labor required to make the product until, in Bun B’s case, he has enough income to do so. Education is viewed as the dominant mode of developing one’s capital—the idea of being a life learner is tied directly to the neoliberal value of competition. In “Autobiographical,” Black Sheep contradicts both that idea and the idea that money garnered through the drug trade is easy. After patently ignoring his father’s request to read more, he rhymes:


I jingle-jangled, clocked at every angle Tiki’s getting paid and his crew’s star-spangled And everyday, all day/night yo whatever Niggas on the strip in sub-zero weather (Black Sheep 1994; italics added)

When MCs refer to the “grind” or to “grinding,” this is what they are referring to—the mundane twenty-four-hour, everyday, get-itdone mentality that is the primary component of both the homo economicus and the rap MC. Crips MC Broncoe speaks of “servin sess in the daytime, chronic at night”9 (Crips 1995), sounding on one level like a twenty-four-hour prescription drug store. One of the critiques of rap music in the early 1990s was that it was preoccupied with materialism, with bling. The concern with bling is here, but it is not significant. When it does appear, it is connected to drug dealing, as Kane shows in “Gangstafied”: Wasn’t never no Mama I want to sing It was mama I wanna slang So I can show off my gold chain, gold ring Roll through the hood on them gold thangs (Kane and Able 1996)

The play Mamma I Want to Sing was the longest-running offBroadway play in history and thematically focused on the tension between the black secular and the black sacred, with the secular perceived and presented as being the surefire way to fame and damnation simultaneously. The plot focused on a black woman’s attempt to bridge the secular–sacred gap through her singing. Kane’s lyrics work at two different levels. On one level, the lyrics can be read as a gendered critique of the play and the reality of the options presented within it. The central character in the play had an option either to sing in church or to sing in the real world. This option was largely unavailable to young black men (much less to Kane) but furthermore, it was not preferred—real men don’t sing. Following up on this point, given that Kane is in fact performing (though not singing), it works as a critique of rhythm and blues as a genre.10 Finally, within the world articulated by the song, Kane


evinces a preference for drug economy employment, a form of employment that will more readily get him the payoff he seeks as opposed to the (fairy-tale?) life of a singer. In writing about the empirical and political innovation of the homo economicus, Foucault notes that even consumers produce something—their own satisfaction. Here Kane works at the one thing he knows and desires to satisfy his own material wants as well as to perform authentically. Turning back again to the record “Funky Song,” the use of drugs as a metaphor for how addictive funk is, on one hand, is simply a matter of convenience—I imagine Low Profile looking for something that communicates funk’s effects on listeners and latching on to the metaphor of drug addiction because it serves the purpose with a bit of lyrical flair. On the other hand, it communicates the degree to which the drug economy even colonized the language within urban communities. I mention this because one of the reasons why some MCs became MCs, either while dealing drugs or after dealing drugs, is not only because of the move toward realism that privileged their personal narratives as experts but also because the business models they employed while involved in drug selling—the hustle, the grind—reflect the primary business model employed in selling records. Artists like Too Short, Master P, Eazy-E, and Jay-Z were intimately familiar with the twenty-four-hour, everyday, get-it-done mentality required to be a successful artist and a successful neoliberal subject. To the extent that the police or the law interferes, they work in the same way within the drug trade as regulations work within neoliberalism—they unduly increase bureaucracy and reduce the ability of the market to function.

Law and Disorder Neoliberal policies seek to reduce the regulative burden that prevents the market from operating efficiently. Within crack governmentality, the police work thematically as the primary racialized regulative burden. In “Goin’ through a Thang” and other rap music videos, the police are often white, while lyrically, the police are often referred to as “crackers.” Within the descriptive realist tracks, the law itself serves as a nuisance that works with the MC’s desire to market himself as a bad man, even as it works against the MC and the


constituency the MC seeks to represent by incarcerating them. When Juvenile rhymes about the “book,” he is referring to the set of legal rules, norms, and regulations that work to control and order the behavior on which he relies for his own development. They function—as a technology of subjection—and he rails against them.11 The Underground Kings’ “Pocket Full of Stones” serves as another example. Bun B rhymes about his beginnings as a low-level drug dealer and about how paying off the police was the price of business: When I first started back in 1989 I wasn’t movin keys I was barely movin dimes Started comin’ up fiends recognize my face Started payin’ off the laws so I wouldn’t catch a case (The Underground Kings 2002)

