Category: Rap

  • X, UnNaming, and the Cowboy Blues

    You all know this song. When Lil Nas X became a household name, I started thinking about that name. “Lil” like Lil Wayne, or like so many other rap artists? “Nas” like . . . Nas? “X” like DMX? Or even Malcolm X? Apparently not. But words and names mean things. Here, Malcolm X — […]

  • From Revolution to Rap

    By 1966, the Civil Rights Movement, defined by peaceful protests such as the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins, the 1961 Freedom Rides, and the 1965 marches led by Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery to register voters, was in decline. The Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which had been formed in 1960 as […]

  • Toasts, Signifyin(g), and the Roots of Rap

    Content warning: explicit language and situations. Although the cradle of rap is generally acknowledged to be community-room parties in the South Bronx, the genre draws from multiple threads and locations, from Jamaica to Louisiana to the hobo poetry of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The white Oklahoma-born writer George Milburn, who spent time […]

  • Rap ≠ Hip Hop

    Trigger/content warning: racist language in sources, including the n-word. Wynton Marsalis has said of hardcore rap: I call it “ghetto minstrelsy” . . . Old school minstrels [i.e. whites in blackface] used to say they were “real darkies from the real plantation.” Hip-hop substitutes the plantation for the streets. Now you have to say that […]

  • Fight the Power: From Message Rap to Hardcore

    Sylvia Robinson (above), CEO of Sugar Hill Records and the so-called “Mother of Hip Hop,” released “It’s Good to Be The Queen” in 1982. Robinson, in the tradition of MC boasts, raps about her success and the material comfort it conveys. But she samples the “Black national anthem,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” which suggests something deeper […]

  • “Doing 55” Playlist

    Hoodie (David Hammons, 1993). Trigger/Content Warning: Disturbing subject matter, police brutality, racism, profanity, racist language including the n-word. Read Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s article “‘Doing Fifty-Five in a Fifty-Four’: Hip Hop, Cop Voice and the Cadence of White Supremacy in the United States”: Stoever notes: As African American theorists, writers, artists and musicians – from Frederick Douglass in […]

  • Funk and Futurism

    Earth, Wind and Fire as part of the cycle of creation. What is Afrofuturism? Briefly, the term denotes an African American ideological current associated with aesthetic references to outer space, non-Western cosmologies, religious and historical revisionism, and a stringent critique of the socio-economic plights of African Americans (and diasporic and continental Africans more broadly). Earth, […]

  • Rap Battles

    Antonio Delgado and John Faso in debate. One of the most contested races in the 2018 midterms is right here in New York State, in the 19th congressional district, where incumbent John Faso is using his Democratic opponent Antonio Delgado’s former career as a rap artist as a talking point. A radio ad taken out […]

  • “Ethiopian” Songs: Love and Theft

    [Trigger/content warnings: lots of racist and ableist imagery and language.] In 1768, English playwright Isaac Bickerstaffe and Charles Dibdin — librettist and composer, respectively — presented their comic opera The Padlock at London’s Drury Lane Theatre. Dibdin portrayed the role of Mungo, a black slave from the West Indies, and his aria “Dear Heart! What a […]

  • “Crazy” Blues?

    In the book Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition, Adam Gussow devotes an entire chapter to Mamie Smith’s 1920 blues hit “Crazy Blues.” The song is believed to be the first blues recording ever released, and was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994. Gussow’s main concern, however, is not […]