SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: My name is Margaret Washington. I'm a professor of history here at Cornell. And it's my pleasure to introduce this afternoon's speaker. Most of our pioneers are still eating over in the Statler, and I'm sure they'll be-- I think they'll be here soon. But I think we should get started at any rate.
Tricia Rose is currently Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. She is the author in 1994 of the award-winning book Black Noise, Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. This is a groundbreaking work. I certainly use it, and it is widely cited and widely read. In 2003, she authored an oral history of black women's sexual lives, Longing to Tell, Black Women Talk about Sexuality and Intimacy. This is an inspiring and a heartwarming and also kind of a heartbreaking story of marginalized women told in their own words.
Dr. Rose has returned to hip hop, and her new book is entitled The Hip Hop Wars, What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop And Why It Matters. That was scheduled to be out by Basic Books in 2008. Is it? It's out?
AUDIENCE: December 1.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: December 1. So that's soon. Tricia Rose is a native New Yorker, born and raised in Harlem, from the Bronx. She took her BA in Sociology from Yale University and received her PhD in American Studies from Brown University, where she currently teaches. She also taught at NYU.
Besides being a noted scholar, she is a widely-acclaimed lecturer on American and African-American culture, politics, race, and gender. She is a featured commentator in radio and television, and her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Essence Magazine, among other magazines and journals. So please join me in welcoming Tricia Rose.
TRICIA ROSE: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I'm very happy to be here. This is a really interesting and dynamic event, and I'm happy to be here at this particular time because I have decided recently to sort of reengage in what I suppose Mark Anthony Neal would call hip hop studies in a way that I hadn't directly in print done. So as Professor Washington just mentioned, I do have a new book out, which there are two copies in the world of, and I brought it. So it's not a joke. It's not real until you can hold it in your hands. And I might, depending on how things go, read a section-- a very small section-- of it to you. But it is slated to come out about a month from now.
This is a wonderful event, as I said, for many reasons. I have both long-term colleagues and friends like Professor Neal and Jeff Chang and ex-students who are working here now, like Paula Ioanide at Ithaca College and new friends I've met recently, Carole Boyce Davies and other sort of multigenerational people in conversation. It's very important.
I want to speak, before I talk about the hip hop wars and what I have to say about that and what I think the future of hip hop has to be about, I want to talk a little bit about this importance of archiving and situate it in the context of thinking about our role as critical historians, as critical thinkers about our lives and the lives of the people around us.
There's nothing more important than having knowledge about one's past and that knowledge to be connected to the power and social structure of that past. That it's not just facts about the past, but the past as a living object for reflection. Archives allow this in a particular way, and they're extremely important.
But they also produce often a celebration and a form of memory that can hide as much as it reveals. So I want us to think about archiving as a political practice that we have to stay engaged with, not as a decision that is about filing, as it were, gathering and filing, but something much more complicated than that.
One of the concerns I have really about hip hop right now is what I perceive to be as a real reduction in serious critical challenging, both in the commercial sphere of the music, the media sphere of the conversation, and I think that approach has actually trickled down even among academics who by trade like to argue for a living. And I think that one of the problems is that critical examination, when you're talking about something that people hold dear, is hard to do.
The second reason it's hard to have a serious critical examination is that the context of poor people and people of color's creativity is sort of automatically, or as Althusser might say, always already under siege. So it's not a neutral context. It's a context where they have to figure out how to make themselves seen and heard as the precursor to the conversation. So that fact often means that a certain kind of critical engagement looks like it's getting on the bandwagon of an already existing process of marginalization. And so that, it seems to me, is one of the stumbling blocks here.
On the other hand, we have to be very concerned at this historical moment about the degree to which the expansion and infiltration of the market economy, the degree to which it has dulled our critical consciousness as people across the world, but certainly for those of us who live much closer to the fire of that economy as opposed to the distant outposts.
And so we have to, with love of course, get at some not just truths as they might appear on the surface but more complicated truths, and more perhaps contradictory elements than a kind of a simplistic form of preservation might allow.
In a sense, I want to encourage the students here, the faculty here, the writers here, the public intellectuals and thinkers here of all stripes and professions to imagine that the fifth element to which our extraordinary pioneers were speaking is really also an intellectual challenge. It's not just the fifth element of the knowledge about early hip hop, but the fifth element about knowledge about the context for what we're doing, and that the drive for the fifth element is actually the new frontier. That it's not really any more about knowledge of origins as much as it is about the politics of knowledge in this moment, because tomorrow is going to be determined by what we're doing now.
So I'm very forward looking, and in a sense I perceive my challenges to the public conversation about hip hop right now to be very much about taking really the pioneers as seriously as possible. This idea of knowledge to guide us is really critical. And it's in that spirit that I come to it.
As my bio indicates, I'm from New York. I guess I was saying to Mark earlier, you have to apparently be from the Bronx to come to this conference or something. They must have done a special test. I don't know. Jeff's not from New York, is he? So he's our one. It's good, though. You have to have someone from outside New York. It's important. And I wish I was on the bus from the Bronx that came here, but right now I live in Providence. So that would be an unfair journey to give to them.
But I have very complicated roots in hip hop in that I'm from the Bronx-- I'm from the Northeast Bronx, Co-op City actually, when I learned that the cross Bronx Expressway-- Co-op City was where a lot of people who were displaced because of the Cross Bronx Expressway were moved. Of course, I didn't know until I had lived in Co-op City for like 18 years. It just all made perfect sense in ways that were unclear to me then. But the fact that both Co-op City and the Cross Bronx Expressway have become these very important icons are hip hop is really fascinating to me as a native New Yorker.
Now, I was not a B girl in the hip hop sense of the word. I was a B girl in the sense that I was an athlete in high school and really wanted to be a hooper. But this was a long time before women would even be-- I mean, I don't even want to discuss age, but the point is it's a really long time ago.
I mean, it's before anyone even could put the W in front of NBA. It's like before Nancy Lieberman, OK? They conjured up to come to my athletic awards ceremony as like the one female basketball player in the global world. It was just like, well, who is she? She was like some dinosaur they trotted out.
In any event, I say that because my social space around athletics was spent-- in the summers when I had time-- was really spent watching hip hop in local non-performative spaces, meaning not so much going to big parties and big block parties, but also how people practice their craft on the perimeter of the basketball court.
Because that's really a lot where it also went on, something that we haven't talked about here. That it wasn't only going to jams or being invested as a serious emcee or DJ, but about bringing your double cassette player with your B-side of some song already taped. And then, you'd bring the other side so you could tape the new rhyme you were working on while you were waiting for a game to open up. So there's that kind of, not so much hip hop as a segregation from other parts of youth culture, but as something that was mixed in with everyday practice.
I wrote a paper about hip hop-- or at that point, I thought it was rap music because that was really what I was interested in-- in college at Yale-- this is, again, early 80s-- and then decided to go to graduate school to work on hip hop. That wasn't my thesis. I had a thesis on some whole other matter because it was like you wouldn't write your thesis on hip hop. But I did write this paper.
And so Black Noise really is my thesis in revision. And it was a labor of intellect and of heart for sure. To this day, I'm very grateful that I took an ethnographic approach and that I chose to document and interview a lot of various pioneers-- not the ones here, although I've met several of them many times-- but others, people like Crazy Legs and Wiggles and Carmen Ashurst and Red Alert and Kool Moe Dee, et cetera, Queen Latifah, and MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa blah blah blah, because this question of getting people's voices into the story is very important.
But I was also interested in analyzing it in a way that stories don't alone do. So stories do a particular work, but there's other work to be done. And one of the things that drew me to hip hop was its challenge to musical rules. I was profoundly impacted intellectually and emotionally by just the excitement of the challenge to traditional musical rules that seemed pretty much to come easily. The innovation and the innovative use of technology, you see this in jazz. You see this in the transition of rural to urban blues. But the way it takes place in hip hop is fairly extraordinary.
The power of telling stories, the ability to make what scholars eventually call-- and labor studies did this as well-- prestige from below. How do you develop a system of value and appreciation when you're in a community that is not publicly valued? When you look at Joe's photographs and you see what the South Bronx was as a sign of society's abandonment of people, what does it mean to take that abandonment and reject at least as much as possible the internalization of that abandonment and to, in a sense, reinvest in the self when others don't seem to be willing to make that investment and are in fact divesting?
But, there is a romance to the way we talk about early hip hop. A lot of what's wrong with commercial hip hop now has its origins in everyday society, which therefore has its origins in early hip hop. So we can't act like a lot of what we see now that's wrong with commercial hip hop was invented in a boardroom somewhere. It was not. Vicious forms of misogyny and sexism existed in everyday life. They exist in everyday life, and hip hop is part of that process.
Not everyone left gangs to participate in hip hop. Some stayed in. Some still continue to participate. And a kind of hustling narrative and culture is still a part of that community and was at that time.