There is no explanation as to why he has to pay off the police— who presumably, given Bun B’s activities, are supposed to arrest him anyway. He simply notes he has to, and it is not hard for the listener to fill in the blanks. Later in the song, he blithely rhymes about how he had to kill a police officer for disrespecting him, and given the way he describes this first encounter with the police, the listener easily fills in the gap here as well. Police are paid off because they have no particular interest in actually serving denizens of poor urban communities. Fifty-eight percent of the descriptive realist records deal with the law, with 67 percent of these referring to police. Similar proportions of argumentative realist records in the sample deal with the law (approximately 58 percent), and within that subset, more refer to the police (74 percent). In contrast, only 18 percent of records coded as nonrealist deal with the law (although 60 percent of these references, too, deal with the police). I’ve already noted how the space of the city–neighborhood– ghetto functions within descriptive realist rap. The other space to which MCs refer is that of the jail. MCs use jail in their lyrics in two different ways. They use jail to depict the natural consequence of the activities in which the MCs engage and about which they rhyme—again, not to critique, but simply to describe. The discussions


of jail also serve to heighten certain ethical considerations—and here I am not referring to the ethics of committing crime but rather to the ethics of truth telling. The claim to realness depends in part on establishing an ethic that is based on intragroup truth and honesty. There are a number of records that emphasize lying in the legal system: MCs lie on the stand when asked why they committed a crime; police lie against MCs either to arrest them or to extort money from them. But there are no records that emphasize lying on one’s associates or friends, even if the penalty is jail, as noted in the following by Bloods and Crips in “Time Is Gone Nigga.” After referring to how a number of allies are making money and advancing, an unnamed MC rhymes: Droppin’ the top and never to drop a motherfuckin’ dime12 Homie you gets caught up in the game you gots to do your time The consequence is a real bitch But niggaz should know what’s worth than your word (Bloods and Crips 1994)13

The subject is distinguished from the subjected by the ability to both be responsible and take responsibility for one’s actions. Not only is the MC acknowledging the severe consequences of not dropping a dime but he is assuming guilt in actually committing the crime. However, rather than critique the act of committing the crime here, or even the circumstances that led to the crime, he instead uses rhetoric to emphasize how descriptive realist subjects are supposed to carry themselves—which brings me to the exception.

I Smoked the TV Mama: The Exceptions Blacks in the spaces about which realist MCs rhyme are already depicted as lacking a work ethic, as being irrational and prone to violence, and as being unproductive. MCs react against this by primarily using the drug economy as the vehicle through which they themselves show that they do have a work ethic, are disciplined, and are entrepreneurial. Contrary to the way they are depicted in the mainstream, they are neoliberal subjects. But there are three different exceptions: three different populations that do not work under crack governmentality. The snitch,


mentioned earlier, works against his own interests and those of his community by increasing rather than decreasing the regulative burden—by involving police and the law in the affairs of the central subjects (the drug dealers, the gangsters). By his actions, his willingness to “drop a dime,” he reveals that he also lacks the discipline required to build and develop his human capital. The “punk” is similar here, but although the snitch can be referred to as a punk, I use the term to describe people without the ability to defend themselves. When MCs like Eiht have to successfully navigate the show-and-prove challenge, they do so to show that they are not punks, that they do have the ability to defend themselves. People unable to defend themselves are unable to build human capital and protect the products of the capital they do have. I noted that women are not viewed as subjects within my sample. Both the punk and the snitch (as well as the police, in some cases) are gendered, are juxtaposed against the hypermasculine MC. The third exception is the black drug dealer. Former U.S. secretary of labor George Schulz states the inverse relationship between drug use and neoliberal governmentality very clearly: Ultimately, self-government in the political sense depends on selfgovernment in the personal and moral sense. . . . A person must say “no” to drug abuse or eventually he will say “no” to life. A nation must say “no” to narcotics or it will eventually say “no” to democracy. (Corva 2008, 184)

