SUNY Broome Department of Music and Theater Arts MUS 113
From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora
T/Th 2:00-3:15 (Zoom)
Office Hours Th 3:30-4:30 (Zoom)
Zoom invitations can be found in Blackboardm
Please let me know, in a comment on this page OR via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have trouble opening any of the links!
Read this page EVERY DAY. The assignments are subject to change, and if you take a look at it every day there will be no surprises.
- THERE IS NO TEXTBOOK FOR THIS COURSE.
- All the readings are open-source and are accessible from this page.
- All the music listening assignments are in the blog posts linked under the heading “On the blog,” for each class date.
- For some units, I’ve added OPTIONAL readings that you may want to pursue if you are interested in the topic and have time. These readings are NOT required.
- Some of the readings are from the New York Times. If you are unable to open them, you can get a free subscription to the Times through the SUNY-Broome library. Directions can be found on this page.
There are a few other things to be aware of in this course:
(1) The readings assigned represent a variety of viewpoints and methods of inquiry from the past 150 years of Black music scholarship.
They do not necessarily represent my own views, those of the Music Department, or those of SUNY-Broome.
Many of these readings “argue against” each other, offering different explanations and lines of reasoning. Please read them CLOSELY and CRITICALLY.
Keep in mind that well into the 20th century, most music scholarship on African American music was done by whites. Even where these scholars and collectors were sympathetic to the plight of Blacks in America, unconscious bias is present in many of their writings.
(2) The material covered in this course engages with histories of suffering and oppression, including racism, slavery, segregation, sexism, homophobia, violence, transphobia, economic inequality, and other forms of social injustice. Some of the readings and assigned music will contain offensive language, including the N-word, and other historically derogatory terms for Black people. I will also be asking you to study music, texts, and images that are explicit and disturbing.
By situating these painful issues in the musical-historical context, my intent is NOT to excuse or minimize them in any way, but to help you to explore the ways that a truly great culture grew out of abysmal oppression and suffering, and how that culture was eventually diffused to the entire world.
It is not an exaggeration to say that American music IS Black American music. We have to confront the fact that this great culture and music was born from the cradle of injustice.
As the credo of Afrofuturism holds: We cannot change the past. But we CAN change the future.
If your experience of these issues, or the way they are treated in this course, is problematic or triggering in any way, please speak to me about it. I take such concerns seriously, and I strive to find better ways of addressing painful, challenging, and complex topics in the classroom.
(3) Historically, the language by which both Black and white Americans have referred to Black Americans has changed over time. You will find 19th- and early-20th-century sources using terms like “colored,” and mid-20th-century sources using “Negro” (keep in mind that, in their own time, these terms were by no means slurs, but actually considered respectful appellations, especially “Negro” with a capital N). The term “Black” superseded “Negro” in the mid-1960s. You will also see the N-word used by Blacks in 19th- and 20th-century sources, as well as in rap starting in the late 1970s up to the present day. For more, see the article “Negro, the Word: A Brief History” from the African-American Registry.
When I created this course in 2018, “Black” was generally spelled with a lower-case b. Since the international #BLM protests beginning in Spring 2020, however, usage has changed to reflect awareness of Blackness as an ethnicity, not just a description of skin color, and Black is now generally capitalized. Although I revise the materials for this course regularly, I may not have gotten around to replacing all the lower-case b’s with upper-case B’s in my writings for this class by the time you read this.
(4) It is impossible to cover the entire history of Black music in America, from the 16th century to the present day, in one semester. By necessity, some things will be left out.
In order to cover as much ground as possible, however, it’s essential that you ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE in your learning. Many of the assigned readings cover historical background and context, so that we can focus on the music in our class discussions. DO THE READING. If you skip out on this essential step, you will have a difficult time understanding the history and the meaning of Black American music.
Schedule of Assigned Reading, Listening, Writing, and Other Projects
How to use this syllabus:
- Read it every day!
