Jeffrey G. Ogbar

 

On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap

Cover Interview of September 30, 2009

In a nutshell

Hip-Hop Revolution explores the current cultural and political landscape of hip-hop by providing a broad based historical context for the art.  Beginning with the emergence of popular culture in the United States and the minstrel show in the antebellum era, I work through the emergence of jazz, rock and roll, blaxploitation movies in the 1970s, to the development of hip-hop in the mid-1970s New York City.  The point is to explore the durability of race as a touchtone for popular entertainment—particularly music.  By doing this, I establish an essential framework for understanding certain deeply racialized tropes in hip-hop.

Though this book gives some cursory overview of the history of popular culture and race, it is, at its core, an examination of hip-hop with a special emphasis on its last 15 years.  I explore the meaning and implications of rap music in particular.  From Congressional hearings, controversial artists, to a cultural juggernaut, with incisive, bold, and daring social and political commentary, rap music is full of diverse expressions and experiences.  I look at the ways in which hip-hop’s demands for authenticity are centered on particularly salient tropes of race, class and gender.

So, rappers like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, embody the core tropes well: African American males with roots in poor, urban landscapes.  The more one lacks one of these essential tropes, the more he is scrutinized for being “real.”  For example, Eminem’s impoverished, inner-city upbringing gave him a degree of credibility—beyond his lyrical skill—that being an upper-class kid from Iowa would have not.