Because drug consumption drastically reduces self-governing ability, it drastically reduces the ability to grow one’s human capital. The rise of crack cocaine in the 1980s produced a new population: crack addicts. Experts argued in front of Congress that crack was more addictive than powder cocaine, that people addicted to the disease were violence prone and a risk to society. Babies born to crack-addicted women were prone to a host of mental and physical disabilities (U.S. Congress, 1987a, 1987b, 1990). Movies directed by black artists (Mario Van Peebles’s New Jack City and Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever stand out) reproduced the idea that crack addicts constituted a new population in the black parallel public. These addicts were unable to control their urges and constituted a


menace to black society. Within these spaces, they represented the neoliberal exception. Though crack’s cheap price (crack was sold for as little as five dollars a rock, approximately ten times cheaper than powder cocaine) did make it much more affordable to low-income men and women, there was no evidence that people were more likely to be addicted to crack than to cocaine, and no evidence supported the claim that babies born to crack-addicted women were more prone to exhibit disabilities. Finally, there was no evidence that people addicted to the disease constituted more of a risk than people addicted to other drugs when controlling for income (Lewis 2004; Falck, Wang, and Carlson 2008; Erickson et al. 2000; Cheung, Erickson, and Landau 1991). The crack panic was driven more by fear of the populations addicted to the drug than by these populations’ actual behavior because of the drug. Rap MCs here used their expertise to further reproduce ideas about crack addiction and addicts. In “Get Up on That Funk,” Coolio distinguishes between the good addictive qualities of funk music and marijuana and the bad addictive qualities of crack. Violent J of the Insane Clown Posse plays with the rhyme scheme in depicting the stereotypical behavior associated with crack addiction: How many times will a crackhead smoke crack And ask me for some money cuz he wants crack Give him money, again, he’s coming back Walk away, and here’s another, “Gimme some crack” (Insane Clown Posse 1997)

MC Eazy-E describes a “strawberry” in “Dopeman”: “A strawberry is the neighborhood ho’  /  Do anything for a hit or two  /  Give the bitch a rock she fucked the whole damn crew” (NWA 1987). The “strawberry” that Eazy-E describes is the “crack whore” elsewhere, depicted as being particularly depraved and willing to give up her body for crack. Descriptive realist songs (and rap records in the sample in general) celebrate marijuana use as a way of promoting authenticity and an alternative lifestyle. However, they make clear distinctions between marijuana users and crack addicts. Crack addicts become


exceptions and are labeled as such within rap by people posited to be exceptions. The crack addict has no standing, moral or otherwise. And given conservative ideas about women and the control they are to have over their own bodies, crack whores come under particular disdain. Now, up to this point, I have focused on descriptive realist records—records that seek to describe rather than pass judgment on the real world. I have focused on the way they reproduce crack governmentality by emphasizing ghetto neoliberal subjects and ghetto neoliberal exceptions. Argumentative records, however, are much more critical. Argumentative records, unlike their descriptive realist counterparts, critique the reality they present.

Fight the Power! Previously I focused on descriptive records, records that present reality without critique. The records I cited earlier represent urban spaces as being extremely dangerous. They depict the populations within them as largely black, employed in the narcoeconomy, and more than willing to use violence as a means of conflict resolution. They do so without apology, and to the extent that they seek to understand the reality in which they live, they understand it using a neoliberal framework. In defending rap realism, Perry argued that most of the tracks in the realist genre criticize reality rather than simply describing it. My analysis suggests otherwise. Descriptive realist records outnumber the argumentative realist records, as they constitute 52 percent of the realist records, whereas argumentative tracks only constitute 24 percent. Both descriptive and argumentative realist records rely on firstperson narratives. As noted earlier, descriptive realist records rely heavily on the first person to create a more visceral experience for the listener as well as to present themselves as experts and representatives. MCs also adopt the first person in argumentative realist records for the same reason. However, whereas descriptive realist MCs are first-person participants, argumentative realist MCs are either critical participants or journalistic witnesses. Within the argumentative records in the sample, there are instances in which the MC is a first-person participant, but even in these few cases, the first-person perspective is bracketed by news accounts. The first


voice in Ice T’s “Hunted Child,” for example, is a news journalist reporting on the spread of violence within Los Angeles. When Ice T rhymes in the first person after the news journalist “appears,” it is clear that he’s adopting a role rather than describing something that happened to him—and his role is an extremely critical one: No jokin,’ I’m sleepin’ with my eyes open Wanted for a homicide ride, the gun’s still smokin’ Didn’t know what I was doin’ but did it anyway Now the posse’s on my trail, they say I’m gonna pay (Run!) (Ice T 1989)