- Prepare the reading and listening assignments on your own, before each class date listed. The dates mean the date BEFORE WHICH you need to have the reading/listening done!
- You can access the readings directly from the links under each class date. The “On the blog” links will direct you to posts on this blog, where you will find all the listening examples. For these blog posts, you are expected to read as much as possible of the linked content, and listen to as much as possible of the linked/embedded audio and video.
- This class meets Tuesday and Thursday in the spring semester, from 1:30 to 2:45, over Zoom.
- On Wednesday, you are required to submit a question based on the reading, listening, and/or discussion from Tuesday’s class. We will be discussing your questions in Thursday’s class. Questions are due at 12 PM on Wednesday.
- Submit your questions to me via email at email@example.com. In the subject heading, put MUS 113-01, the date, and your name.
- This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the reading and other coursework. Read it!
- This link has detailed information on best practices for doing the listening. Read it!
- Take notes on the reading, listening, and class discussions. Re-read your notes every evening.
- This is a writing-emphasis course. There are no tests or quizzes. You will be expected to show your mastery of the subject matter through a variety of written and multi-media assignments.
We have a lot of material to get through, so we may not cover everything listed in the syllabus.
First class: Defining our terms, syllabus explained and what to expect from this course
We will be posing the questions:
- What is Black music?
- On a more fundamental level, what is Blackness?
- What is “race”? Who defines what race is? Who defines what culture is?
- Are there a limited number of recognized/accepted ways that one may express one’s race and/or culture? Or are the ways that people of a given group may engage in cultural expression infinite?
Keep these questions close. They will be the basis for everything we study this semester!
The Omni-Americans, excerpt, Albert Murray
“There’s No Scientific Basis for Race: It’s a Made-Up Label,” Elizabeth Kolbert
“They Look White But Say They’re Black,” Khushbu Shah
On the blog:
“Why is Everybody Always Stealing Black Music?” (Wesley Morris)
“The Appropriation of Cultures” (Percival Everett)
“Dixie,” attributed to Dan Emmett, probably really by Thomas Snowden
“Why Rappers Rock the Confederate Flag,” Stereo Williams
“Cowboy Blues: Early Black Music in the West,” Patrick Joseph O’Connor
On the blog:
From Africa to the New World
“African-Music Retentions in the New World,” Lazarus E.N. Ekwueme
“Rock and Roll Unplugged: African-American Music in 18th-Century America” (Michael J. Morgan)
West and East African Songs (musical transcriptions)
On the blog:
Optional: “Musical Passage”:
A website dedicated to the earliest known pieces of African music in the Americas. The pieces were transcribed in a 1707 book called Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, St. Christophers, and Jamaica, known as the “Hans Sloane Document.” Hans Sloane was a British naturalist who went to Jamaica in 1687 as physician to the British governor of Jamaica. He included several West African songs, which he heard enslaved musicians play on his trip, in his book (it is thought that the music was transcribed for him by an enslaved man who had been trained in Western music notation).
Optional: Watch this short film of a concert by Spanish viol player Jordi Savall and his ensemble, Hesperion XX. Their project, Les Routes d’Esclavages (Routes of Slavery), is a musical history of the music encountered along the routes of the slave trade, from Spain to North Africa to West Africa to the New World.]
Journal Assignment #1: African Musical Forms
Due on February 9 at 11:59 PM
- How do African and European musical forms differ from each other?
- What is the “blue” note?
