Thursday, April 4, 2013

ABSTRACT: Interrogating Black Minstrelsy In 21st Century Hip Hop (20 pages)

According to my investigation of the manifestation of Hip Hop or more particularly rap music, in the 21st century, the genre as a whole is being held accountable for portraying modern day Black minstrelsy. While my research reveals that some Black male Hip Hop artists are the targets of ridicule for performing as contemporary coons, Hip Hop culture in general is suffering from the accusations of “buffoonery.” But I ask is Black minstrelsy being misrepresented in these accusations against Hip Hop in the 21st century? 

I argue that if today’s image of Hip Hop is going to be labeled as a minstrel show, the history of the genre needs reevaluation and a deeper investigation of its performative roots is crucial. The performance choices and actions of a minstrel artist was often purely practical in the process of accessing agency in the entertainment industry of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes those choices consisted of a method for negating the caricature depictions of Blacks and liberating the culture by creating performative counter-narratives. It could also serve as a medium for presenting parody, satire and fiction via a double-consciousness approach. I argue that while minstrel-like elements in Hip Hop may be evident, minstrel-like performances by Blacks in Hip Hop is an extravagant supposition.

Perhaps the Black minstrel-like manner of some contemporary Hip Hop styles is a new subgenre of Hip Hop such as Gangsta Rap, Crunk music and or Conscious Rap. I argue that this particular performance style is actually creating a personal agency for these artists that doesn’t deserve to be demonized or reduced to the representation of “clown rappers.” There are simultaneous markets for East Coast Hip Hop, West Coast Hip Hop, Hyphy and Southern Rap just to name a few. Is it possible there is also a market for Black minstrel-like Hip Hop?

Historically, Black minstrelsy legitimized Black performers and granted them agency in the theatre, yet degraded their image at the same time. Subsequently today’s notion of Black minstrelsy in contemporary Hip Hop affords a more expeditious rise to financial gain for Black performers, while the issues of their personal and collective integrity remains in question. 

My central argument is that the problem with generalizing contemporary Hip Hop and labeling it Black minstrelsy represents this contemporary performance as degrading the depictions of the Black community, while many of these artists’ expressions are simply an attempt to explore their creativity, arouse innovation and access agency. This conundrum is partially why Hip Hop is so controversial and is often being discriminated against. What requires further investigation is the perception and interpretation of Black minstrelsy, particularly a more accurate understanding of the motivations of artists involved in that historic performance genre. 

It’s long overdue that we all become accountable for how our own perceptions and projections shape our own misconceptions about Hip Hop culture and the Black American culture. A helpful approach to future research of Hip Hop would be to eliminate overly critical assessments of Black minstrel-like Hip Hop performances, and acknowledge that there is a place for all Hip Hop styles, even if everyone cannot appreciate them all.

Even though I think we need to re-educate ourselves about the reality of Black minstrelsy historically, I do admit that emergent Hip Hop artists, whose “self-defining” performance styles might be considered deleterious to African Americans’ collective image, should consider how the misconceptions of their performativity potentially compromises their integrity and galvanizes the demonization of Hip Hop and the Black American culture. This study seeks to offer a fresh lens for evaluating the effects/affects of Black minstrelsy, and in the process offer a pragmatic prescription for nullifying the demonization of contemporary Hip Hop.

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