Thursday, October 21, 2004

Purloined Poets: Hip Hop and the Ivory Tower

Over the last decade, a cavalcade of scholars have facilitated the importation of Hip Hop music into the University cirriculum. So, what is all the fuss about?

In its most simplified form, the ongoing debate over whether or not Hip Hop should be subjected to contextual analysis in academia pivots between, on the one hand, the widespread fear that Funkmaster Foucault and his progeny will annex the idiom altogether, severing it from its roots in the asphalt jungle and, on the other hand, the less ubiquitous view that academy argot, however removed it may be from the original idiom and ethos, can do more justice to the form’s social objective than a bunch of kids acapella-ing on a street corner. Hmmm.

Academicians tend to imbricate Hip Hop within a postmodernist framework, claiming the music valorizes the esthetics of pastiche without compromising its sonic puissance. The task that awaits Hip Hop scholars is akin to what Walter Benjamin has called the "task of the translator"-—to keep the language foreign. Opacity, as Benjamin understands it, is not always a bad thing. For once Hip Hop begins to make too much sense to the academy, what will it mean to those outside it? The academy, in other words, must resist its hegemonic overdrive and refrain from mistranslating--which would in turn silence--an artform predicated on the aestheticization of raisin’ hell.

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