Music of the Enslaved
“Through the Prism of Folklore: The Black Ethos in Slavery,” Sterling Stuckey
Step It Down (excerpt), Bessie Jones and Bess Lomax Hawes
“My Father How Long?” (from Slave Songs of the United States, 1867)
“Follow the Drinking Gourd/Run, N—-, Run” (collected by Alan Lomax)
On the blog:
Optional: Hiding in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (excerpt), Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymon G. Dobard
“Songs of Remembrance,” Josephine Wright
“‘A Voice in the Wilderness’: The Fisk Jubilee Singers’ Civil Rights Tours of 1879-1882,” Doug Seroff
Watch the video “The Ringshout and the Birth of African-American Religion”:
“Job” (folk spiritual collected in Alabama, 1930s)
Musical examples from The Story of the Jubilee Singers with Their Songs, J.B.T. Marsh (1882). (These are on p. 146-288. Don’t freak out when you see 294 pp!)
How did spirituals “work” as a means of group expression and a tool for the creation of community?
“The Foundational Influence of Spirituals in African-American Culture: A Psychological Perspective,” Arthur C. Jones
“When W.E.B. Du Bois Made a Laughingstock of a White Supremacist,” Ian Frazier
Journal Assignment #2, Spirituals: Due on Feb. 23 at 11:59 PM
- How do Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois and John Lomax differ in their analysis of spirituals? What does each of these writers believe is the true meaning/importance of the genre?
- Zora Neale Hurston, along with other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, saw W.E.B. DuBois as a stuffy, old-fashioned figure. Do you think that her essay on spirituals contradicts his?
- John Lomax’s essay is particularly problematic. We owe so much to him as a preserver of American folk traditions, and without his work our knowledge of Black folk music would be greatly diminished. But how does he see his work as a conserver of Black music? How does he see his subjects/informants (i.e., the people from whom he collects his songs)?
- Make sure you use examples from each of the three essays to back up your arguments, as well as an example of a song (there are many songs to choose from in the blog posts for Feb. 9, 11, and 16).
“Sinful Songs of the Southern Negro,” John Lomax
“A Black Cultural Tradition and its Unlikely Keepers,” Samuel G. Freedman
Look at some of the photographs of former slaves — now sharecroppers — taken by Doris Ulmann for the 1933 book Roll, Jordan, Roll in the South Carolina Sea Islands.
Musical and Text Transcriptions
“Dink’s Blues” (collected by Lomax in the 1920s)
“Dink’s Song” (collected by Lomax in the 1920s)
“Careless Love” (white Appalachian folk song with English antecedents)
“Every Night When the Sun Goes In” (white Appalachian folk song)
On the blog:
Minstrelsy in Black and White
Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott, p. 3-7
“Black Musicians and Early Ethiopian Minstrelsy,” T. Allston Brown and Charles Day
On the blog:
Watch “The Racist History of Cartoons” (CW/TW: extremely racist imagery and language)
“A Brief Guide to 21st-Century Blackface,” Aisha Harris
“Before it Goes Away: Performance and Reclamation of Songs from Blackface Minstrelsy,” Sheryl Kaskowitz
On the blog:
Watch this lecture-recital on the music and visual culture of minstrelsy, given by Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, recorded on June 18, 2020 (click the link).
Journal Assignment #3, Minstrelsy: Due on March 2 at 11:59 PM
- Do you agree with Rhiannon Giddens that minstrel songs deserve renewed attention? Or do you think they should be forgotten because of their racist past? Explain.
- Can you think of other examples of offensive or disturbing music, symbols, or language that have been reclaimed or repurposed by an oppressed group? Do you think that this kind of reclamation has a meaningful place in resisting racism and other kinds of oppression Why or why not?
“The Blues Mode and the 12-Bar Form,” Peter van der Merwe
(This reading has a lot of technical musical language and musical examples. If you can read music, try to play through some of them on the keyboard or on your instrument. If you can’t read music, just scan the text for a sense of the musical language commonly used to describe the blues.)
“The Blues: A Secular Spiritual,” James Cone
On the blog:
Journal Assignment #4: What are the blues? Due March 9 at 11:59 PM
1. Listen to the following two songs recorded in Cameroon in 1964.
- Work song sung by a young Tikar woman. The rhythmic instrument is a tool she’s using to grind corn as she sings. This is an example of functional community music-making.
