a tribe called zest

What happens when a cultural expression becomes little else than a product to peddle, one shorn of any radical political agenda. Does hip hop music feed what Bell Hooks has asserted is an ethnic enlivening of experience within mainstream white culture? Is it really about fascination with the Black other, its macho aura and reflection of the fragmented and dark forces of white society finding their locus within the African American cultural community?

The central argument here is that rap and hip hop music have been appropriated to serve white society, and instead of providing a measure of  transgressive potential for re-thinking through racial identities and desires in different ways, this idiomatic black music simply reinforces and represents an ongoing and deliberate commodification of race and blackness. The parallel consideration would be punk rock which also saw itself dismantled and re-socially engineered. As Bell Hooks asserted,  “the sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”… Thus, rather than seeing it as a subversion or disruption of the norm, we need to see it as an embodiment of the norm.”

Read More:http://www.iamthenublack.com/2011/03/23/vintage-hip-hop-party-posters/

Ultimately, in hip hop ,the narrative becomes one of fetishised sex and although although issues of race and gender are raised, the status quo is generally re-affirmed. Since the biggest consumers are white middle-class society, mainly male,  the “otherness” provides a shelter where white men can work through identity issues and attempt to fulfill some kind of longing  for  a form of transcendence.So, to some degree,  white cultural imperialism and colonialism finds itself being perpetuated under the category of multiculturalism, diversity, liberalism etc.

…“It took a lot out of me. God bless the man who takes on the Wu-Tang Clan.” In his directorial debut, actor Michael Rapaport has turned out a laudable behind-the-scenes documentary on hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest. It just didn’t quite turn out as he expected. At a screening last week of Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Rapaport said his own quest was to determine if A Tribe Called Quest – like Wu-Tang, a fractious crew – would ever get back into the studio again….Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/in-new-doc-michael-rapaport-focuses-on-turmoil-in-a-tribe-called-quest/article2109043/


That these very consumers see ‘rap’ as a kind of “third world country” and the performers of this art a mere trasngression from the norm thus making them exciting, radical, different, cool and unique. In this sense, the act of exociticizing and othering takes place. Something distinctly different from perhaps the ability to engage with another’s culture on a level where you become one with it. bell hooks refers to in her explanation of the otherizing and commodifying nature of a capitalist society when it comes to hip-hop culture in the US. They will readily absorb and buy the fruits of these artist’s labour while never fully closing the gap, always standing at a distance looking into fields the way a slave owner would watch his slaves toil in the sweltering sun, profit from the fruits of their labour while continuing to otherize them to the point where their humanness would cease to exist in his mind.

Harry Allen photo. ---The words economics (money/bling), power, capitalism are all description words within the political science dictionary as well as associating with hip-hop culture when dissected into their own roles. Hip-hop now is fueled with a multi-billion dollar industry from top dog record labels to television shows like Randy Jackson’s America’s best dance crews showing off the art of breaking to millions. Increasingly so, hip-hop has submerged into the capitalist culture.--- Read More:http://www.mvremix.com/urban/showcase/content/race_representation_and_resistance_hip_hop_history.shtml image:http://thegazette.com/tag/lady-pink/

Fiona Mills:Through the voyeuristic mechanisms of radio, film and television, white Americans have been able to safely regard African Americans without having to make intimate contact with them. In order to maintain this distance, according to Ralph Ellison in his controversial essay “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke,” white Americans have forced African Americans to don masks which conceal their true identity while, at the same time, allow white Americans a safe glimpse of the exotic black Other. Notably, these masks are most often worn for the sole purpose of white entertainment. A deeper purpose, however, lies beneath this mask….

Mark Seliger photo. ---In Oprah Winfrey’s Town Hall Meeting on the hip-hop in the post-Imus era, she failed to acknowledge the major systemic issues of racism and sexism in the context of the capitalist culture paradigm.(1) Rather, hip-hop critics on the show attacked individual artists, radio stations and television network, Black Entertainment Television (BET) drowning the issues with personal stories of their experience with discrimination. Specifically attacked on the show, rapper 50 Cent responded with a valid point that it is very easy to attack an individual rather than large media empires that run media outlets.--- Read More:http://www.mvremix.com/urban/showcase/content/race_representation_and_resistance_hip_hop_history.shtml image:http://visionaryartistrymag.com/2011/01/the-last-poets-words-of-power/

…Black culture, this seemingly exotic entity, also intrigues whites because of its ability to offer them an opportunity to act out against the conventions of mainstream white soc

. In her essay “Eating the Other,” bell hooks contends that, in accordance with this fascination, “ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” Significantly, only white males are permitted to express this fascination. Read More:http://www.americanpopularculture.com/archive/music/rap_white_men.htm

But, to be honest, American and Western  society is violent and misogynistic, and much of mass market hip hop is accurately mirrors   that. If hip hop is a purely American cultural phenomenon it does signify that its glorification “Hip hop is pure Americana,” meaning that its glorification of the macho aura, violent masculinity, is created from this American mythology,  created mostly by white men, who have commodified the cowboy and the frontiersman- see Constance Rourke- and African-American music is simply another product to be neutered before its allowed to infiltrate and permeate aspects of mainstream white culture. Hey, its a business, and the hip hop genre’s central problems seem inextricable from the core issue of market based economics.

…Q-Tip and the Tribe were particularly successful, with lyrical heft, jazz flourishes and ambitious sampling evident on its first three albums. The Low End Theory, from 1991, shaped alternative hip hop in the 1990s and influenced many of the who’s who of hip hop that show up in Rapport’s film, including Pharrell Williams and Questlove, the Roots drummer whose name reflects his admiration.

