Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Frat Rap and the New White Negro

August 29, 2013, 2:23 pm

By David J. Leonard

Adele, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Teena Marie. White musicians and fans are embracing the cultural performance—jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, hip-hop—that African-Americans have given life to over the last century.

In 1957, Norman Mailer spoke to the existence of the “White Negro,” an urban hipster whose fascination and fetishizing of blackness resulted in a set of practices that reflected a white imagination: part cultural appropriation, a subtle reinforcement of segregation, and a desire to try on perceived accents of blackness. “So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts,” he wrote. “The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.”

As the Princeton University professor Imani Perry has noted, “there is a sonic preference for blackness, the sounds of blackness, but there is a visual preference for whiteness in our culture.” It should come as no surprise, then, that white rappers are slowly beginning to dominate the college music scene with the ascendance of a genre that can loosely be called “frat rap.”

Be it the thumping bass of artists like Mac Miller and Mike Posner, or the blaring noise of Asher Roth, Sam Adams, or Hoodie Allen, the white rappers who are gaining a foothold in the college scene need to be seen as part of a longstanding tradition of white theft of black artistry. The popularity of those artists, alongside that of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore—who can be heard interrogating white privilege, marriage, and materialism in their music—cannot be understood outside their whiteness.

The frat-rap craze saw its origins in 2009, with the release of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” This subgenre not only markets itself to white college students but also marries the aesthetics and sensibilities of hip-hop with the experiences and narratives of white, male college students. Rather than building on oppositional traditions of hip-hop, which the former frontman for Public Enemy, Chuck D, once identified as “CNN for black people,” frat rap rhymes about all things white and middle class: desires that begin and end with parties, drinking, girls, and fun.

The moniker of frat rap is powerful because it reflects a desired level of ownership. White-fraternity claims to the music and culture displace a long association of rap with blackness, urbanity, and the inner city. Instead, the music exists within the context of the university.

Continue reading at  Frat Rap and the New White Negro – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum – Hip-Hop and Politics

From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum

By JLove Calderon and David Leonard

Originally Published at Hip Hop and Politics

miley-cyrus-2014Miley fatigue is in full effect, but we feel it is important that we as white people speak up, and hold our folks accountable to their racist behavior. The burden far too often falls on people of color to respond, to explain, to teach, to protest.

This year’s Video Music Awards were yet another historical moment where whiteness reigned supreme. Black and Brown cultural creators and innovators were for the most part invisible, or worse, used as evidence of acceptance or racial progress. Jon Caramanica highlights how the VMAs were a window into a larger history within American popular culture: “Mr. Timberlake was on trend in way, though: this was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture who were recipients of three awards, including best hip-hop video.”

In this context, the question of appropriation matters – power, privilege, stereotypes, and centuries of racism play through both the appropriation and the resulting responses. To be clear, we are not against white folks embracing the art and culture that speaks truth to their hearts and souls, as hip-hop culture is still our first love, rather we are advocating for acknowledgement, accountability, and action. We are calling for examination of how stereotypes and blackness within the white imagination are often present within these moments of appropriation.

MacklemoreOn the privilege spectrum, we find ourselves appreciating Macklemore at a certain level, who is beginning, by at least acknowledging, in his lyrics, that white privilege is one of the reasons he is successful. Honest and courageous. In a recent interview, he noted, “I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something. A song like ‘Thrift Shop‘ was safe enough for the kids…. the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe.’”

His rhetorical and lyrical stance doesn’t mean he isn’t cashing in on his privileges. The awards, the celebration of him as “exceptional” and different, the erasure of artists like 9th Wonder, Azealia Banks, Murs, Angel Haze, dead prez or Jasiri X from discussions of independent and conscious artists, and his popularity among white youth all speak to the centrality of whiteness. For him, and for us, the next step is to take that and be accountable by being in action for racial justice. Using his platform to impact the movement toward racial justice.

Continue reading at From Miley to Macklemore: The Privilege Spectrum – Hip-Hop and Politics.

NewBlackMan: Does It Have to Be The Shoes?: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Wings”

Does It Have to Be The Shoes?:

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Wings”

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan

“It’s gotta be the shoes”—Mars Blackmon

These six words in many ways defined the late 1980s and 1990s, encapsulating the rise of hip-hop, NIKE, Michael Jordan, and the racial-class narratives embedded in each of them. For a teenager growing up in the 1980s, in many ways this phrase defines my generation. Rather than generation X, we are the “It’s gotta be the shoes generation.”

The problems inherent in such an ethos crystallized for me after watching the new video from Seattle’s very own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

“Wings,” directed by Zia Mohajerjasbi, initially plays on the childhood memories associated with Air Jordans, ideas that likely resonate with many of this generation today.

