by Latoya Peterson
(Continued from Part 1)
LP: [We should] think some more about this formula, because it seems to me that with every year that passes, the formula gets whittled down into the need to find the next hit. Catchy hooks, lyrics, whatever – they just want a hit. And it appears that some of these [truths about life and culture] are becoming diluted. So before, the hits came because in some ways, we can relate to this pain, and relate to this anguish. But the people who are in charge of these [networks] are making decisions about what gets played but they don’t hear those things. Instead, the only hear violence, they only hear anger, they only hear rage and they decide to promote that. Is that a pattern you saw in your research?
TR: Yes. It shares the history of transition into the “mainstream” market. Just as the dances and dance steps and styles of singing that minstrelsy was based on was something quite different than what minstrelsy turned into, right? So there were origins of minstrelsy [rooted] in black cultural expression, but minstrelsy became a grotesque exaggeration that was basically seen through dominant eyes. So black women, in hip-hop, become, you know, big booty bitches and hos, gold diggers, divas, sex kittens, whatever else you want them to be because dominate society perceives black women that way. They’re baby mammas, they’re basically male appendages who are also hypersexual and sexually irresponsible. These are all part of dominant stereotypes! Now does that mean that sexually explicit material is bad? No! But it means that sexually explicit material that is destructive and self destroying is problematic! So this is directly related to the process underway. And also our normalization, our comfort with it. The fact that their isn’t much public critique inside the community for this kind of problem.
If you study the blues, or if you study any other black music, this is one of the things that happens. These forces are at play every single time. So this idea that music should be a revenue stream is fundamentally destructive.
Until we change the racial structures and gendered structures of society, then the larger dominant fantasies are going to rule the dominant marketplace. And that’s going to be problematic. It will be profitable, but it will be really problematic.
LP: I recently attended an exhibit put on by the National Portrait Gallery here in Washington D.C. called “Recognize,” and you know, it’s kind of a history of hip-hop through portraiture and other forms of artistic expression. One of the things they mentioned in the introduction to the exhibit is that hip-hop has become part of the dominant youth culture around the globe. In almost every other country in the world, their youth scene involves a heavy element of hip-hop culture, and each country has put their own unique spin on the genre.
So I know, a lot of times in the United States – and in particular in your book – you focus on how things are seen through a black and white lens. That’s how our country started and it has been the defining conflict for us here. But did you think about hip-hop as a global culture when writing? How did it spread so much and why does it resonate with so many different types of people around the globe?