There is an interiority here that the descriptive records using the first person lack. Ice T tells you what the hunted child of the song title did—killed someone—but he also tells you what his motives were and how he actually feels (scared). Combining the presumably objective accounts of the news reporter with the interior viewpoint of the criminal complicates the local news story that dominates most urban local news programs. Elsewhere in the track, the character addresses and critiques his own poverty, but in doing so, he refers to his childhood (he knew he was poor because he didn’t get any presents for Christmas). He refers to his mother and her circumstances. Both these examples turn the idea that he is a hardened killer on its head. In fact, the title itself becomes a critique of the linguistic technologies employed in creating the exception. Schoolly D also plays with descriptive realist conventions in “Just Another Killer.” The first stanza of the rap begins by depicting the stereotypical black gang member. He smokes weed, drinks beer, spends most of his time selling drugs on the corner, and violently tries to collect money from people who owe him. When the police inevitably catch him and send him to jail, he’ll be literally “just another killer.” But in the second stanza, the point of view changes to the first person, a move made by many realist MCs. Schoolly spends a few lines rapping about how hard core he is engaging in casual misogyny. But in this case, rather than describing his behavior without explanation, in the middle of the stanza, Schoolly angrily utters the following lyrics:


That’s why I’m a fucking gangbanger What the fuck did you expect me to wanna be When every time that I turn on my TV And every bit the drug dealer look like me (Schoolly D 1991)

Like most of the records in the sample, there is no video accompanying this track—the record received very little airplay when it was released. However, one can easily imagine Schoolly breaking the fourth wall separating the world of the video from the real world, staring into the camera at the viewer and telling her why he is the way he is—the conditions about which Schoolly rhymes are the result of (false) media representations. Argumentative realist records, like their descriptive counterparts, also focus on the city, but in a very different way. Rappers like Richie Rich and Too Short represent the “O” as a city of hustlers, totally erasing entire populations of the city—the black (and nonblack) working and nonworking poor and the predominantly nonblack upper classes. In the track “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,” the Coup implicitly responds, creating a track that presents a different vision of cities—one that not only represents its class politics but articulates and critiques the politics of creative destruction. Adopting the first-person perspective, Boots is a hustler, but not the type of hustler normally depicted in the descriptive realist records. He lives life vicariously through a combination of theft (picking the pockets of the fat cats of the song title) and con games (the only record to deal with the relationship between urban poverty and hunger, Boots rhymes about getting free food by sweet talking a Burger King cashier). While eating his food in a parking structure—because he is homeless, the parking structure is the only place he could eat and stay warm—he runs into his cousin. Even this encounter becomes an opportunity to ruminate on black working-class employment—the cousin is in the middle of quitting his job (he is a waiter) because the pay is too low and the company for which he works is racist. Seeing a chance to make money by picking the pockets of the wealthy clientele, the narrator borrows the cousin’s tuxedo and switches places with him. When he walks into the posh event wearing his cousin’s tuxedo, he thinks that he’s hit the proverbial


jackpot, until he overhears a conversation between a corporate executive and the mayor of the city. In several short lines, Boots articulates the core relationship between business interests and political officials—business interests help to reelect political officials in exchange for undervalued real estate. By the time he recounts the entire scenario—the executive plans to stave off both the Urban League and Jesse Jackson by donating money to their coffers—the listener knows that the hustle is multitiered, to say the least: That’s when I step back some to contemplate what few know Sat down wrestle with my thoughts like a sumo Ain’t no one player that could beat this lunacy Ain’t no hustler on the street could do a whole community (The Coup 1995)

Another example is the 1993 record “Watts Riot,” in which Ice Cube argues that the next potential Watts riot won’t only be confined to Watts but that when it spreads to other cities, it’ll first hit wealthier suburbs: So if you throw me Ozzie and Harriet I fuck around and bury it, huh Ain’t making the hood look shitty Watts riot, insert your city motherfucker! (Kam 1993)