I was seven years old, when I got my first pair

And I stepped outside

And I was like, Momma, this air bubble right here, it’s gonna make me fly

I hit that court, and when I jumped, I jumped, I swear I got so high

The joy of success on the court, of ballin’ like the big boys, was not a pure accomplishment, but one that was wrapped up in commercial ideas and commodification from the jump. The purity of being able to touch the net was never, in his mind, indicative of his own skills but that of the shoes. It had to be the shoes.

Yet, the tune (in the song and for the young boy in the video) quickly changes, away from childhood dreams and nostalgia for the sweet smell of brand-new kicks, to the painful realities about shoes.

And then my friend Carlos’ brother got murdered for his fours, whoa

See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted to start a cult though

Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello

Carlos’ brother, like other kids, in the 1980s, learned all too painfully about the value placed on a pair of shoes. Worth more than a life; worth more than a future; the quick transition from “wanting to be like Mike,” to fly, to stark reminder about those killed over Mike’s shoes is a powerful message. Here, Macklemore not only illustrates the value placed upon shoes but challenges listeners to think beyond the nostalgia for balling in new Jordans to remember those who died for those new air Jordans.

Yet, the song is not purely about the cultural meaning and history behind shoes, but a powerful commentary on commodification. It is a story of the valued put on shoes culturally, economically, socially, athletically, and stylistically, even though shoes are shoes.

We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it

So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it

Got to show ‘em, so exclusive, this that new shit

A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in

Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid

I’m an individual, yea, but I’m part of a movement

My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it

They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said

Look at what that swoosh did

See it consumed my thoughts

Highlighting the ways in which products define our sense of identity, demark coolness, and otherwise tell the world something about us, “Wings” laments the power ascribed onto shoes. It questions that stock we put into consumption and products, a process that merely enhances the stock value of companies like NIKE.

In this regard, the song and the video simultaneously show a process, the difficulty in challenging the marketing and message to say, “they are just a pair of shoes.” The allure of the American Dream, of coolness, and the product are seductive. In fact, this is part of the marketing strategies of companies like NIKE, which invest in the production of image and advertizing, all while minimizing costs of labor. In selling a dream, in selling hipness, athleticism, coolness, and an overall image, the shoes themselves and the conditions of production are erased and rendered meaningless.

Sue Collins, in “‘E’ Ticket to NIKE Town, describes this tactic as “commodity fetishism.” It is “the kind of “magic” that occurs when we displace value as a product of human labor by projecting it onto objects as if the value were inherent. Marx described a commodity as a mysterious thing because ‘in it the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labor is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves but between the products of their labor.’” She continues as follows:

Fetishism in postmodern consumer culture entails emptying commodities of meaning or ‘hiding the real social relations objectified in them through human labor’ to make it ‘possible for the imaginary/symbolic social relations to be injected into the construction of meaning at a secondary level.’ Production, then, empties, and advertising fills, and in this way use value is subsumed by exchange value. The Nike swoosh and the Jordan brand as cultural commodities not only constitute a symbolic code, they also take on a system of significations, coded abstractions realized by “ideological labor,” to borrow from Baudrillard. In the fetish theory of consumption, the so-called magical substance of consumer products is really part of a generalized code of signs, what Baudrillard refers to as “a totally arbitrary code of difference, and that it is on this basis, and not at all on account of their use values or their innate ‘virtues,’ that objects exercise their fascination.”13 In advanced capitalism, objects lose any real connection with their practical utility and “instead come to be the material correlate (the signifier) of an increasing number of constantly changing, abstract qualities.”

Whether in the pain and suffering of those who labor in NIKE factories, or those who died over the shoes, we can see the damages resulting from commodity fetishism. “Wings” highlights the production of consumers obsessed with shoes not as a functional tool but as a commodity that encapsulates a myriad of narratives and signifiers.

What I wore, this is the source of my youth

This dream that they sold to you

For a hundred dollars and some change

Consumption is in the veins

And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes

This song spoke to me in so many ways: its message resonates with my own childhood experiences and my constant pledge of allegiance to the shoes (and the matching hats); it connects to the persistent inner battle between my critical self that understands commodity fetishism and the realities of worker conditions and the consumer in me that wants; and mostly it speaks to me as a father who increasingly struggles in helping my daughter see those shoes, sweatshirt, jeans, etc as neither sources of joy nor signifiers of cool but simply clothes. I am hoping that her generation will heed the message of “Wings” and not follow in the footsteps of the “it’s gotta be the shoes” generation.


via NewBlackMan: Does It Have to Be The Shoes?: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Wings”.