But tension within the Tribe developed over the years, and the division between the two emcees – the complicated Q-Tip and the earthier Phife Dawg – flares dramatically in the documentary. Emotions, including serious health issues involving the diabetic Phife, ran high during the 2008 tour as Rapaport was filming. And in due course, the turmoil, not the brotherly love, became his film’s focus…. Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/in-new-doc-michael-rapaport-focuses-on-turmoil-in-a-tribe-called-quest/article2109043/

So,  this  commodification of blackness has created the space for the opportunistic materialism and longing for privileged class status among black individuals of  all classes, the standard pecking order and status distinctions which drive consumerism based on Thorstein Veblen’s theory of “invidious distinction” This idea of shared racial identity and struggle is a fallacy, a necessary illusion associated with the genre. In fact, corporate controlled rap music contributes to a weakening of class struggle and breaks down any commitment to a politics of social change. It counts to some degree on the axiom of an oppressed people willing to oppress their own.

Also, the commodification of blackness tends to erase any history of radical struggle. As Bell Hooks stated,  “the discourse of blackness is in no way connected to an effort to promote collective black self-determination, it becomes simply another resource appropriated by the colonizer.”  The implication is that any coherent form of politics should analyze and expose differences within a racial identity,rather than  promoting a phony and misleading image of unity under a single and unique category of identification.

…Tribe mastermind Q-Tip has been the most vocal critic of the movie – neither he, DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad, nor the Tribe’s “spirit,” Jarobi White, attended the film’s screening at Sundance – perhaps because Q-Tip is portrayed as domineering.

Is it a mischaracterization? Not to hear Phife, the high-voiced “five-foot assassin,” tell it. “’[Q-Tip’s] a control freak,” he says in the gritty doc.

In fact, the animated Phife showed up on MTV to defend the film. “How many groups got documentaries – hip hop – being done about themselves?” he asked. “They came to A Tribe Called Quest and asked us; we’re supposed to count our blessings and embrace this joint right here.”… Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/in-new-doc-michael-rapaport-focuses-on-turmoil-in-a-tribe-called-quest/article2109043/


According to Dr. Keith Clark, black society has traditionally been labeled an “outlaw” culture. Notably, black culture, as manifested in rap and hip-hop music, is most often embraced by white youth. Thus, it makes sense that young, white, male teenagers, when trying to assert and define themselves against the dominant group, turn to black culture in order to do so. Accordingly, in describing why rap appealed to him and his male friends, Andy says, “It’s kind of like an escape; it’s like its different.” Essentially, he implies that young, white men are drawn to the escapist and exotic aspects of rap and little else. Given the fact that my white informants reported that their interest in rap waned dramatically once they grew older, it is a short-lived embrace, for these youth most often “outgrow” this fascination. Read More:http://www.americanpopularculture.com/archive/music/rap_white_men.htm

Harry Benson photo. 1964. Read More:http://lifephotographers.tumblr.com/post/1027462082/harry-benson-1964-the-beatles-with-muhammad-ali

Then, in 1987, came Public Enemy. Political rap music would never be the same again. Coming out of Long Island, NY, Public Enemy attacked the rap world and the rest of America with a vengeance with their incredibly dense and chaotic sound. By their 2nd album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back, Public Enemy was tearing into social ailments of all sorts: the mass media, TV addiction, prison rebellion, the music industry, and Black liberation. With their Black nationalist and pro-Nation of Islam twist, Public Enemy seemed on the verge of reincarnating the ghosts of Malcolm X and Huey Newton. A slew of socially conscious hip-hoppers followed: EPMD, Boogie Down Productions, and Run-D.M.C.

However, capitalist America was quick to catch up with hip-hop (about the same time it did with punk rock). Like everything that is culturally valuable, “the market” will exploit it as a commodity, water it down to its most basic form, and twist its values to support American-style capitalism. By the early 1990s, the record industry picked up on the “gangsta rap” sound. Popularized by NWA (Niggas Wit Attitude), its spin-off members (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy E), and other West Coast rappers, gangsta rap was further perverted by the music industry and pimped as the “bright, shining future of hip-hop”. Whereas older “gangsta rappers” like Ice Cube and Ice-T occasionally rapped about socially conscious topics interspersed with tales of ghetto life (hear “Us” and “Escape From the Killing Fields” respectively), the new school eschewed all social and political issues, and delved into a glorification of the gang violence, misogyny, gun culture, and drug-dealing/money-making that plagues inner cities all over the US.

Even though many rappers only hold a mirror up to the world around them and no more glorify violence than they retell it, the perpetual emphasis upon the individualistic, “money making” mentality began killing hip-hop. In evaluating this trend we should ask, what is the difference between the cooption of rap by Master P and Jay Z, and the cooption of punk rock by Blink 182 and Green Day? What used to be dangerous to mainstream America and the status quo has been sanitized (by good ‘ole fashioned American values), homogenized, and exploited all over the airwaves, MTV, and pop culture, all for the “benefit” of our nation’s youth. Today, the average teen has no better idea who Public Enemy is than who the Minutemen were. That heightened consciousness and activism has been reduced to a world of “doggy-dogisms” and low rider cars (or now SUVs). Read More:http://danawilliams2.tripod.com/hiphop.html

Was Q-Tip hard to deal with? “Yeah, he was hard to deal with,” Rapaport shrugs. “But he wasn’t the only one. The whole process was challenging.”

The idea was to shoot all four of the occasionally touring Tribe members together. But, because of the group’s mercurial nature, it never happened. Rapaport had to rely on archives, live footage and one-on-one or small-group interviews….Read More:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/in-new-doc-michael-rapaport-focuses-on-turmoil-in-a-tribe-called-quest/article2109043/


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