Hip Hop Intellectual Resistance by A. Shahid Stover is not the point of departure for DIY Cultural Diplomacy, but it may be its attempt. I subscribe to the general postcolonial idea that resistance can vary in form and outcome. The term’s ambiguity is acceptable because it does well with recognizing agency. Agency is precisely what I find so valuable with hip-hop. It instills it in you through various imperatives and idioms that are constantly negotiated, like ‘knowledge of self’ and ‘keep it real’. Consequently, the difficulty to keep it real while integrating into the mechanics of society – at work, as students and artists, is an issue by itself. For example, consider these words by literary scholar and postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha:
… to produce, to labor and to create, within a world-system whose major economic impulses and cultural investments are pointed in a direction away from you, your country and your people. Such neglect can be a deeply negating experience, oppressive and exclusionary, and it spurs you to resist the polarities of power and prejudice, to reach beyond and behind the invidious narratives of center and periphery.(Bhabha, 2012, p. xi)
I know that sentiment, too. It has a soundtrack: School Spirit by Kanye West, from The College Dropout album (2004). I never dropped out though. Let’s just say it is seven years between my bachelor’s and master’s degree. In-between I channeled all that built-up resistance into the music industry, as a beat-maker and producer. It somehow seemed like the only way to escape total alienation. I was wrong, and ended up at the casino where one gambles for what is measured or can be sponsored.
I should add, however, that Hip-Hop artists’ efforts and choices can never be truly understood or properly judged without aspiration taken into account. Aspiration is of course relative, but only from one’s point of departure. Thus “C.R.E.A.M, get the money”. Money is but a realistic proxy. To acquire it is a politically ambiguous strategy as a response to one’s circumstances, not by ideological or theoretical determination. Through sound cultivation though, it reaches for emancipatory and transcendent faculties, for that is Hip-Hop’s postcolonial imperative and cultural heritage. One cannot take this for granted, however, emphasis ought to be put on cultivation.
Academia has announced several theoretical turns and methodological tools that could assist in working with and through Hip-Hop artists’ aspirations. Still one can notice a cognitive segregation. Even though Hip-Hop has been straight to the point since at least The Message (1982), the reciprocity between these cognitive domains (academia and Hip-Hop) is not what it could be, yet. Stover is to the point about what this means for the Hip-Hop intellectual:
… the stakes are high, the knowledge and understanding gained from intellectual rigor contribute to one’s lived experience in a face-off against neo-colonial oppression and western imperialist dehumanization. Purely academic interest and objective head games hold no weight here; one must existentially ‘keep it real’.(Stover, 2009, p. 53)
Stover’s book helps with appreciating the importance of cultivating Hip-Hop’s aspirations. We need to continuously inform Hip-Hop through new experiences, but also have experiences from Hip-Hop inform knowledge production, and influence policy formation, and other institutional practices as well. Why is this important? Why is academia relevant? How does this connect to DIY Cultural Diplomacy? I will explain, but for now, I will leave y’all with the following words by Professor of Music Griffith Rollefson, who keeps it all the way real:
… the university has never had an even mostly-constructive relationship with marginalized communities, yet as a powerful institutional structure and global distribution network with some remaining insulation from market imperatives and political cooptation, it remains one of the last, best hopes for major structural change.(Rollefson, 2018, p. 170)
- Bhabha, H.K., 2012. The Location of Culture. Routledge.
- hooks, bell, 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Pluto Press.
- Rollefson, J.G., 2018. “Yo Nací Caminando”: community-engaged scholarship, hip hop as postcolonial studies, and Rico Pabón’s knowledge of self. J. World Pop. Music 5, 169–192. https://doi.org/10.1558/jwpm.37841
- Stover, A.S., 2009. Hip Hop Intellectual Resistance. Xlibris Corporation.