- Song sung by Adamou Meigogue Garoua, a traveling entertainer, accompanied by bowed lute.
2. Now listen to “Stack o’ Dollars,” sung by American blues artist Big Joe Williams, recorded in 1935.
3. Describe each song in detail: What do they sound like? What are their rhythms and melodies like? What do the voices/instruments sound like? You don’t need to use technical musical terms, just your own words. Can you trace connections from the two songs from the west of Africa to the blues song? Explain!
“Abolition is Not Complete,” Eric Foner
“How Long, Brethren?” (transcription of a work song collected by Lawrence Gellert in North Carolina, 1930s)
“A Song That Changed Music Forever,” David Hajdu
“100 Years Ago, ‘Crazy Blues’ Sparked a Revolution for Black Women Fans,” Daphne A. Brooks
Optional: Listen to the episode “Black Shanty” on the How Music Does That podcast, here (about how West African and African American work songs influenced sea shanties — whaling and the merchant marine were highly integrated in the ninteteenth century; for more information, read “African Americans in the Maritime Trades” by Mary Malloy):
On the blog:
“The Ballad of Geeshee and Elvie: On the Trail of the Phantom Women Who Changed American Music and Then Vanished Without a Trace,” John Jeremiah Sullivan
This is a long article with embedded listening examples. Read and listen to all of it!
Optional: “We Need A Second Great Migration,” Charles M. Blow
Journal Assignment #5: The Blues and the Great Migration, Due March 18 at 11:59 PM
- Describe the social, economic, and historical factors that led to the creation of the blues.
- What is the difference between the blues and work songs?
- How did the Great Migration affect the evolution and transmission of the blues?
“Ragtime,” Guy Waterman
On the blog:
Composers and Performers of Color in Classical Music Traditions
“Singing Against the Grain: Playing Beethoven in the #BlackLivesMatter Era,” Kira Thurman
“Home,” Langston Hughes
“The Rediscovery of Florence Price,” Alex Ross
On the blog:
“Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music,” Alex Ross
“Lifting the Cone of Silence From Black Composers,” George E. Lewis (listen to audio clips!)
“Bad Boy from Buffalo,” Adam Shatz
On the blog:
MIDTERM PROJECT: Due March 30
Podcast: Black Music in the Bing
Go to the assignment page for complete information!
This assignment will be worth 25% of your grade. See the revised grading breakout in the Course Policies page.
The Music of Black Christianity in the 20th and 21st Centuries
“Shared Possessions: Black Pentecostals, Afro-Caribbeans, and Sacred Music,” Teresa L. Reed
“The Prophetic Struggle of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.” Rodney Carmichael
Great Twitter thread on different regional and denominational gospel styles (a couple of spirituals in the mix too):
Watch a performance of Alvin Ailey’s 1960 ballet “Revelations,” which uses both spirituals and gospel to narrate the story of Black American Christianity. How are the spirituals and gospel sections different?
Optional: “Unenslaveable Rapture: Afrxfuturism and Diasporic Vertigo in Beyoncé’s Lemonade,” Valorie D. Thomas
The Harlem Renaissance
“Harlem: The Cultural Capital,” James Weldon Johnson
“How It Feels to be Colored Me,” Zora Neale Hurston
“Harlem, Billy Strayhorn, Ethel Waters . . . and Me,” Steven Blier
“Gladys Bentley: A Gender-Bending Blues Performer Who Became Harlem Royalty,” Giovanni Russonello
Ten Basic Elements of Jazz, Langston Hughes
Ken Burns interview with Wynton Marsalis
“Jazz Antecedents,” Eddie Meadows. This reading provides an alternative theory about the birth of jazz.
The following primary source readings are all very short, and I’ve combined them into a single document, here.