But I would say that we are in a new moment, that what the pioneers articulate about an ethical worldview about community, about a sense of possibility, about investing in others when its a sacrifice to do so, that moment really dramatically begins to fall away and a narrowing of representations and politics begin to take place in what I would call commercial hip hop in the mid-1990s in particular.
And that is a profoundly important facet of the commercial explosion of hip hop. They coincide entirely. And they have actually contributed to the burying of the pioneers. When you think about-- this is not the lecture-- but when you think about jazz, for example, and the way pioneers and icons from 40, 50, 60 years ago are still touted as central, seminal figures for artists' development. You think about the way Ellington gets talked about, the way Coltrane gets talked about, the way Miles gets talked about among many younger jazz musicians, that kind of direct homage does not happen as easily in hip hop, partly because its so much about in some cases bragging and toasting and self-identification as the baddest so-and-so in the history of whatever it is.
But its also about this inability to speak to the spirit of that moment because it is in such direct contradiction to what has happened in commercial hip hop. So while there were problems, I want to situate what I think is going on in commercial hip hop since the mid-1990s not to claim that none of this went on before, but to say that certain of those elements became the core market products for commercial hip hop.
And this commercial juggernaut has been tragically under-addressed in the scholarship, in the journalism-- the artists do it on the margins, but they don't even get much attention for doing so. So to my mind, what's happened is that, through a collusion of a variety of effects most of which I couldn't possibly do in 45 minutes, we have wound up in a situation where the very kind of critical skills for battling, for challenge, for elevation and evaluation that hip hop is known for has not been able to be executed in the public arena around the mainstream conversation about hip hop.
What we've done-- and I think we're all culpable of this, so this isn't a me as opposed to others-- it sort of relying on the heyday, or relying on the formative years to frame the genre in perpetuity. So it's almost as, if no matter what hip hop does, it's got these great origins. So as long as we can talk about the dispossessed and the way in which it articulates human possibility and the way in which it transforms music, it doesn't really matter that the vast majority of what sells is a profound and insulting portrayal, particularly of black people, and contributes to an incredibly destructive sense of the absence of possibility.
And the third most important thing is that it undercultivates, it decultivates, it prevents progressive political consciousness, the very heart of what hip hop is actually about. [APPLAUSE]
And so this big mainstream corporate hip hop that those of us who are progressive, you hold your nose or you're like, well, I'll just get the clean version, or I'll find the good phrase, or I'll listen to the cuts that aren't on the radio because that must be what he's really about, right? Or I'll just support hip hop as a whole, but I'll only buy the underground. But I won't critique the big mainstream-- becomes a strategy of really collusion with this process, not necessarily intentionally and by all means not always consciously.
But we in a sense run away from the power of the market to shape this generation of hip hop consumers and future generations. We're not paying close enough attention to the impact on politics, on community, on male-female relationships, on homophobia, on male identity, on the celebration-- what went from stories about struggling with the prison-industrial complex to a badge of honor, the prison-industrial complex being a tat as much as it is an experience that needs to be transcended. That pain gets pushed down for a constant celebration, and that transformation has a huge impact on hip hop consciousness.
Yes, there are hip hop heads-- you're all probably included among them-- who know the history, who have an elaborate relationship to a variety of marginal artists. But in my honest experiences, both in the classroom at big famous schools and small underfunded schools, my experience talking to high school kids, my experience to going to concerts, is that most young fans today of all stripes don't know either the history of hip hop or the history of economic exploitation, the history of black people, of black diaspora-- which includes the Caribbean, so it speaks all languages. Those histories are not available to these fans, and they are instead being marketed to in such profound ways that they see the world as it is commercially presented for them in hip hop.
We cannot run away from that any further. It doesn't mean there are not other progressive energies. But I see myself actually enabling those progressive energies, enabling this underground, making it unburied. I mean, I don't really want an underground. Because who's underground? Dead people. [APPLAUSE]
I want that underground to be at the core of what goes on. That's not going to happen if I just keep tilling the earth over there seeing how deeply. they're buried, but I don't pay attention to who's creating the dump truck of dust and dirt and debris on top of them every time I clear a little bit. So I go, who do you really like now? Well, I like you know [MUMBLING]. Let me go find her. And while I'm scraping away, some fool is standing above me going, why is she scraping? I'm about to just drop a whole 10 pounds of dirt right where she was scraping. And then I go back to scraping.
That's really what we've all been doing to a certain extent. Not everybody, but I'm generalizing here to make a point. That the public ideas and investment in hip hop have been shaped primarily by corporate agendas and by mainstream artists' complicitness with that agenda, and youthful, cross-racial complicitness with a history of expectations about what it means to represent black people.
And I'm going to make a point about saying black people here specifically because hip hop is profoundly racially diverse. It's ethnically diverse. It's internationally diverse. It's religiously diverse. It's less gender diverse, but it's gender diverse. It's sexual orientation diverse. But that is not the hip hop that everybody is buying. Let's keep that very real. They're buying T-Pain and Lil Wayne and I could just keep going. I'm not saying they're not talented, but they're not doing all this progressive marginal analysis that we're talking about.
Nas doesn't sell the kind of records that Jay-Z sells there's a reason for that. It's not that the man doesn't have skills and doesn't have musical talent. Nobody's really buying Eve. Nobody's buying the women emcees. Well, why? OK. So the market that's really driving what happens is a different set of narratives, and they're based particularly on a ghetto fantasy about black masculinity and black femininity. For all of the diversity of hip hop, everybody's being asked to trade on the legacy of the stereotypes of the pimp, the gangster, and the ho. And he is not white, and he is not Asian, and he is not Puerto Rican. He is black in the imagination of mainstream society and therefore in consumption patterns and therefore in the images that we see.
So we have to actually get very clear about the power of the distortion of blackness at the core of commercial hip hop if we're ever going to break this fictitious black-white binary. We're not going to get it by just talking about the exceptions that are trying to do it. We have to actually face the core of this problem.
So I make this argument that I call the hip hop trinity-- the gangster, the pimp, and the ho, which basically crystallizes the history of the stereotypes of black people with the actual lived experiences produced by a history of divestment.
So you have a legacy of stereotypes, which revolve precisely around the gangster, pimp, and the ho because the pimp is basically a modern urban form of the sort of rapist slash sexual deviant. And the gangster is a violent, uncontrolled, perhaps entrepreneurial and stylish but nonetheless irreconcilably different, irreconcilably outside black man. And the black woman is perpetually a ho, basically, there to be the dump ground for a post sort of feminist world when sexism is no longer really part of mainstream popular culture in this kind of vicious way, but hip hop gets to do it with a pass.
I'd love to see an alternative rock song with half the lyrics, half the images that go on in the middle of the day that show black women as mindless, irrelevant, and as our amazing pioneers-- female pioneers-- yesterday pointed out, meaningful only insofar as they are gifted biologically with charming physical traits. That the rest of their talents are in fact and worthy of conversation and discussion.
Those three images are really at the core of what's happening. Now again, I can hear you because I've had this fight for over 10 years. I hear you saying to me-- some of you-- well, but what about? And now we could fill in the blank. Oh well, I don't listen to that. Or in fact, I don't really listen to the words. Now, I've taught hip hop for a very long time and I've heard. I think every possible excuse. Why do we need an excuse?
Here's why we need an excuse. We need an excuse because the public conversation is so trapped in talking in oppositions that public critique turns you into an anti-hip hop speaker.
The public conversation is polarized so profoundly between those who are pro hip hop and those who are con hip hop, those who are on the left-- as in they're progressive, critical, trying to find what's radical about hip hop-- and those on the right-- like [? Nick Warder, ?] who Mark pointed out earlier, but there are many others, he's not alone-- who use hip hop as an example of urban decline, of social decay, of the lack of creativity, of the decline of modernism. I mean, whatever it is somebody is upset about, hip hop is pretty much responsible.
And my favorite language for this polarization, players versus haters. I cannot tell you how many times if I say, well, at what point are we going to make this critique about sexism? Well, that's just what the haters do. I'm just all about-- everybody's sexist. So then the same questions kept emerging.
So really, since Black Noise came out, the first few years were one thing, but come '98, '99, I'm like, this is looking mighty different. I think we need to have a different conversation. But oh no. You basically became a hater. It got to the point where if I made a public critique-- I figured, well, Black Noise should be clear. It's clear I'm not a hater. In fact, I was considered to be overinvested, so I couldn't possibly be a hater.
But as soon as I make a critique, it was so polarizing right-wing radio would start to call me. We understand you've given up hip hop and you're ready now to talk about what hip hop really is. Who are you? I'm such and such a radio station in Canada, and we heard-- and then I'd say OK, well, hold on. Let me call you back. Hang up, go do my little research, be like, why are you calling me again? Well, we hear you basically you crossed over from the dark side.