For Cube, the condition of Watts is specific enough to name drop without fear of listeners misunderstanding the connection and global enough that the listener can simply insert his city without a significant loss of meaning. Place matters here, but it does not work as a marketing tool—the revolution takes place first in Watts, but Cube is not making this claim to argue that Watts is more authentic than other places, and he’s not making this claim to generate more income. I noted that Compton came to fill such an important role in rap geography that some MCs disassociated themselves from it. But in the argumentative records, Compton becomes a connector. When MC Serch rhymes, “This land is your land, this land is my land  /  From the streets of Compton to the Brooklyn island” in


“Social Narcotics” (MC Serch 1992), he connects the east and west sides together via Compton (as opposed to Los Angeles). I noted the way that descriptive realist MCs referred to law enforcement. As can be seen in preceding examples and other records, argumentative MCs take a more critical approach. Law enforcement is a regulative hurdle that keeps the MC from engaging in the various hustles in which he needs to engage to make a living and sustain himself. But it also represents an occupying force. The violence here is interracial, inasmuch as police are often depicted as white, and it is also a response to conditions of oppression. The records I’ve presented so far work to critique conditions of poverty and racism, focusing on the role institutions (mass media, political parties, law enforcement) play in producing the conditions. And of the argumentative records, 55 percent of them explicitly critique structural conditions, whether using the somewhat nuanced approach of the Coup or one that is more heavy-handed. As such, these records do not work to reproduce neoliberalism—there is no homo economicus and no individual seeking to maximize his human capital by adhering to the rational rules of the market. Furthermore, the MCs in these records clearly point to (inhuman) structural conditions as generating the exception. However, 45 percent of the argumentative records take another approach—critiquing the conditions of society but blaming them on black cultural factors. “Eyes Are the Soul” by MC Lyte (one of the few female artists in the sample) tells the tale of three afflicted people. The first person in MC Lyte’s narrative is a male HIV–AIDS victim; the second person is a crack addict wanted by the law; and the third is a young, black, pregnant teenager who is considering abortion. However, in each of the cases, MC Lyte firmly places the responsibility for their condition on their own shoulders. The HIV–AIDS victim contracted the disease because he was irresponsible and did not know the woman with whom he was both sleeping and sharing needles. The crack addict is addicted because his mother was an addict. The final instance? I’ve watched her grow, little girl down the street White shirts and skirts with pleats She cried, fear in her voice


Not knowing, she had a choice (MC Lyte 1991)

In each case, Lyte evinces sympathy and warmth toward the victim. By depicting the girl as she was when she was a child, Lyte depicts her as a young innocent and, in so doing, evokes sympathy from the listener. However, even in her sympathy, she frames the issue as one of individual knowledge. If the girl knew more, just as if the HIV–AIDS victim had better control, she wouldn’t be in the situation she’s in. There is no consideration of larger structural forces that shape access to material resources or even of the knowledge that Lyte suggests is the solution. Nas’s “I Can” takes the same type of approach. The record begins with a ten-second clip from the Dramatics’ “Get Up and Get Down” before transitioning into a sparse beat accompanied by Beethoven’s Für Elise, sonically evoking urban spaces traditionally represented by hip-hop, past moments in black history, and piano recitals. In the record, Nas inspires young children in urban neighborhoods, informing them that they can be anything they aspire to be through hard work. But in telling this morality tale, he, too, uses examples of personal acquaintances to point to the role that individual perseverance and morality play in distinguishing winners from losers. Referring to a woman with Lena Horne–like talent, Nas rhymes: Hung with the wrong person Got her strung off the heroin Cocaine, sniffin’ up drugs, all in her nose Coulda died, so young, now looks ugly and old (Nas 2002)

Later, in an implicit critique of women who dress explicitly in music videos, he urges young women to act and dress their age instead of attempting to be older than they are and to stay away from older men who may not have their best interests in mind. As for young men, Nas urges them to realize that life is not all about drug consumption and materialism, asking them to focus on education so they don’t grow up illiterate and homeless.


