by Latoya Peterson
In the Noir Issue of Bitch Magazine, I interviewed Tricia Rose about her new book The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip-Hop.
My interview assignment was 2,000 words. The transcribed interview came back as 6,000.
This is the overflow.
Latoya Peterson: You’ve had other works published, including Black Noise, which was a very influential book discussing music and culture and how that plays out in the black community. So why do you choose to work with music to explore both black culture and youth culture?
Tricia Rose: The category of youth culture to me tends to be racialized youth culture. From my vantage point, when you’re looking at African-American history and cultural expression, music is of extraordinary importance to that history. It is disproportionately rich and complex and dynamic and influential and innovative. And I say “disproportionately” to say that not everyone has such a rich, modern musical legacy. Some ethnic and racial and religious and national groups have literary or dance or film legacies, but when it comes to music in the modern world, people of African descent in the Diaspora in particular have an enormous contribution….if you are thinking twentieth century alone there are not too many American musics that have not been directly influenced or are in fact constituted as an African American tradition. Jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, hip-hop, even dance music – techno and the like.
It’s just an incredibly rich tradition. It also has a profound connection to a history of culture in oral traditions of social commentary. [...] In African American music and culture, you find not just good music, but music that plays a role in commenting on and creating critical consciousness about one’s social world.
LP: In your book, you write, “gangsta rap music is a post-industrial black culture industry with job openings and a chance for upward mobility. This is a fascinating way to frame the discussion because so much of hip-hop has become about the business side of it. Some have argued that it has come to step in for the industrial [labor market] void we have. So, instead of having progressive job growth in inner cities, other industries have come and filled in that gap of losing jobs to off-shorting, like the hip-hop industry or underground industries like the drug game. Can you comment more on the idea of rap music being an industry and providing people with upward mobility?
TR: Beginning in the twentieth century, when industrialization begins to flourish, you develop industrialized music cultures, in that you develop products, right? Music became something you could buy and sell. And once that happens, the record industry begins to take hold, and then [music] begins to be an industry for artists that was not the case before. [...] For post-industrial, isolated, urban black youth, rap music, and to a lesser extent athletics, have become an alternative form of upward mobility, a way to get of the hood. What makes rap music problematic in this way is that it is not just an industry that creates opportunity, but a form of opportunity creation that is also a trap.
It creates a trap for it’s followers because of the icons it celebrates. So rap as a “way out” has become attached to the tail of a street economy, that “gangster” rap has been defined by. So it’s not just rap music and the industry that’s a problem, but the fact that what we are selling is profitable. And what is profitable, what makes it an industry, is its constant sale of pimps, hos, gangsters, hustlers, drug dealers, criminals. It’s a grab bag of what we would call in the old days the red light district – it’s that underground economy. Continue reading