And one time, I thought OK, that's an exception. But then it continued to happen. And I realized that there was a progressive responsibility that we had to create a space of what I call in this book transformational love in critique. And that is to say, not critique for the purposes of beating people up and isolating individuals who are responsible, but a critique that enables-- like you need to work on your jump shot. That's not an insult. You just might need to work on your jump shot. It will get better. It will not get better if I tell you oh baby, you so good. You know, it's just because that basket's not pretty. That's why your jump shot ain't going in.
And also, you know what you need more lines on your court And if you had 360 Airs in your shoe, you would do a whole lot better jumping for that jump shot. Man, look, the basket's whack. Your sneakers might need some tape. You still got to make your jump shot.
Now, that kind of critical engagement-- a sense of like, look, I'm recognizing your conditions, I understand the circumstances that you're in, but that doesn't change the fact that we have to do better. The pioneers didn't say let's just figure out how to embody what we are being given, which is nothing. We're going to make something out of that nothing. And we're going to make something meaningful and possible and what-- peace, love, happiness, unity-- when we have no reason to be happy if we follow the statistics. We have no reason to have unity given what's been bequeathed to us. And there's definitely no peace in a city that looks like Dresden.
So how do you envision? You envision because you don't stand where you are and accept it. You do as Roxanne says, I am this today, but tomorrow I'm something else. So it's that vision of possibility that transforms it.
Instead, our public conversation is polarized by pro-con, as I said, player-hater, left versus right. And so the corporate media has both taken charge of the music in many ways in the mainstream, but it's also taken charge of the conversation. And that's partly why it's locked in this polarized battle.
So I spent a lot of time just sort of responding to each debate as they came up, and a lot of it had to do with sexism. And actually, I have to make a footnote here about this because it's a bone to pick I've had really from the very beginning. And this is that, I've been making a gendered critique as part of what I do in hip hop from the beginning. Not bashing men or celebrating women, but talking about the way gender plays out. It plays out in terms of public space apprenticeship. It plays out as to who's out late. These things came up in stories that got told, but they need to be gathered to show the impact of gender and sexuality for women in particular.
But I am really struck by how much my contribution has been limited to the subject of gender. So for 10 years-- now, for a long, long time, there was nothing else. Nobody else had done a major technological intervention. Nobody else had done a political intervention to that degree in terms of hidden transcripts and the politics of alternative language. All the other chapters in Black Noise, eight out of 10 times, could you come talk about gender at this conference? Because A, there wasn't anyone else, they felt, or they felt it was like my job to do that. And it became a ghettoizing project inside of a ghettoizing project inside of a ghettoizing project.
So I would say, well, who's talking about technology? And they would name some fool who hadn't written one single solitary word about it or who was not a practitioner either, not an interviewer. And I would be like, why don't you let him talk about gender? He knows about as much about gender as he does about technology. Let him talk about that. Let him stumble around on women and masculinity. Why do I have to cover this one space so that I can be interpolated as only an expert on gender.
For the purposes of what? Making more space for men, which is really a lot of what unfortunately hip hop has been too much about. So it's like no, actually I'm authorized to speak about all of it. So you find somebody else to do the girls work because that's really what you're thinking of it as. So this is really another process of the way the politics of the world influence not just the practitioners but also the intellectuals.
So what happened is I would respond to debates know as they came up. I would handle whatever was going on at the moment. And then you have one of those conversations with a friend where you're just like out of your mind. You're just grateful nobody is taping it. And you're like blah blah blah. It's like David Letterman. Somebody needs to write a book, just like the top 10 debates in hip hop and why they're so effed up. And I was like, right. I've got to call you back.
So I'm like, OK, what are the top 10? What is everyone's? Because it became clear to me that the conversation was not only separated left or right, but it was driven by a repetition of excuses and blame. Blame, explain. Blame, explain. So the right wing blames-- and I'll just give you a quick summary of the subjects.
The right wing blames hip hop causes violence. Everybody says hip hop doesn't cause violence. There's violence before hip hop. Hip hop reflects black dysfunctional ghetto culture. They basically act crazy. Hip hop shows it. Look, they're happy to have a gat. They're happy to be drinking a 40, and whatever it is. Look at them. Look at this. It's clearly dysfunctional. Who can argue for this?
Hip hop hurts black people-- and this has been a real black middle-class response to hip hop, that it's actually hurtful. This is not really a good thing in any way. The fourth one is it's destroying America's values. That's really Bill O'Reilly's main claim to fame, that hip hop destroys America's fundamental values. I'm not sure which ones those are, but I give you a sense of that in the book what I think he means.
Fifth is hip hop demeans women. It's basically disrespectful. And this is, again, a complicated space because it's both true, but it's also not true in the way that it gets articulated. So that's the first five on the critics slash haters slash right-wing side.
On the hip hop defenders, the biggest, most powerful one which you can use for everything it's like the most malleable argument on earth is that I'm just keeping it real. You can do anything under the rubric of keeping it real. You can't be queer, though. But other than that, you can do damn near anything under the rubric of keeping it real. I've never seen anything like it. [APPLAUSE]
So you gunned down your entire neighborhood in a fantasy. You sold crack to a six-month-old that you diluted-- I'm just making this up because the lyrics don't exist. Oh, god willing. If these lyrics exist, this would just be the worst prophetic fragment on earth. So you put crack in the little so just get them addicted early enough. And then you say, well, I'm just keeping it real. Somebody's thinking that, or somebody wants to do that.
So under the rubric of the fiction of reality, you propel a rhetoric and a worldview. So number six is keeping it real on the defenders' side, so that there is actually no other ground beside the imaginary reality that you've constructed to which your music should be subjected, to which we should have standards for any reason.
Another favorite one, hip hop is not responsible for sexism. And as I say here, look, if we could find the fool who is responsible for sexism, bring him to me. But he don't exist because he's dead. The first person who came up with that's been dead. We're clear on that.
So I'm not responsible for global warming. Does that mean that I should constantly drink bottled water and throw 8,000-plus-- I didn't invent it, but I need to do something about it. So number seven is hip hop is not responsible for sexism.
At eight-- this is my all-time favorite in the sense that it's my least favorite, although keeping it real is ranked up there-- is there are bitches and hos. Now, this may sound funny, but I have heard one variation or another of this at all walks of life-- the Bourgeois, the Boulevard, everywhere. As if the power and privilege of labeling and defining black women-- because it's usually about black women in particular, but not only-- but labeling women in this way both sexually and transforming their definitive personalities into labels is a privilege that other people have. It's OK to have it. It's just perfectly reasonable.
Nine is we're not role models. We're not role models, so we're not responsible for anything we say or do. Well, what are you, just products then? I don't know what you mean. A role model-- and I go into this long analysis of what a role model actually is-- it's not a perfect fantasy. It is in fact whether or not others in your immediate circle follow you in one way or another good, bad, or indifferent. So whether you want to be a role model or not, you actually already are. So own the power of your modeling. It's not a choice that you are making. It's a circumstance that is going to happen.
And the 10th is that nobody talks about all the positive in hip hop. And what ultimately happens is I find that there is what I call a grain of truth in every one of these arguments. Meaning that, even on the conservative side where you would automatically assume I wouldn't find a grain of truth if you're a hip hop fan because of course it's polarized, there is in fact a grain of truth in all 10 of these arguments. Sometimes there's a few grains of truth. It's not all even.
But in fact, I think this is what I say in the book, is it's a grain of truth that is starving a nation of millions. That what we're doing is we're undervaluing what these arguments ultimately do to stifle the development of a progressive political consciousness to break us free. So it becomes an excuse. To say you're keeping it real doesn't make you ask the hard questions. To say hip hop causes violence doesn't ask the hard questions and doesn't situate and historicize the context.
So what happens is these become easy answers that shut down the conversation. They don't actually make us ask bigger questions. And they all share some very significant collusions. So there's a whole other section of the book that talks about, after unpacking both the truth and what I think was valuable and really problematic about all 10 of these debates. And I do that not because I'm trying to find the definitive answer, but because I see this as, again, a fifth element. To say, here's what critical engagement on these issues might look like. Here's one model for what it means to really take this stuff seriously and to not fall for easy answers and to let others give you easy ways out in dealing with it.
But there are mutual denials. You would think that, on the one hand, there'd be nothing in common with the haters and the players. But the haters and players share a number of things. And so I spent a whole chapter on what they deny. They both denied the extraordinary power of corporate domination of commercial hip hop. The pro-hip hop heads will act like they're just authentic. They just write a rhyme, and there's no vetting.
The record company doesn't have any influence. I just say what's on my heart. How many times has Russell Simmons said this is just what's on their heart? I'm like, man, please. So there's not a single black rapper who feels an anti-Semitic thought? But you know you haven't heard a record. They're all just profoundly misogynist. It's not that this sells more. There's not a queer rapper to be found in mainstream commercial hip hop? Come on.