The video for “I Can” is particularly interesting. It begins with the same techniques the descriptive realist videos use—a wide-angle shot of the city, moving into a close-up of Nas. But when the camera freezes on Nas, the still shot becomes an animated one, signaling a transition. The next shot is a fish-eye shot of an empty neighborhood plot, centered on a young girl sitting at a piano playing Beethoven. As she begins to play, we see a group of kids jumping up and down on an abandoned bed mattress in the background—the juxtaposition here implicitly critiquing the conditions while also extolling the promise of the youths in the video. The message here is clear—as bad as the conditions of ghetto neighborhoods are, the children can still take control of their own destiny and generate enough human capital to perform Beethoven if they make the right choices and do not affiliate with the wrong crowd. The (black male) criminal works as the exception within the general neoliberal narrative, whether produced by white or nonwhite experts. Within descriptive realist rap, the black criminal is the neoliberal subject. But in “So Whatcha Gone Do Now?” Chuck D excoriates gangsta rap, blaming it not only for black criminal behavior but also for acting on behalf of white neo–slave masters. After arguing that their desire to make money is directly connected to the exploitation of the hood, Chuck D rhymes: See you runnin’ like roaches Black gangstas need track coaches The white law set you up raw When you have his trust in killin’ us (Public Enemy 1994)

Here D adopts the first-person perspective, but note how he uses the us versus them dichotomy to make a stark distinction between black gangsta rappers (and white racists) and black (urban) citizens. Also note how he implicitly reproduces the black-on-black crime meme, which itself is based on the idea that black culture is dysfunctional. Finally, we have Big Daddy Kane’s “WGONRS,” which, by its title (a loose acronym for “what’s going on in our society”), attempts


to serve as a rap version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” In fact, the record begins with a DJ repeating the beginning of Gaye’s classic “Makes Me Wanna Holler” three times before bringing in a classic hip-hop beat with the horns from “What’s Going On?” laid underneath the beat, the sound working with the lyrics to evoke a time when things weren’t necessarily simpler (among the things Gaye spoke out against in his classic album were the Vietnam War, police brutality, and environmental destruction) but blacks were better organized and more conscious. Mirroring Gaye, Kane highlights ills in black communities, from materialism to crime, drug addiction, the abuse of women, and the growth of the gangsta mentality. But he, too, looks to self-knowledge and self-esteem as the key problem: You wanna call your girl a B-I-T-C-H You can’t appreciate so now she’s humping your man, then she ain’t Cause when you teach her that ho’ mentality They accept that as reality and give all your friends the skin (Big Daddy Kane 1994)

Here we see strong traces of Cheney’s (2005) black male nationalism, with Kane asserting black male ownership of women’s bodies and minds, even as he takes as given the sexual norms needed to reproduce a healthy black nation. Unlike Nas or MC Lyte, Kane does posit a collective solution. However, Kane’s solution is a conservative form of economic nationalism—blacks pooling their money to start businesses that will in turn employ members of the black community and further develop it. These critiques reproduce neoliberal narratives by focusing on internal cultural failures—the failures that justify their position in the racial hierarchy, failures that can only be solved by cultural regeneration. Either blacks in general (or subgroups of blacks) work as the exception, as populations that must either be disciplined, at best, or expunged, at worst, to regenerate black society. And in Kane’s case, the solution reproduces neoliberalism by emphasizing neoliberal trickle-down economics over politics.


Conclusion The neoliberal turn in the United States relied on rhetoric that depicted black bodies and spaces as being exceptions. Black men were depicted as criminals and black women as shiftless breeders. The neighborhoods in which they resided were similarly depicted as corrupt and ungovernable. In this chapter, I have shown how rap reproduced neoliberalism within the black parallel public. Descriptive rappers reproduced neoliberalism by articulating the ghetto as a place of intense danger and by articulating themselves as experts within these spaces. Furthermore, by often adopting the first-person perspective, rhyming about what they did as opposed to what they saw, they used their willingness to commit violence and hustle as a technology of subjectivity, while in turn excoriating snitches and crack addicts as individuals unable to govern themselves. To the extent they could plausibly critique the neoliberal order, they only did so by reproducing it themselves. And while there are records that critique the order, and implicitly critique the descriptive realist MCs, a significant portion of these records themselves blamed black dysfunction rather than structural failures for black subjugation.

