Friday, November 10, 2006
Forever to Return
I am excited to report that my first ever paper proposal for an academic conference on pop music has been accepted. I will be talking about New South hip hop, Bubba Sparxxx, whiteness, and working-class culture at a very cool hip-hop panel at the PSA 2007 conference in Oakland in March. Also Cowboy Troy. And Chingo Bling.
You can find below the long and shaggy splattercore brainstorm that I had to trim down for the 250-word version. I will probably be developing my ideas in public about this paper right here. Any input, suggestions, or violent rebukes would be most appreciated. I am looking at you, El, MZN, nhennies, and elkanikkole!
“To See You Coming Round”: ‘New South’ Hip-Hop, Working-Class Iconography, and the Politics of Racial Reconciliation”
Of all of the developments in American urban working-class culture since World War II, it would be hard to point to a more creative, innovative, and commercially successful phenomenon than hip-hop. With several notable exceptions, however, the working-class character of hip-hop has been relatively marginal within both the discourse of hip-hop fans and discussions of hip-hop in the mainstream media.
This is, in part, a function of a widespread tendency to mentally link "working-class culture" to a set of contradictory images: a distant sepia-toned past of lunchpail-toting white workers in industrial cities, and simultaneously, a "country" version of rural gemeinschaft. In contrast, from its origins in the
Students of American working-class formation (and deformation) have been increasingly drawn to the theme of “southernization.” For these scholars (notably Bruce Schulman, Matthew Lassiter, Gary Gerstle, Steve Fraser, and Tom Frank), the rightward turn in American politics since the late 1950s can be explained, albeit in contradictory ways, by the rise of conservative politicians drawing on a highly mediated, neo-populist version of “red state” working-class culture. Along with this articulation of southern culture by the Right, depictions of the South in television, film, and popular music work to link “working-class,” “white” and “southern” in the national popular consciousness.
It is therefore or great interest to note the rise of a cultural trend that is inscribing a powerful and autonomous version of the African-American southern experience over the redundant cliches of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” and Ford F-150 truck commercials: southern hip-hop music (referred to as “dirty south” hip-hop by practitioners and fans). Artists such as Master P, Ludacris, Outkast, Missy Elliot, Pharrell, Lil Jon, Nelly, and Paul Wall, hailing from cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, Virginia Beach, St. Louis and Houston, have produced much of the most innovative and popular music in recent memory. Additionally, a number of fascinating hybrid negotiations of diverse southern working-class cultural traditions can be seen as products of this cultural moment: white performers, like Bubba Sparxxx of
As the examples of Bubba Sparxxx, Cowboy Troy and Chingo Bling suggest, the emergence of “dirty south” culture signals a powerful strain of resistance to reactionary “southernization” by southern musicians, countering hackneyed depictions of southern life with ones more subversive, complicated, or troubling; indeed, it may point to a tradition of such contestation going back many years.
This paper explores the multiple and contradictory meanings of this contestation, focusing on the ways in which musical evocations of racial reconciliation figure in the recordings of southern hip-hop and crossover performers. By looking to the internal logic that guides lyrical content, vocal delivery, use of samples, and thematic conceits, as well as to the self-presentation and reception of artists such as Bubba Sparxxx, a complex and contradictory picture of the politics of racial reconciliation in new southern hip hop emerges. Drawing on the Lacanian interventions of Slavoj Zizek, as well as the Marxist tradition of cultural critics such as Ernst Bloch, Fredric Jameson, and Michael Denning, this analysis identifies an emancipatory interracial class politics that can be discerned in the shared conception of a unique southern "mode of enjoyment.” It also finds some troubling resonances with neoconservative versions of racial reconciliation, and a highly problematic gender politics that privileges a cross-racial “mode of enjoyment” predicated on the sexual exploitation of women.
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