So what's the collusion? The collusion is that the role of commercial modeling and values shaped both sides of this conversation. The conservatives say this is authentic black pathology. See? We've been saying this for decades, and here's hip hop, the fruits of this truth.
And the biggest most you know famous hip hop artists and moguls and businessmen and journalists-- it's like a whole cottage industry-- on the other hand, they say, yeah, we're just keeping it authentic. This is exactly what happens. This is my story, exactly as it happened. Because that's what sells. That story of the myth of absolute truth is part of the fiction.
So they collide and in denying the fact that the artists are being profoundly shaped in their narratives in many ways. But even more importantly, they're also being ripped off. Can't say anything because you piss off the massa in the marketplace. And then you think you're being ripped off now, you're going to be really ripped off. You wanted like a pioneer up in here, meaning that you can't even be part of the conversation.
And so they have to deny it just to stay close to the trough, and the right wing gets the consider the dysfunction. So the corporate denial, the deniability of corporate power here is a profound collusion in this conversation.
I'm going say one more thing about corporate stuff because it was part of-- I forgot your name, son. What's your name again?
Jordan's really fabulous segue was into what's really at the heart of this project. This collusion around the silence of the role of corporate control of hip hop is not just ideological. It's not just profits at the level of either record sales, or what's more important is the marketing of secondary products. Because actually, the records don't sell very much, but other things sell a lot more. And Jeff Chang's done wonderful work on connecting these things.
They are actually much more important in so far as the control of the outlets of the culture. Now, 1996 was an incredibly pivotal moment. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was not intended to be directed toward radio-- it was actually directed toward television-- actually had the biggest impact on the consolidation of outlets for radio in the country.
Previous laws prevented multiple owners of same either radio stations and/or different mass media outlets in the same city. So if you had a newspaper, you couldn't have a radio station. If you had a radio station, you couldn't have a TV station. 1996 said, you can own everything. I'm exaggerating, but it's pretty close.
So what do cats do? Cats with the biggest money, corporations that already have a lot of capital, they bought, they bought, they bought. In Hip Hop Wars, there's a chart at the end that shows who owns all of these hot kiss so-called radio stations. And there's really only two owners nationally. There's one third one that has a couple, but it's Clear Channel and it's Radio1 1. Radio 1 is run by a black woman, so this isn't about black ownership. You've got to have black politics. You've got to have black radical consciousness. Skin color doesn't actually get you where you need to go any more, tragically.
So who owns it? Two radio stations. If you turn on any major hip hop station in any major city-- Memphis, LA, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Philly, DC Boston, I could just be here all day, New Orleans-- basically, where the vast majority of black people are, two companies on what happens, what gets played, how often it gets played. People have done research. The rotation of songs went from 40 times a week to the songs that are preferred-- let's not get into payola, I'm not even going to touch that right now, we don't have enough time-- to 140 times a week.
So you want to know why Lil Wayne's like a virus in your head. It's not just because it's some good beats and he's talented. He is very talented, I think, as a lyricist. The content, totally uninteresting to me. But in terms of formation of rhymes, I'm not going to lie. I think he's talented. But why is it a virus? It's a virus because you heard it probably, even if you're just getting in your car to go park it, 50, 60 times.
This is like George Orwell. This is about top-down control. I mean, it's like an old-school problem. We're so busy thinking that everything's democratized and diversified and you can get a blog on the web, that you're in fact not being plugged in right over here. So this is a profoundly important part of the conversation. Why? Because people who make that critique, they don't get in rotation. It's a whole system of belonging. And this is really important-- I could be here all day. I'm about to stop, I swear.
The history and the important of intellectuals, why this isn't just about waiting for the industry or waiting for the public sphere, there's one particular role intellectuals have. And that is that, until they get rid of tenure-- which they're working on-- but until they get rid of tenure, until they figure out how to fire us all the time for what we think, which is supposed to not happen right now, we have an obligation to say unpopular things. [APPLAUSE]
And it's a political obligation. And it's an intellectual obligation. And if that means you've got to explain that just, because a brother is from the hood that he can also be part of a problem, is something we have to say now. To me, that's the unpleasant thing to say now. We also need to say that, while hip hop is not responsible for things, it has a profound grip on young black kids, and what they're gripped by is not Lupe Fiasco to my great despair, but instead to someone like T-Pain.
I'm sorry going to keep it real, for real real. That the narratives that they're gripped by are the narratives that they've been fed 24/7. That's not their fault. It's not even my fault. It's the way it is. So what we need to do is use this intellectual space to push. That doesn't mean to stand for certain politics and not be open to others. You still have to be willing to be in serious engagement. But we can't see this as celebration. We can't be trapped as intellectuals into the same binaries that this public conversation is trapped in, which is that we have to celebrate because if we don't celebrate we're a hater, or we think jazz is better. Let's not even deal with that.
We have work to do. And so I really want to encourage all of you who are students and scholars of this to consider that particular role in ways that I think has really dropped away.
So I talk about these collusions. There are several. Both sides are sexist. Nobody on the right is addressing sexism in hip hop. They're just using this other kind of respect women language, which is a code for treat them nice so listen stay home and shut the hell up. That's what that's about. I'm like, you don't have to respect women any more than you respect everybody else. Why are you singling out respect for women? Because you want respect to be about a kind of patriarchal, paternalistic protectionism. I'm uninterested in that.
I'm interested in, if women want to be sexually explicit without sexist internalization, that's their freedom. Paternalism doesn't enable that. So you can't give women a choice of be pure and patriotically acceptable or be a hoe because neither one of these choices are acceptable and progressive. [APPLAUSE]
So I talk about this collusion around sexism, the collusion around homophobia. Ain't nobody on the right wing complaining about homophobia. And hip hop's like, homophobia? I don't know what you mean. I go through all of this to say that, while they are quite opposite positions in the arguments, they end up in a very similar place on some key issues.
But so then, not to depress everybody too much, I talk about what I think are some important progressive energies and voices, but I also talk about how to think about those voices in a way that I hope doesn't turn us into, well, I just only by this artist and I don't buy that artist. Because in many cases, there are incredible interventions by artists who otherwise I might have some problems with.
So I try to encourage a more complicated reading of various groups. And then I try to think about what organizations are acting locally to do the kind of counter work because a lot of this is about visibility and reception. And since dominant corporate, mainstream conversations never bring these people on-- CNN will bring a handful of people or Bill O'Reilly will bring a handful, but they don't bring the grassroots people who are actually doing the work to talk about what their experiences are.
And all that does is polarize the left and the right. So if they bring Dyson, Michael Eric Dyson, who's brilliant, he's got to be the player. They've already got the hater, so he's got to be the player. So the conversation is trapped. He can make an apologia briefly. Well, yes, there's sexism, but there's all this amazing creativity. So we never actually deal with sexism, violence, destructive behavior in hip hop because the right wing has controlled that form of internal self-critique. So we've given it over.
And so you don't develop because you are trapped into an affirmative love not a transformational love. So I talk about the meaning-- [APPLAUSE] thank you-- the meaning of progressive activism as a way to respond to this. This is isn't about individual artists. I mostly pick on the most famous because I think they can take it. It's fair. But I don't pick on them as individuals because it's not about them. This can happen again at any time.
There is a post-hip hop world. I know you don't believe it. But just like nobody talks about the blues right now in the mainstream culture, and just like nobody really talks about jazz, which is really an extraordinary crime-- we need more jazz archives, too, I might add to this conversation-- they will soon not be talking about hip hop. And the thing they are talking about will have the same Achilles heel as hip hop if we don't solve it.
So this isn't just about hip hop. It's about a politics of language, of understanding how race and racial supremacy and the politics of cultural devaluing and sexism and homophobia play themselves out in the cultural realm, in the intellectual realm, and in the social realm. And if we figure that out, it can't keep happening.
So the book is really driven toward this notion of how to develop a politics that helps you navigate this very slippery, dangerous terrain, that's highly marketed, where your own community comes back to you in a product form and you swear it's yourself because it looks just like you. But it's like some crazy alien that is just dressed in a costume. Remember in Terminator, the silver guy just turns into do whatever he needs to be. It's kind of like post-Civil Rights racism. Whatever it needs to be, it just turns into, but it brings the same core genetic makeup.
And so that's what's happening with a lot of what goes on. The artists that get driven to the margins, the writers who get driven to the margins, they don't have space to make this critique in the public realm as much as they need to because it doesn't reproduce the fictions and myths that we perpetuate as a country on race, on gender, on sex, sexuality.
So in the last chapter, I have this thing called the six guiding principles. Because ultimately, people always say, well what do we do? Who do we buy? Who do we don't buy? And it's ultimately about developing a political disposition. It's about developing a progressive consciousness. So I'm just going to read to you the number one-- it's not number one only because it's number one, but it just comes first-- one of the strategies I think we need. And I say it because somehow something came up here that made me think this would be the right one. I can't remember right now because I'm all fired up. But when I calm down I'll remember.