“Sidney Bechet’s Musical Philosophy,” Sidney Bechet
“Whence Comes Jass?” Walter Kingsley
“The Location of ‘Jass,’” New Orleans Times-Picayune
“A ‘Serious’ Musician Takes Jazz Seriously,” Ernest Ansermet
“A Negro Explains ‘Jazz,’” James Reese Europe
“Jazzing Away Prejudice,” Chicago Defender
“The ‘Inventor of Jazz,’” Jelly Roll Morton
Optional: “Deconstructing the Quadroon Ball,” Nick Douglas. An investigation of the plaçage system in Louisiana, which allowed white men and free women of color to marry, despite the laws against intermarriage.
We will be watching episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz in class:
Journal Assignment #6: Wynton Marsalis on jazz, due April 13 at 11:59 PM
At 56:44 of episode 1 of Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz, linked above, commentator Wynton Marsalis says:
Race for this country is like the thing in the story, in the mythology, that you have to do for the kingdom to be well. And it’s always something that you don’t want to do. And it’s always that thing that’s so much about you confronting yourself, that is tailor-made for you to fail dealing with it. And the question of your heroism, and of your courage, and of your success with this trial [of race] is, “Can you confront it with honesty, and do you have the energy to sustain an attack on it?” And since jazz music is at the center of the American mythology, it necessarily deals with race. The more we run from it, the more we run into it. It’s an age-old story, and if it’s not race, it’s something else. But in this particular instance, in this nation, it is race.
- What do you think Marsalis means by this?
- How does jazz deal with race?
- Use at least one musical example from the film or the blog posts to illustrate your point.
Jazz in the 1930s and 1940s
“Souvenir of the Lost World of the New York Jazz Club,” Sean Wilentz
“Duke Ellington Explains Swing”
“A Sprawling Blueprint for Protest Music, Courtesy of the Jazz Duke” (American Anthem/NPR)
On the blog:
Watch the short 1929 film “Black and Tan Fantasy,” featuring Duke Ellington and his music:
Watch a live performance of Ellington’s extended concert work Black, Brown, and Beige (1943). Is it jazz? Is it classical? Is it protest music? What was Ellington’s vision for this piece? (Starts at 1:01:51)
“Bird: The Brilliance of Charlie Parker,” Whitney Balliett
“The Cult of Bebop,” Dizzy Gillespie
On the blog:
Watch this excerpt on Bebop from Ken Burns’s Jazz:
Optional: “Reminiscing About the Night Before,” Charles Simic — a lovely essay about the ways that jazz permeated the culture of New York City in a bygone era
The most important jazz singer of the 20th century: Billie Holiday
“Billie Full of Grace,” Tracie Fessenden
“Strange Fruit: The First Great Protest Song,” Dorian Lynskey
“The Hunting of Billie Holiday,” Johann Hari
Another song by Abe Meeropol with a strong social message (T/W: contains racist slur against Japanese):
As sung by the great Paul Robeson:
And by Sam Cooke:
Jazz in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970
“An Artist Speaks Bluntly,” Archie Shepp
“Free Jazz: A Reflection of Black Power Ideology,” John D. Baskerville
“Where Are the Black Audiences?” Ron Wynn
“Kendrick Lamar Thinks Like a Jazz Musician,” Marcus J. Moore
On the blog:
“Why MLK Believed Jazz Was the Perfect Soundtrack for Civil Rights,” Ashawnta Jackson
“Jazz Has Always Been Protest Music. Can It Meet This Moment?” Giovanni Russonello
“Five Decades On, An Eclectic Church Preaches the Message of John Coltrane,” Anastasia Tsioulcas
Watch the 1959 film The Cry of Jazz:
Journal Assignment #7: Free Jazz, due April 22 at 11:59 PM
- What changing social and political conditions led to the development of new jazz styles after World War II?
- How did jazz musicians respond, in their music, to these changing social conditions? Give an example of a musician and a specific piece of music to illustrate your argument.
