Contextualizing Hip Hop Sonic Cool Pose in Late Twentieth– and Twenty–first–century Rap Music

Bradley, Regina

In considering the cultural significance of rap music in (mis)conceptualizations
of American identity, it is important to point out commercialized rap’s
attachment to notions of blackness that are presumed irrefutable. Likewise,
constructions of racial discourse in popular culture cannot be divorced from
the effects of capitalism and enterprise on the framework of a twenty–first
century black American experience. While it would be overly simplistic to
dismiss commercial rap music as socially and ethically bankrupt due to the
mass consumption and (over)production of corporatized black narratives,
it is important to identify rap’s corporatization as a mutual investment by
both record labels and artists themselves. Employing regurgitated and thus
normalized scripts of blackness and black manhood is rewarded by monetary
gain and popularity. The artists’ investment in such scripts sustains
public visibility and thus relevance. The commercialization of rap music
simultaneously enables rap to become a gauge of the post–Civil Rights
experience while it becomes commodified and stereotyped. Thus, hip hop
is important in providing alternative forms of negotiating the manifestations—
visual, sonic, and political—of blackness that are mass consumed by
a multi–ethnic audience. One way we can complicate our understanding of
the impetus behind rappers’ performance and identity politics is to examine
their negotiations of “black cool.” Of particular interest to this essay are the
intersections of enterprise and sonic manifestations of black masculine cool
in commercial rap music.



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Academic Units
Columbia University
Published Here
September 29, 2014