2 A Little Knowledge Is Dangerous: Consuming Rap and Political Attitudes [Rap’s] political potential has stalled at the level of freaking out conservatives with songs about killing cops and peddling the timeworn notion of the outlaw—or in current parlance, “gangsta”—as political avatar. Individual acts of aggression, whether blowing away bank guards or beating up your girlfriend, are a political dead end (or in the latter case, a tactic of male dominance). Anger and self-definition are potential precursors to political action, but they don’t constitute political action in themselves. And the politics they predict can be anything, including skin-head style racism and fascism. —Adolph Reed, Class Notes

In this chapter, I move from production to consumption, considering the extent to which rap consumption and exposure influence black youth attitudes. I do so by taking a look at two different points in time: 1994, when the members of the generation most associated with the development of hip-hop were just reaching adulthood, and 2003, when the nation turned to war against Iraq. I also examine two different scales, studying attitudes at both national and local levels. Finally, I use both surveys and experiment to examine the association between rap consumption and political attitudes and the potential causal links between rap exposure and political attitudes. Scholars have studied black attitude formation for decades. But with critical exceptions, these scholars have been less interested in the attitudes of those born after 1964 and uninterested in rap. If rap does indeed shape attitudes, we would expect it to do so 55


particularly with the age group most associated with it. Individuals born after the first legislative victories of the civil rights era came of age in a very different socioeconomic and political context. Their consumption of rap should, at the very least, be associated with different attitudes.

The Black Parallel Public, Rap Exposure, and Consumption Black and white attitudes about a number of issues rise and fall similarly over time. However, they differ in important ways. Blacks are more likely to believe that racism continues to exert a pernicious effect on black life chances and that government should be used to ameliorate social suffering (Bobo 2000; Gilens 1999; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Kinder and Winter 2001; Schuman, Steeh, and Bobo 1985). Part of this difference obviously comes from interracial differences in social position. But the determinants of black public opinion also differ from those of whites. Whereas whites often make political decisions based on what may be best for them as individuals, blacks make political decisions based on what is best for the group, working under the assumption that the best thing for the group will be the best thing for them as individuals (Dawson 1994; Gurin, Hatchett, and Jackson 1989; Tate 1994). Furthermore, whereas black policy preferences are shaped by liberalism and conservatism, black political ideologies such as black nationalism are also important (Brown and Shaw 2002; Davis and Brown 2002; Dawson 2001; Harris-Lacewell 2003; Spence, Shaw, and Brown 2005). Social position shapes levels of support for linked fate and for various black political ideologies. But exposure to black information sources also influences support. These sources identify forms of antiblack racism; they identify areas of black political possibility; they help to define what blackness means in the first place. These sources include black newspapers and magazines, black television programs and movies, and the public utterances of black political leaders. They also include black music. Dawson (1999, 2001) and Harris-Lacewell (2004) suggest that rap music consumers are more likely to show support for the tenets of various black political ideologies and to express warmth for a number of prominent black leaders. James Johnson and his colleagues (Johnson, Adams,


and Ashburn 1995; Johnson, Jackson, and Gatto 1995; Johnson Trawalter, and Dovidio 2000) suggest that youth exposed to violent rap are more likely to express support for violence as a means of conflict resolution and to express disdain for education as a means of upward mobility. They also found that girls exposed to rap are more likely to express low self-esteem about their body image than girls who are not exposed. These findings extend our knowledge of the determinants of black political and psychological attitudes and suggest that both critics and supporters of rap have reason to be concerned. However, three gaps have yet to be filled. I have already mentioned the first gap, which concerns the attitudes of black youth born after 1964. When people refer to the power of rap and hip-hop, they are referring to the art form and its purveyors. But even as rap and hip-hop have become global, they are still very connected to a specific group of people, defined by race, class, gender, and age. It bears reiterating that the generation of black men and women now approaching middle age were the first generation of the twentieth century never to be exposed to Jim Crow. Not only were they able to legally share the same spaces with their white counterparts but they could also vote without fear. By the time they were teenagers, in fact, many of them had lived in cities run by black mayors—something literally unthinkable a generation earlier. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s generation arguably represented a “new negro,” and this influenced both their level and their type of political organization, this generation definitely represents a distinctly “new African American.” Yet we do not know how the attitudes of this generation differ from those of their predecessors. Second, though we know a bit about how rap consumption influences black attitudes, we do not know how rap consumption influences the attitudes of this generation (and black youth) specifically. Although the first generation of MCs, b-boys, DJs, and taggers are now middle-aged, hip-hop is still promoted as a youth subculture. To the extent that critics of rap are concerned about its effect on black attitudes, they are really concerned about the effect of rap on black youth attitudes. Though Dawson and Harris-Lacewell both show that youths are more likely to consume and express appreciation for rap than their older counterparts, they do not