- In his 1965 Downbeat article “An Artist Speaks Bluntly,” saxophonist Archie Shepp offers a kind of free jazz manifesto, in which he explicitly links music and politics. Do you agree with Shepp, that even the most abstract and hard-to-grasp music can have political connotations? Why or why not?
- Who is the intended audience for free jazz? What is the intended purpose of free jazz?
- Do you think it’s important to revive jazz listenership among Black Americans? Why or why or not?
Watch James Brown’s performance at the T.A.M.I. Show in 1964:
Notice how many hit songs of the 1960s British Invasion were covers of songs first recorded by Black Americans:
Optional: Watch the BBC documentary “Blues Britannia,” about the influence of the blues on English rock musicians]
Integrated Bus Suggestions, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Memories of Mississippi,” Danny Lyon
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spent the Last Year of His Life Detested by the Liberal Establishment,” Zaid Jilani
On the blog:
Motown and Soul
Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, 3-22, Suzanne E. Smith
On the blog:
“The Death of the Black Utopia,” Brent Staples
“What We Want,” Stokely Carmichael
Look Out, Whitey! Black Power’s Gon’ Get Your Mama! Excerpt, Julius Lester
“Malcolm’s Ministry,” Brandon M. Terry
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History, David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson (excerpt)
Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power (excerpt), Aaron Cohen
“The Panthers and the Patriots,” Michael McCanne — the story of a radical alliance of Panthers and poor white activists in Chicago
“The True Story of Soul City, A Utopian Town Built for African Americans,” Brentin Mock
Read this fascinating article by Geoffrey Jacques about Freedomways, the magazine of the Civil Rights Movement
Watch this scene from the 1969 film “Medium Cool,” about a white freelance news photographer in Chicago in the summer of 1968 (when the Democratic National Convention erupted into violent protests).
As the activists attempt to school the journalist, do you detect any parallels with the activism of our own time, more than 50 years later?
Watch footage from the late 1960s of Black activists explaining their position. Do their words still resonate today?
Journal Assignment #8: Soul and Civil Rights, due May 11 at 11:59 PM
- As the Civil Rights Movement began to decline in the mid-1960s and to be replaced by the Black Power Movement, how did the goals and aspirations of black activists change?
- How were these changes reflected in the music associated with these movements? Use a song associated with each movement as an example.
“Sun Ra: ‘I’m Everything and I’m Nothing,'” Namwali Serpell
“Appropriating the Master’s Tools: Sun Ra, the Black Panthers, and Black Consciousness, 1952-1973,” Daniel Kreiss
“George Schuyler: An Afrofuturist Before His Time,” Danzy Senna
Look at some of Sun Ra’s album covers, prints, and pamphlets here:
Watch Janelle Monáe’s 2018 Dirty Computer.
Watch the germinal 1974 Afrofuturist musical film Space is the Place. [Content warning: contains nudity, violence, sexual situations, violence against women, and explicit language, including the N-word. If you want to, you can skip a scene that contains a lot of this content, from about 47:00 to about 54:30, in which two NASA scientists trying to learn Ra’s secrets of musical teletransportation go to a brothel.]
“I Am Curious (Black)!” from Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #106 (1970) — the title is a reference to an experimental 1967 film, I Am Curious (Yellow).
The Parable of the Sower (graphic novel adaptation), Chapter 1 (Octavia Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings)
“That Time Muhammad Ali Beat Superman,” Todd Steven Burroughs
“Superheroes and Trailblazers: Black Comic Book Artists, Rediscovered,” Helene Stapinski
The reading list for a course Sun Ra taught at UC-Berkeley is here: https://oconnellmusic101.com/2018/06/06/from-black-nationalism-to-black-intergalacticism/
Much of Afrofuturism looks to the glories of the ancient past. Read “Malcolm X and Ancient History,” and peruse a hand-written syllabus and final exam that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. created for a philosophy course he taught at Morehouse College in 1962.