And the first one is beware the manipulation of the Funk. So these are now in the last chapter, the top six things that can help us figure out how not to get caught up in the madness. Because again, it may or may not be hip hop where we see it.
"On countless occasions over the past decade or so, I found myself listening, driving, or dancing to a song yet only later really heard the lyrics. One such song was Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg's 1992 classic "An unbelievably Funky Gin and Juice." another was 50 Cent's hit "In Da Club."
Unlike Mark, I knew there was a real problem with the marketing part, but I had heard the radio version or somebody had given me-- they didn't give me the real version.
"In some cases, I was unaware of the words because I couldn't really make them out or translate the slang quickly, and that needed some research. And other times, I heard the clean version and then got depressed when I learned what the artist really wanted to say. At still other times, I was mostly listening to the music or merely letting the music, the style, and the swagger move me so completely that only the most oft-repeated phrases really sunk in.
Once I really listened to the words and thought about the story being told, it was hard to know what to do. Respond to the Funk and ignore the words, reject the story and give up the Funk that went with it? The moment I realized that I was being asked to give myself over to the power of the Funk, which in turn was being used as a soundtrack for a story that was really against me, was a very sad day for me.
I thought my feelings must be very much like Washington Post writer Lonnae O'Neal Parker when she reached a turning point with the music saying she could no longer sacrifice her self-esteem or that of her two daughters on the altar of dope beats and rhymes. Some people swear that they can ignore the words and just enjoy the music. No matter what gets said, they're not affected. The words don't matter."
Now, you've heard this before, right? Or are just students telling me this? You've heard this before? OK. Just checking.
"I've asked a lot of my students if there was any limit--" or my stepson's for that matter, but they don't even try to ring me. They know not to mess with me on this. They're like OK. I have the non-lyrical versions Ma Z. They got a nickname for me. They're like, we have the non-lyrical. I'm sure, right. It's just the beats, really just the beats.
"So I ask them, and they say that the words don't matter to show that they would always be down with hip hop. And I say to them, well, but there's nothing that would make you reject? No, I'm I am hip hop. I live and breathe hip hop." Again a phrase you must have heard.
"So then I'd ask them if a pro-Ku Klux Klan performer came up with an incredibly infectious, funky, undeniable beat and rhyme but that the words celebrated explicitly the domination of black people, would they just block out the words and claim that the words don't matter? This caused a problem with the philosophical worldview."
Of course, a few would still say yes because they were smart enough to know I was tricking them. But my point in drawing this analogy to them and to repeat it to you here is not to imply that hip hop lyrics are comparable to white supremacist rhetoric and 400 years of da da da da da, but to point out that we have a line to draw and that we always draw a line.
And that this isn't just about external government control. It's about community control. It's about community values and principles and ethics. And so I say it's not a free-for-all, anything goes as long as it's funky situation, but rather a matter of recognizing that before we reach our limit we are saying yes to what we shake our hips to.
My analogy also reveals that once we have pledged allegiance to something we will submit to excesses and a negative influence that, if expressed by others, would be grounds for self-defense. And that allegiance is reflected in American politics. The Taliban and the really radical right wing here are very similar. We don't see it because they are the enemy and we got to go blow them to high heaven, apparently. But once you're aligned with, say, the US, then anything that goes on in there is OK to a certain point. So this level of allegiance is something that we should really be careful about.
Were this only about one Biddy song that uses the word bitch, or one or two rhymes that use violence as its primary metaphor, or songs that produce and support forms of community destruction and exploitation-- if only one or two relied on insults that have historical resonance and problems, maybe we wouldn't need to raise our defenses so high. But unfortunately, this kind of spirit has really become the lingua franca for commercial hip hop.
Yes, we can ignore some lyrics on occasion, and that's not all there is by any stretch. But when the music gets played over and over and over at the clubs and on hip hop-oriented commercial radio and BET and MTV is saturated with hustlers, gangsters, bitches, hoes, tricks, pimps, players, and stories that glamorize domination and exploitation and violence-- and that's important, because it's not just drug dealing as an alternative economy, which is important to understand its historical motivation for, but about the rhetorics of take advantage of the people nearest to you because they happen to be your market. It's the internalization of that that is really at stake here. When this becomes the primary vocabulary for hip hop itself, then the power of the Funk has been manipulated. The life force of the Funk that really people like Bambaataa has been so important in keeping alive, commercial hip hop weds that life force to a death imperative.
Black music has played an extraordinary role in the history of black people and in the world. It's helped people everywhere protect, nourish, empower themselves, challenge themselves, resist forces, and sometimes challenge ways in which their freedom was being denied. But it's also been just about a good time. But that good time has been driven by a sense of community belonging and possibility, doesn't always have to be political by any stretch.
We think of protest music as the only option here. I'm saying look, you can party, you can shake your rump, you can drink, have a good time. No one is saying this has to some horrible, depressed, everybody wears gray-- I don't know why I'm wearing gray myself-- everybody wears gray and it's just very depressed because we have power to fight. That's not what I'm calling for. But if the terms of having a good time are actually self-destructive, what's good about that?
That tradition of political resistance that we often think is going to be boring, it lives on today, but it's under duress, and the Funk has been manipulated. The Funk in many ways, I think what we don't understand, is that the Funk is the Achilles heel for lovers of black diasporic music. I mean, once something's funky, it's really hard to resist it.
I think unless you really understand that and appreciate that about certain kinds of music, you don't understand how easy it is to be manipulated. I cannot tell you how many songs I would just be into, and then I would know that whole stanza was coming. And I would be like, what am I going to do? Am I going to the bathroom? Am I going to change the words and try to be a radical audience participant in the making of the song? Am I going to just say there are people like that, but it just isn't me tonight? What am I going to do? To understand the pressure that puts on people who love the music has to be honored and understood.
But our places of weakness, like the Funk, they make us vulnerable, and they make us available to things that could injure us. But they also open us to our greatest places of connection. This is why the music must be revered not discarded. But like any other powerful and compelling force, beats can be distorted. They can be used as a baseline for stories that undermine the spirit. Music comes from but also makes community. So the question is what kind of community do we want to make?
And in this future of hip hop, it seems to me that's the central question. It comes out of community. It makes community. And what kind of community do we want to make? Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]
Thank you very much, Dr. Rose. OK. We will take about 25 minutes for questions. We started a little late. Would a couple of people come up to each mike? Please limit your question or comment to one so we can get as many people in as possible.
AUDIENCE: How are you doing, Professor Rose?
TRICIA ROSE: How are you?
AUDIENCE: I'm doing all right. I wanted to ask, the hip hop community has been damn near unanimous in their support of Barack Obama. And given that reality, I want to ask how do we begin to complicate notions of keeping it real within hip hop culture when thinking about how Barack Obama might challenge our idea of diaspora, geography, masculinity, power, presidential politics, et cetera, et cetera?
TRICIA ROSE: So let me make sure I understand this. You want to know how the hip hop community might respond to how Obama changes the game? In other words, how his presence might reflect on those issues you listed?
AUDIENCE: Or how his presence might help us complicate those notions of those really rigid definitions that you so eloquently laid out in your lecture.
TRICIA ROSE: I see. I see. Well, you know, hold on let me think about that before I start talking. The big challenge to me to the hip hop generation-- if there's such a thing, which I also really challenge as an idea-- but the big thing is going to be avoiding the pitfalls of over-identification politics. I'm not saying identity politics because that's going to happen anyway. It's happening when people vote for McCain, and I'm tired of this being only that identity politics happen when it's queers, when it's Puerto Ricans, when it's somebody else. It's in fact always happening. So that's not going to change.
But it can't be all that's happening. And so Obama's going to do things-- I don't see how he couldn't-- not-- do things that will be worthy of challenge. Once you take that kind of corporate money, you are indebted to them. He's not indebted to the Boulevard in the same way. And most of his conversations about poor people of color and suffering have been almost even-handedly articulating the need for fathers to be in the home and the need for reading and turning the TV off and public policies that might help.
And that even-handed strategy suggests that they're equally responsible for the situation that people are in, and they're not equally responsible for the situation that they're in. So there really is going to have to be at some point, I expect, a challenge to some things.
On the other hand, how will he become potentially in the way I was using it a role model? That institutional sources of power are maybe not always them. If they're us, then what does that mean about who we intend to be and how we might participate? Hopefully, those questions will come up with him. But people have an uncanny ability to create exceptions and differences that help them maintain where they are. And that's all of us, myself included.
So the ability to transcend that's going to take some work, but I think it opens up a lot. Thank you. That's a really interesting question.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
TRICIA ROSE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: I have a comment, but thank you again for your absolutely wonderful-- and I just want encourage everybody who is passionate about hip hop to really think about getting engaged about the causes of some of the things that she's talking about and the corporate ownership. One of my favorite examples is there's is great magazine cover with 50 Cent and Kanye West supposedly in a feud, and the person who owns the magazine also owns both of their contracts and distribution. So I don't know who they're feuding exactly with.