separate the attitudes of the post–civil rights generation (the oldest of whom would have just turned twenty-nine when the National Black Politics Study [NBPS] was conducted) from older cohorts. Third, though they test consumption—that is, the effects of consuming rap on various attitudes—they do not test exposure. We know from various media studies that direct exposure to media often influences political attitudes, but attempts to replicate these studies among African Americans have been limited. Though I focused largely on lyrics in examining the politics embedded in rap, I also scrutinized rap images, with an eye toward understanding the politics of black cultural representation. How does exposure to rap videos influence attitudes about politics? About urban–suburban differences? About gender dynamics? I take steps to fill these gaps using three different data sets. The first is the NBPS, conducted in the mid-1990s, when rap and hip-hop first began to cross over to mainstream audiences—NWA’s Efil4zaggin hit the top of the charts just two years before the NBPS went into the field. Second is the St. Louis Young Citizenship Survey (SLYCS), which differs from the NBPS in a few ways: it is a local rather than a national survey; it surveys the attitudes of black and white youth, although I only assess the attitudes of black youth here; and it focuses more on attitudes associated with citizenship than it does on political ideology. Third is an experiment designed to assess the effect of rap video exposure on black youth attitudes.

Rap Consumption and National Attitudes The NBPS was a telephone survey using a multiple-frame, randomdigit probability sample from all-black households having telephones within the United States. The study conducted and completed 1,206 total telephone interviews. Eligibility for the study was restricted to those persons who were African American and eighteen years of age or older. Conducted between November 1993 and February 1994, this study had a response rate of 65 percent, with each interview lasting approximately forty-five minutes. Participants were asked a variety of questions assessing their opinions on a number of political, religious, and social issues (Dawson et al. 1998). In his seminal work, Dawson (2001) examined how rap influenced the attitudes of African Americans in general. He found rap consumption to be


associated with positive attitudes toward Minister Louis Farrakhan and, interestingly enough, to be associated with positive attitudes toward the police. Furthermore, those who believed that rap was a positive source of information were more likely to view black feminists as a divisive force within black communities rather than as a beneficial force for good. But research suggests that different generations possess different collective memories and that this generates differences in public opinion (Schuman and Scott 1989; Schuman and Corning 2000; Gibson and Caldeira 1992). We know that blacks born in the post– civil rights era had very different experiences than their predecessors—they had no direct experience with Jim Crow racism; were born in a period of urban decline rather than incline; and had the opportunity, in many cases, to cast votes for black representatives without having to engage in significant acts of political protest to do so. How do these differences in life experience translate into public opinion? First, let’s consider some demographic information about the sample (Table 2.1)—how do respondents born after 1965 compare to respondents born before that year? As can be seen in Table 2.1, the sample contains far many more women than men. Members of the post–civil rights generation are poorer (which makes sense because they have not reached their peak income, being only twenty-nine at the oldest) than their predecessors. More of them have either attended or graduated from college, though fewer of them have done postgraduate work (again, a function of their age). They are concentrated in the South. They are active politically, though not as active as their predecessors. Fewer members of the post–civil rights generation cohort voted, and more of them indicated that they contacted a political official, although around the same percentage participated in a demonstration or signed a political petition—a fact I build on later. Ideologically, more individuals in the post–civil rights generation profess to be liberal, interestingly enough. But simultaneously, fewer identify themselves as members of the Democratic Party. Finally, though religion does guide their lives, members of the post–civil rights generation are less likely to be influenced by religion than their predecessors. By the time the members of the post–civil rights generation had reached adulthood, the media context had changed significantly.


Table 2.1. Demographic data for the hip-hop generation


Percentage (civil rights and before)

Percentage (post–civil rights) Variable

Gender Male






Income (US$) Up to 10,000 10–14,999 15–19,999 20–24,999 25–25,999 30–39,999 40–49,999 50–74,999 >75,000

13 10 12 11 11 15 11 12 6

16 14 15 10 8 12 7 6 7