Rap is not POP…

©2014 Fahamu Pecou

My daughter is eleven. And like most eleven year olds, she loves all those Disney channel sit-drams (yeah I call them sit-drams as opposed to sit-coms because the situations these tweens are dealing with on those shows is more complicated than my actual adult life). But I digress. Recently, I watched one of these shows with my daughter - a show about a couple of young girls who dance competitively. The intro features a rap song and a bunch of Disney-ish (read: white) children krumping, ticking, popping and breakdancing. I began thinking about the ways hip-hop culture has been appropriated and folded into the broader popular culture vocabulary in recent years. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, however what caused the hair on my neck to rise was the continued absence of Black leading characters, or any non-white leading characters on these programs. Worse than the lack of diversity is the straight jacking of hip-hop culture without the presence of those whom we can thank for its existence and popularity. 

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There is literally a handful of Black people on children’s programming in sidekick or supporting capacities and I honestly can’t think of a show for teens/tweens with a Black cast—despite the dependency on Black popular culture in all facets of American popular culture more broadly. I don’t even have to bring up the subtleties of the type of social conditioning, i.e. standards of beauty, engendered by the color-blind mentality these programs suggest. The misappropriation of Black culture by mainstream America is irresponsible and paints a glaring and disturbing portrait of the way society imagines Black people - either we don’t exist (positive:invisible) or we are extremes of what are seen as acceptable and proper ways of being (negative:hyper-visible).

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And it’s not just the Disney channel or television for that matter. The radio airwaves are saturated with young, white pop artists with soul or worse, SWAG. You have performers like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber toeing the margins of acceptable social values through a sort of Black-performative drag. It appears that they seek to rebel against traditional white, Christian, American values by doing their best interpretation of what they deem Black culture. Cyrus and Bieber, on the backs and backsides of Black men and women, explore the boundaries of their sexuality and masculinity (respectively). Meanwhile Australian actress Iggy Azelea’s unsubstantiated rise to stardom is a couple burnt corks short of being black face! Few have questioned her mockery of hip-hop as the media has crowned her the latest queen of rap.

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Years ago the great prophet Q-Tip implored a generation of hip-hop fans to beware the pop co-opt of rap. His sentiment implied what I’m stressing here; that hip-hop culture emerged as form of resistance to dominant systems of power. It gave voice and visibility to disenfranchised Black and Brown bodies left to fend for themselves on the margins of society. However resistance movements can ultimately work against you, especially when you’re not diligent about its mission and purpose. “Resistance, once it becomes routine and recognized, can be anticipated and welcomed by dominant authorities, and fetishized and folded into the broader process of institutionalizing dominant hegemonic understandings…”, writes Richard Iton in  In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics & Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. We see this fetishization happening as rap music’s pop manifestations round out the once sharp edges of hip-hop’s critique of society.

Don’t misunderstand, hip-hop culture’s success is in itself a victory for the resistance. But the war is far from over. Hip-hop culture remains a relevant and necessary tool even in the face of our notions of a post-racial society. As color lines blur the class and economic distinctions persist and younger generations of youth are subtly programmed to rebel without cause. In this environment hip-hop’s unique creative and expressive resistance becomes even more imperative. Hip-hop has helped empower a generation to stand on equal economic footing, but vigilance demands that that generation not trip on its own fat laces. Remember, rap is NOT pop… and if you call it that then…

Downtown Fair - NYC, May 8-11, 2014

"Power - Fahamu Pecou, 2014
60x48 inches
Acrylic, Gold leaf, and Oil Stick on canvas

For more information visit: www.lyonswiergallery.com

DOWNTOWN FAIR - NYC, May 8-11, 2014

"Chaining Day… a.k.a. Give Us Free" - Fahamu Pecou, 2014
60x48 inches
Acrylic, Gold leaf, and Oil Stick on canvas

For more information visit: www.lyonswiergallery.com

TRANSITION

Check out my work in the latest issue of TRANSITION Magazine. The official publication of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at #Harvard University, TRANSITION champions “tough-minded and far-reaching criticism, both cultural and political…” as it relates to the particular concerns of Africans throughout the diaspora.

The issues features selected images from #NEGUSinParis.

Click here to order a copy or get more information! 

…SPITE DA MAN

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Second Childhood… Tangled Webs
c. 2011 66x51 in Acrylic and oil stick on canvas

Tangled Webs is an observation on the complicated, multilayered, intersecting, sometimes liberating, sometimes tragic social scripts that inform contemporary Black American masculinity.

Images of Black male success, mobility and agency are often tied to representations of Black men within hip-hop culture, most of whom are children themselves, between the ages of 18-25. These young men struggle with their own yet developing identities while becoming the measure of manhood for men across a broad range of age, class, and economic strata.

As iconic representations of manhood, they begin to embody a multitude of contradictions and complex intersections which are generally glossed over in conversations about young hip-hop artists’ wealth and success. This fragile developmental stage plays out publicly as these young men often struggle with legal, financial, social, cultural and personal obligations which move at a rate of speed that at times, far exceeds their own psycho-social development. The end result often comes at great expense to their own brief lives but is often used as validation or further justification for the social injustices leveraged against Black men. 

Tangled Webs taunts the influence of infantilized aesthetics in ‘spite da man’ who is or is yet becoming.