So there's only five companies that control nearly everything we read, see, and hear, including hip hop. Please get involved with some of the reasons that she's talking, some of the reasons that it gets closed down, why the downfall that we all see. If you have more questions about it, you can come talk to me later about it.
But I work for an organization called Free Press. You can go to FreePress.net and find out more, but there's lots of other organizations doing work. So get involved if you love hip hop. Buy independent people. Do all those things. But get involved the causes. Fight back. There are people doing things. There's great work being done. Thanks again.
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. That was a brilliant presentation. I appreciated it tremendously. My question is about what I didn't hear you talk about in your book, but I'm assuming that you've done some of this work. In these conversations, I'm always surprised and somewhat depressed that we spend all of our time focusing on the examination of our internal culture, and that creates a huge space for anonymity, in particular regarding those very specifically responsible for our social abandonment.
And I don't hear that being articulated in the academy when we're talking about hip hop, and I think it's patently unfair for us to spend all of our time and all of our resources and all of our energy deciding who is more appropriate, Grandmaster Flash or T.I. Where are the names? Where is the accountability? Who did for industrial divestment, for creating a situation that Joe [? Scho ?] beautifully portrays in those photographs? We celebrate Mel Rosenthal for taking the photographs.
There's an absence of scholarship surrounding who specifically caused these situations. Not just in the South Bronx, but if this situation is playing out globally at least in the 400 urban centers in the United States of America where African Americans form the corpus of these impoverished neighborhoods.
TRICIA ROSE: Mm hmm.
AUDIENCE: Why are we not talking about that? You've said corporations numerous times, but there has been no names associated with that.
TRICIA ROSE: OK. Well, let me try to answer that. First of all, I list all the corporations and repeat them vociferously. But I'm not doing it here because I figured it would work as a good place holder. We all should know that. If you know what the five companies are, I can happily repeat. In fact, every chapter begins with three or four epigraphs that quote people who articulate that position. And when it's sort of keeping it real, the big corporate bigwigs do that.
They say things like, "We may not like what we're hearing. This is to justify what they promote. We may not like what they're hearing, but this is just a real condition. It's a real situation." Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom. "Although we take our standards and practices role seriously, we also believe that it's not our role to censor the creative expression of artists whose music often reflects the pain they've suffered or seen in their lives and communities."
So they're making an excuse. Now, in terms of the academic-- let me separate out the notion of corporation from the academic trajectory of hip hop study. My book spends a whole lot of time on deindustrialization and the post-industrial city as the origin of the genre in many ways. Mark Anthony Neal's work does that. Jeff Chang's work does that. There's a bit of a generation gap. We're tragically the old people-- it's tragic for many reasons.
There is a generation shift to what I would call the aestheticization of hip hop, which is in many ways useful and important, to do aesthetically sophisticated work. But at the same time, it feeds into the celebrification factor. Well, what's the really subtle difference in the style of this artist versus that one? Which is usually driven by markets, and then become sort of this kind of comparing-the-artist scenario. So I would guess I would beg to differ, to say that that work has been done. We need more of it. But it's been done.
But the way I would say it could also be better done, in the interests of your concern-- and this is why I asked Mark about the hip hop studies question, which isn't his fault. He was asked to talk about hip hop studies. But why I think that really should be rejected is that it makes it very hard to get at these questions in a more systemic way. It makes it easier to bring in cats to the class that wouldn't otherwise come.
I teach one hip hop class, but I really where I think I do the work that should be a prerequisite for that class is in my Black Life in the City class, starting with migration and developing an understanding of the formation of black urban communities starting in really 1915 moving forward in Chicago, New York, Detroit, LA, and talk about what that means. That sets up the conditions of who is responsible for what and the history of forced urban segregation in space, which is really what has produced northern ghettos. Housing covenants, laws, police containment, and the support of policies that also economically discriminate, the funding of white flight, all of this is really sets the groundwork. That has to happen to understand it.
Now, like I said, I did it. I feel like I'm already on the same page with you. But this aestheticization of art as somehow separate from society is part of a tradition of Western legitimation practices. We talk about opera that way. Opera is an incredibly interesting form when you historically situate it. It's actually more interesting when you do that than when you just talk about shifts in voice.
So we need to avoid that. There's a politics to that approach that I think we need to resist, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate the aesthetic complexity of what's going on. I hope that-- I'm trying to go quickly because I know other people have questions. Has that grabbed?
AUDIENCE: If I can just add one more piece. [INAUDIBLE]
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Specific locations where losers where situated. We talk about the oppressor [INAUDIBLE].
TRICIA ROSE: No. Well, we don't always do that. There are activists who are very specific, and when they go sit out in front of Deborah Lee's house. And there are several people here who are mentioned. You think about, for example, on Byron Hurt's amazing film Beyond Beats and Rhymes, He's interviewing people at BET. They are on camera talking. People have names.
But it is both important to-- and I said the same thing about rappers-- you notice that I said look, I'm not interested in critiquing one rapper over another per se. There are some that are more responsible for this than others, but the real issue is, what's the iconic power of that trajectory? It's the same thing with corporate America. It's not about Stephen Hill by himself at BET. It's about a corporate agenda. He gets fired, someone else fills in.
So we have to look at the politics of the process. I mean, I think naming is important, but I think we get caught up in the individual too much. And in a way, that can be used against us. It's like what happened to Kanye when he says George Bush doesn't care about black America. And he got caught up in the wrong conversation about what George Bush actually thinks when George Bush's policies make that abundantly clear.
And had he said these following policies that happen to be profoundly supported and enacted by George W. Bush prove the absence of care, now the media would have to respond to oh, what policies could Kanye be talking about? You see? So to me, there's a politics to grounding it not in the individual, even though we should name cats and they should take responsibility on all levels.
AUDIENCE: I want to thank you, first of all, for your willingness to bring up to this point about our willingness to engage in affirmative love but not transformational love, and ask if you could link that-- particularly your notion of people who are in corporate media spaces-- and the need to do that. There are a whole lot of us who are nowhere near corporate spaces who are engaging only in affirmative love and refusing to engage in transformative love on any level.
I'm wondering if you may or may not see a similarity in the way in which, for example, white Marxists have refused to talk about race in the accumulation of capital, and therefore the resistance as well to the way in which we refused to critique hip hop in a transformative way, and what our unwillingness-- and this could I suppose apply to either white Marxists or those of us who study hip hop-- what that means for the limitations on the way in which we approach creating social change.
TRICIA ROSE: Huge. That's wonderful. It's very tough. Oh man. Richard Wright talked about this a lot in Native Son in some ways and also in Black Boy in other ways. Really, this tension, it's all over the literature in many places, but a kind of seemingly progressive but really ultimately conservative form of paternalism that looks like it's embracing through some other means, but there is a fundamental refusal in it.
And there's a number of people who've written on this, even in the way the left is critiquing identity politics at the same time as it's trying to support anything black in the interests of looking like it's radical. It's a bigger problem. I think our problem isn't getting courses taught on hip hop in terms of thinking about this, but literacy, literacy about Afro-diasporic culture, politics, and tradition. The literacy about that is incredibly thin. And if you don't have that, hip hop can't make any sense. It just can't make any sense. Nothing else makes sense without that.
And once you know that, then all of a sudden these pieces fit in. And most white Marxists don't know that either. And therefore, know race becomes a subset of class. And they're profoundly intertwined. Blacks are the most capital-oriented people. They were capital, so they get that. There's no challenge to the Marxist principle about capital and exchange value.
But it is about being able to see multiple trajectories at once. Because, in addition to them being terrible on racial aesthetics, they're also terrible on gender. And the field is terrible on gender. And I don't mean here including women or excluding women. I mean a gendered analysis of the tangible value of aggressive black masculinity is a product. What is it about the incredible fascination with aggressive, violent, black masculinity? What are the fantasies about? Somebody needs to do that book. I'm really looking forward to it. And how that plays out, and how often young people participate in it because it's their capital.
It's why young women participate. As Roxanne was saying, this shouldn't be what women are valued for. The fact that women participate in it, because that's how they get value. The shorter the skirt, the higher the heels, the better chances they have of being wherever it is that they think celebrity is happening. The terms of that exchange are deeply troubling. Everybody is complicit in it. And we need more gendered analysis about that. We need a greater understanding of class.
This is a very interesting problem that we could have the field go on for so long and have so little. Now, there are feminists who've done work on this, and Professor Neal talked about that. But a lot of that is also still about figuring out how to get women into the story, and I want to hear about the politics of gender and space-- why women are pushed out of the places that are creative.