Ingrid LaFleur ran for mayor of Detroit in 2017 on an Afrofuturist campaign. Watch her lecture about how to work radical transformation through Afrofuturism.]
TW/CW: As we move into rap and hip-hop, we’ll be encountering an increased amount of explicit/offensive language, narratives, and imagery in both the music and the critical readings.
Hip Hop: Roots and Origin Stories
“The Roots and Stylistic Foundation of the Rap Music Tradition,” Cheryl L. Keyes
Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me, Bruce Jackson: read the following excerpts:
– Preface, v-viii
– Toasts about Stagger Lee, 31-43
– Toasts about Dolomite, 45-50
– Toasts about Shine and the Great Titanic, 169-185
“How the Burning of the Bronx Led to the Birth of Hip Hop,” Joshua Jelly-Schapiro
“Why The Bronx Burned,” Joe Flood
Cheryl L. Keyes notes the African origins of rap. Can you hear what she’s talking about in this short film, about the Malinke people of West Africa?
Watch the trailer for the 2019 documentary Decade of Fire, about the destruction of the South Bronx:
If we have time, we’ll watch the seminal 1982 hip hop film Wild Style.
Journal Assignment #9, Gangsta Rap/Conscious Rap, Due May 18 at 11:59 PM
- How and why do you think the radical social discourse of black revolutionary politics morphed into the radical individualism of hardcore rap?
- Is it possible to be a conscious rapper and a gangsta rapper at the same time? Explain.
- If rap was born in the cradle of struggle, what and who were those struggles against? Did the struggles of black Americans change between the era of soul and the era of rap?
- As rap began to reach a mainstream audience (estimates are that 80% of rap music consumers are young white men in the suburbs), how did the depiction of African-American experience in the music change? Give an example.
Rap and Gangsta Culture
“The Story of Stagger Lee,” Timothy Lane
Born in a Mighty Bad Land (excerpt), Jerry H. Bryant
Crack: Rock Cocaine, Street Capitalism, and the Decade of Greed (excerpt), David Farber
“Code of Thug Life,” Tupac Shakur
“All Eyez on U,” Nikki Giovanni
1. Ethnicity, Sexuality, Feminism, and Masculinity in Hip Hop; or
2. Critical Hip Hop Discourses
Class content will be determined by vote!
Readings for #1:
The Baddest Bitch in the Room (audio excerpt), Sophia Chang
Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism (excerpt), Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley
“Chimamanda Adichie says Beyoncé’s Kind of Feminism Isn’t Her Kind of Feminism,” Lily Kuo
“WAP: The Summer’s Smash Hit That Exposed the Fear of Sexually Liberated Black Women,” Michell Cresfield
“Megan, Cardi, and Kamala Make Bad History,” Armond White
Watch this trailer for the 1991 movie Paris is Burning, about Harlem’s legendary queer ball culture. How is “realness” a shared value both of hip hop and of ball culture?
Watch the documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, a critical look at gender stereotypes in rap.
“The First Drag Queen Was a Former Slave,” Channing Gerard Joseph. The fascinating story of William Dorsey Swann, the mother of ball culture in 19th-century Washington, D.C.]
Readings for #2:
“Why Are So Many Golden Age Hip Hop Artists Dying Young?” interview with Dart Adams
“How Hip-Hop Holds Blacks Back,” John McWhorter
The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop, Todd Boyd: Read the introduction only (p. 1-23).
The 21st-Century Hip-Hop Minstrel Show, excerpt, Raphael Heaggans
“When Hip-Hop First Went Corporate,” Kyle Coward
“We Gon’ Be Alright? The Ambiguities of Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Protest Anthem,'” Noriko Manabe
Optional: An interesting Twitter thread about the usage of the N-word in and out of rap songs. Do you think that the argument for the repurposing of the word is similar to Rhiannon Giddens’s intentions in repurposing minstrel songs?