When I interviewed a lot of the early both emcees and dancers, all of them talked about spaces that were pretty homosocial, that girls were not all that comfortable. And that has to do with the way the public sphere is masculinized. And that's really important for how unintentionally women are pushed out, how heteronormativity pushes out queer artists because the assumption is that there's a certain kind of sexual exchange and a set of values that are part of the bonding process. And unless we think about that, we're not we're not aware of it and able to unpack it as well.
It's not intentional. This is not like people are evil. It's often the nicest, best people you want to be around. So this isn't about the them. It's about the us. And it's really at every level. And so, yeah, Marxists are one bunch, but I've got other fools I want to be mad at, too. But they're on my list. I appreciate that. Thank you.
TRICIA ROSE: Oh, I'm sorry. Hey, how are you?
AUDIENCE: Good, thank you. Excellent lecture. I have less of a question and more of a request for you to comment on something.
TRICIA ROSE: Sure.
AUDIENCE: In terms of changing the status quo of the content of contemporary hip hop, you kind of spoke about the choice between not choosing what the capitalist agenda is. And what came to my mind was a line that Jay-Z had or one of his songs, and I can't quote it exactly, but referenced Common, and was like, I can rhyme like common sense, but if my sense had that much in common-- basically saying, I can choose to rhyme that way, but I don't because--
TRICIA ROSE: I won't make any money?
AUDIENCE: I need money.
TRICIA ROSE: I think that was Talib Kweli. I think the line is-- what is it? Go ahead.
TRICIA ROSE: Oh, it's both of them?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE]
TRICIA ROSE: Well, you might have to get on the mike and spit that one in a minute. But is it Common or is it Talib?
AUDIENCE: He says, music critics hate me because the industry ain't make me. Hustlers and boosters embrace me for the music I'll be making. I dumb down for my audience, double my dollars. Y'all criticize me for it, but all y'all holler. Truth told, if skills sold, I'd probably be Talib Kweli. Truthfully, I want to rhyme like common sense, but I sold five mill. I ain't been rhyming like Common sense. [APPLAUSE]
Thank you. He can quote it. So there's still this factor that so many ghetto youth want to use hip hop as a tool because they don't see any outlets in education.
TRICIA ROSE: I see.
AUDIENCE: They're still like sports or rapping.
TRICIA ROSE: Yep. This is right on the money.
AUDIENCE: That's the bottom line.
TRICIA ROSE: It's the bottom line. I'm so with you. I get it. I'm all with you. It is the heart. I mean, again, I have to pick what am I going to do in 40 minutes.
One of the underlying threads of both why I chose to write again about hip hop-- because I really vowed I wouldn't again-- and why I picked this particular point in the conversation is that remember I said there are six principles. The second one is we live in a market economy, but the market economy shouldn't live in us.
And basically, what I'm saying is that black folks have been capital. Black folks have been fundamentally exploited. Most working people of all backgrounds and ethnicities have been exploited. But the question isn't the existence of that exploitation, but the degree to which you internalize its terms. Because you cannot get out if you internalize its terms.
And so what's happened now is that, look, sure kids want to get out of the ghetto. Not to be old school and cold blooded, but junk was pretty much worse a long time ago. It's worse in some ways now, but in some ways it was worse 30, 40 years ago. Some ways it was better. And the ways it was better are the ways that I'm pushing. They had to do with the idea of a collective politics that somehow produced disdain for those who exploited others in the community.
Yes, they were always there. But the hustler and the pimp were not primary Halloween costume icons. They weren't the icons for ideal masculinity. If you wear a suit, they'll say go ahead pimp. Somehow you're most cool when you're a pimp. Now, again, I know it's casual language, but it is partly about the elevation of the figure of the hustler as a model. And the hustler has to hustle somebody, and he's not hustling Donald Trump. He's hustling you. He's hustling me. And my only choices are what? To hustle back or to get hustled.
So once that rhetoric is in play, there's really no way out except to break it. So what I'm saying there is that look, money is to be made. But how much money? Jay-Z had enough money three records ago. I mean, enough money for what? What exactly is the goal here? So there needs to be conversations about that. Personal accumulation of wealth as a global phenomenon, let's discuss that.
Why is the idea that because there are people who exploit and I'm on the short end, I should flip the script, I should be on top? Well, let's actually have a different conversation. And that's what I'm hoping, through this notion of creating progressive consciousness. Because what I think happened is that progressives have been so locked in battle with the right wing that they've left the next generation with no critical tools for how to develop the progressive spaces that they need.
Now, some already have it, but some don't. And that's the knowledge that needs to be passed on as well. And I think really the major lesson of the pioneers to me is that, is that space that they cultivated. So it's more about saying look, of course money needs to be made, and our role as consumers and as writers and thinkers and whatever else we do is to make meaningful commercial space so that artists aren't being pressed into this trinity, so that they can make money. It's a perfectly legitimate thing. Everybody needs to survive, but not in ways that destroy community itself in terms of what it perpetuates.
So that's partly our responsibility. And I really think that we can't talk about global consumption of hip hop with this level of illiteracy and not be worried because that's how we got the ghetto gangster, pimp, ho trinity. I cannot tell you how many kids talk to me as if the ghetto is Disneyland. It's like it's a playground.
Now, anybody who grew up anywhere near one will tell you straight on up they ain't nothing funny about it. You have people who love you, so you have good memories. Ain't nobody not trying to get out. Like, it's ridiculous. But the fetish is about presenting this is the fun place to be. And that's what's selling because of this illiteracy factor. I have literally many, many students who think that ghettos are just ghettos because it just so happens that black poor people live there, like you just picked a neighborhood. They said, I think I'm going to move to the ghetto because I've got pizza over there. Like they had a choice.
And part of that is, again, this devaluing of a progressive politics from the spaces where they're the most powerful to be determined. So I'm not against making money, but I am against a sick level of accumulation. And philanthropy won't undo it. There's a chapter on that, too. Philanthropy doesn't-- blood money. If you spend all your time basically selling out the community and you give 20% back, I'd rather you didn't make it. I'd rather you spend that energy having done-- you could do more for the community with that 80% if it was doing something else than this 20% that you claim you're giving.
So I think it's very important to have a high standard. We're not all going to make it. I don't barely live up to my own principles. But you are working toward them. That's the point. This is not about who's in and who's out. It's about, as Roxanne and Chante said yesterday, which was one of my favorite things of all time, was I'm where I am today right now but I'm going to be somewhere else tomorrow. So I'm saying everybody can get involved with this. This isn't about one person having a certain politics.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
TRICIA ROSE: You're welcome. You're welcome. I love that question. It's like the heart of the whole thing to me, as I expected from you.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: We're going to take just two more questions, one on this side and one on that side.
TRICIA ROSE: I'll talk to you after no matter what.
AUDIENCE: Professor Rose, what a wonderful talk. Actually, my question is sort of unintentionally kind of a follow up to the other two, And It has to do with space and also how we look at hip hop as a whole culture. And the question is, if part of the problem really has been this sort of fixation on simply just the musical aspect and particularly the emcee?
I mean, one of the things that I'm thinking of are the types of really incredibly complex discussions, say Sofia Quintero, who writes as Black Artemis that Mark Anthony Neal is talking about, in her book Picture Me Rollin', that really brings this very rich intergenerational-type dialogue and actually covers a lot of very tough issues about both women and men's relationships or the types of critiques that a lot of the women doing spoken word poetry but which is very much infused by the hip hop aesthetic bring.
So I guess my question really is, if the failure to actually take a more critical look at some of the other work that's being done, that's been influenced by it being a much larger culture and much more pervasive is almost ghettoizing and actually narrowing the type of discussion that can occur?
TRICIA ROSE: Well, in some ways I think that there's a lot of discussion of those spaces. Maybe I'm running in different intellectual circles than you are, but my sense is that that's where a lot of the intellectual energy is, which is brilliant and wonderful. I think that work is fabulous. And I use it, and I rely on it. So I'm all for this idea, both the question of spoken word, the transformation of hip hop dance into various other types of dances, what Wilfreda was talking about in terms of reggae tone and all this other transformation.
Of course, culture is in motion. We can't reify one moment in time and think it's never going to change. But at the same time, I actually think that the best way to make space for that is to clear out this huge, profound space in the middle, and that space is the corporate domination and definition. And if we don't tackle that, it's just going to keep expanding. It's going to be like when people try to harvest the earth-- what does is that process where you just you keep planting and you don't give a certain rest?
AUDIENCE: Crop rotation.
TRICIA ROSE: Crop rotation. If you don't properly do that, you can't build any more. So they're just basically destroying the earth for other creativity. And so we need to curtail that sort of deforestation of the rain forest type of politics. And so I'm doing my work right there. First of all, I've done enough of the aesthetic, historical origins work, and there are brilliant people doing all this other stuff. What's not happening is how to push that space so that young people can make different decisions. Because it's really about how you make decisions to consume or not consume that's going to have a huge impact.
But the real question is, how do you build the consciousness to make those choices? How do you make the manipulation of the Funk a problem? How do you transform your sense of expectations around community building and gender identity? That's crucial work, but I'm actually saying I think that's where most of the work is. Most of the work is not where I'm talking about, not in the scholarly realm.
I'm happy to hear if you think I'm totally wrong about that, but that's just my perspective. Does that follow your sense of it, or do you think there's a lot of work on this space from this perspective?
AUDIENCE: I guess I was thinking of it more in terms of coming from the critics, primarily conservative critics.
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah. Well, but see, I'm arguing with them, too. But that's exactly my point, that they have done this work and have prevented a progressive discussion. There are progressive grounds to be against hustling that understand the origins and circumstance. You see what I'm getting at? Not a conservative one, but a progressive one. And we don't have an argument because they've taken the territory, so now all we do is defend. What can you do? You got to hustle.
Well, wait a minute. Hold on. Time out. There are other options here with all this energy and aggression and attention that could be politically cultivated. That's what the Black Panthers did. It's not going to be the first time.
So I hear you. My point is really to pull us away from this kind of injured, attacked consciousness that makes it hard to do that internal transformation. Because I really do feel we're locked in opposition with the wrong-- they could play that tape, they've been playing it for 100 years. You see what I'm getting at? I'm like OK, all right. We heard that. What do we need? What do we want?
I mean, one of the most radical things about Civil Rights activism was creating small Freedom Schools that had everyday people sitting around asking not just what they don't want-- they don't want Jim Crow, they don't want lynching, obviously, they don't want discrimination. What do you want? If you don't envision what you do want, then you end up in a defensive stance perpetually, holding onto whatever's left and never asking for more.
And that's what I'm hoping to do there. To say, I know the conservatives, and I beat the hell out of them. Trust me. But I also say, there's something to be said for behavior. It doesn't matter how you act. It's not like it doesn't matter. But it doesn't matter above and beyond or in isolation from structure. Of course it matters that we treat each other with care, concern, love, dignity, and possibility. How could that not matter? If it doesn't matter, we don't need Afrika Bambaataa to do the work he's doing. And of course we need him because he says it matters. That's what [INAUDIBLE] said from the beginning. That's what matters.
So we have let other people insult us about that rather than taking it up ourselves enough as a progressive politics. So I'm hoping it works. Maybe I'll wind up looking like a hater. But you heard it here first, that's not my agenda. I have to bring a tape of the talk and attach it, but I think it's a hard thing to break people out of. So I appreciate you raising that. I do.
All right. Sorry about that. Ira.
TRICIA ROSE: How are you?
AUDIENCE: Professor Rose, thank you very much for your critique and your comments. I guess right now I'm having a real emotional moment because how appropriate is it that we have pioneers in the room who can speak to many of the things that you described, who can help give us answers to many of the questions that you raised in your talk. And I guess what I'm curious about is the folks who are in the room who are pioneers, please I would like to hear you--
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Come forth and talk about your critique of the critique. Because we are here in the Academy. And how often do we have an opportunity like this to engage the people whose craft is it to talk about everything that you described and more, and whatever is missing from that critique? And so I really-- I really, really, really want to hear you guys who are in the room who are pioneers, please say something because we can't leave this room, we can't leave the space without your voices having been heard, particularly since this the last academic panel.
TRICIA ROSE: I'm happy to talk about anything.
AUDIENCE: Of the first conference of this kind, so please.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: It's also the beginning. It's the last session at this conference, but we hope this is the beginning of a conversation and a discourse.
AUDIENCE: Yes. Thank you. Please.
TRICIA ROSE: Thank you, Ira. I appreciate that.
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah, please.
AUDIENCE: How are you?
TRICIA ROSE: I'm good. How are you?
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon. I just wanted to say that I think this dialogue is important. But just like so many things that happen in our culture-- and I mean black culture-- from music to entertainment to literature, in the past the actual artists, pioneers, forefathers, or whatever usually don't have a voice. As far as, once they lay down the foundation for this culture-- let's say hip hop for example-- I'd like to hear [INAUDIBLE]. I'd like to hear Afrika Bambaataa. And along with the academic, I think there needs to be a balance between people who were actually here.
I mean, if I wanted to talk about cars, I'd love to talk to Henry Ford. You understand what I'm saying? And If I had the chance to speak to Henry Ford and as opposed to the Mitsubishi Corporation, I'd much rather talk to Henry Ford and get his take on this whole thing. And I think we can't really have a true dialogue or go on to find solutions to some of these things without finding out the mindset of these pioneers and these people who actually-- like, that's me up on that poster. [APPLAUSE]
So I'm saying we can sit here-- and I'm not going to be around here forever-- but it's up to us and the academic side of the conversation to kind of find a medium between what is actually real, what we actually lived, what were our actual motivations and circumstances which led to lead us to be in this position, to capture this, to start out some art form.
I know there's been a lot of conversation about the times of the '70s and the state of New York City and the Bronx at the time when hip hop was born. But if you wasn't there and you weren't living there at that time and you really don't you know-- my point is, I don't want to ramble. I just think there needs to be a balance in the conversation between academia and the actual people who actually were there and did this thing. And I think we can meet somewhere in the middle and cover the whole scope as far as finding out answers and solutions to some of these questions and some of these problems.
And that's why I'm glad that we've made it to come in here to hear you speak because people like you and some of the other people that I've encountered here inspire me. I want to come to that level. I want to graduate to that level. And I want to teach posterity, first-hand information about those times, about what led us to come up with this culture in the first place. We know that we didn't invent anything. Everything is a reinvention of things that already existed, and hip hop has happened so many times before-- not in our lifetime, but in history.
So this is just our version. This is just our reinvention of these elements that already existed, and we need to take a more active role in coming to things like this and in the educational process as far as people teaching hip hop, teaching classes, and people learning. I mean, you can learn and research all day long, you know what I mean. But for somebody that was there to actually come and take an active role and to help educate the next generation-- and not just educate students, but educate scholars. You know what I mean?
TRICIA ROSE: Absolutely.
AUDIENCE: You've got people teaching hip hop that they just learned hip hop.
TRICIA ROSE: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: They didn't live hip hop. They learned it. So I thank you, and I appreciate you and other people like Jeff and these guys that write books. I want to hear more from the [INAUDIBLE] and the Afrika Bambaataas, and the people that can put some kind of balance.
TRICIA ROSE: You know, I couldn't agree with you more. I think that what I'm really hoping is that the space I'm trying to make and the critique I'm making about the public conversation would make room for that. Why isn't there a permanent sort of ongoing interview with pioneers in Source Magazine? They're not waiting on academics to give them a direction. They've got their whole own world. Why aren't they doing a monthly conversation with pioneers that takes five pages? Why didn't Vibe do it? Why isn't there a website, with all the money involved in hip hop, that some artist who's just made $10 trillion says I want all the pioneers documented?
What I'm saying is that the conversation, because it's so trapped in the public area, that those spaces are hard to make. So when Melle Mel makes that critique-- I think it's the BET Awards-- where he goes off about the history of hip hop-- I think it was the BET Awards, I can't remember. Hold on. I don't want to lie. It was during the induction to the Hall of Fame speech where he went on a long time talking about the loss of what was important in hip hop. How come nobody is following that up in the public arena?
Well that's not because I'm writing a book or because of Jeff Chang. That's because the public conversation is dominated by corporations, and a lot of rappers are complicit. And they don't make the space for this pioneering conversation. So that's what I'm hoping to do, is make room for that as well as, of course, in the academy. Not just the early beginners, but there's a lot of folks who started hip hop in other places. I'm from the Bronx, too, so I get that. But there are other places that need to be honored and understood, and they need to be asked questions, too. And new performers need to be asked questions about what they can and can't do, what are the pressures on them.
So we need a ton of information from the artists, from the dancers, from everybody. And scholars, by all means, don't have that. Our job is to help get that information to put it in places where everybody can share it, but we also have to deal with this notion of the media. Because that's where most young people are going. Most people aren't going into the library to find an archive. Let's just be honest. They're not. Most people are waiting to hear it on VH1 and BET and MTV.
And if we don't blow open that space and make the right space there, you will continue to be unjustly buried.
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Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, spoke and answered questions about hip hop culture and responsibility in a lecture on Nov. 1, 2008, in the Alice Statler Auditorium. Rose's lecture summarized topics addressed in her book, "The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop and Why It Matters." Margaret Washington, professor of history at Cornell University, introduced Rose.
The event was part of a two-day conference celebrating Cornell University Library's acquisition of "Born in the Bronx: The Legacy and Evolution of Hip Hop," a collection that documents the early days of hip hop with recordings, photographs, posters and more. Events on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 2008, included music, performances and lectures by several of hip hop's founders, and roundtable discussions led by prominent speakers from the hip hop and academic communities.