Listen to Mama Afrika

Submitted by Wangene Hall on Thursday, 10/13/2016, at 2:34 PM

“You can feel it all over/ You can feel it all over people/ You can feel it all over/ You can feel it all over people “

So goes the chorus of Stevie Wonder’s impossibly groovy “Sir Duke”, which begins by describing the power of music to connect us together through its universally shared language. In addition to being an absolutely groovin’ funkalicious song, it opens with a truth most people, especially musicians can agree too. When a song is good, and people are dancing and there’s energy and love between audience and musicians, that’s magic everybody can feel. In those moments music gets beyond arguments about genre and style and form and taste, it gets beyond location and culture and barriers and divides. Then, music just brings people together. The dancer is the answer to the question. Why must we make music? Because we are all dancers and we all want to be freed by the love created when our bodies surrender to a collective rhythm of other bodies creating one shared reality. Music is so viscerally connective because the sound that comes from our bodies reflects us, in our rhythm is our heartbeat and in our breath is our life force. Sound is first created by the body and mediated by the mind to reach the heart, if it is powerful enough. That is why, music at its purest and at its best, reaches across all divides and lets us surrender to a collective rhythms and a shared reality in which brings us together like nothing else can.

            While music is definitely a transcendent force, (and aren’t we looking for transcendence in everyday places?) it can also be used to further less idealistic and beautiful utopian fantasies. Music can also reflect the boundaries and differences between us, it can engender debates about power plays and cultural integrity and social global issues. Such is the case with Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Konono No 1. In both sounds, the question of authorship and agency is tested. Paul Simon is a famous Grammy-winning musician who heard and fell in love with South African music to make his signature album. Unfortunately, his appropriation of South African music is justifiably fraught with concern. When viewed in a sociopolitical context, Paul Simon’s remediation of South African seems like whitewashing. Much of the local flavor of the music is lost as the music is manipulated to provide the sound he wants. At the time the album was released, the album seemed to have overtures that could cause turmoil.

The issue of the South African musicians implied subjugation as heard on the album, simply as a result of Simon’s domination, is difficult to ignore. There was tension between another one of his collaborator’s “Los Lobos” after they failed to receive writing credit. There are assumptions about African music and culture whose representation goes unconsciously unchallenged in the Lady Smith Black Mombaza track “Homeless” in which Paul Simon mediates and manipulates the musical action (even in his direction to “Sing” near the beginning). The question is then up to the listener. Would they like to hear the beauty and skill in the music created, even if it is outside their realm of experience, using that as a springboard for true understanding or would they like to practice dissociated listening that turns the African music into an abstracted foreign object? Paul Simon’s “Graceland” perhaps lets us do the latter too easily, but the visibility of the music would allow the educated and informed listener to go find the truest representation of the African voice.

If you want to hear African speak, you go to her dancers and her musicians, they will play for you the rhythms of their lives. You want to hear the sounds in their context? You go to where the music is made and you watch people make art and beauty out of wreckage and ruin. If you want to know what the people are playing, the songs that describe their lives, you can find that too. My suggestions? Listen to Konono No 1. Find out about the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars. Learn the translation for Habib Koite’s “Wassiye” but sing along in the original language. Instead of the debates about where agency and colonialism take away from African music, find out about an Africa that is strong enough to take influences from where it likes, and still play something true to its experience. Africa is not as far away as we’d like to make it seem. In this wired world, if you are a listener who would like to understand a reality different then your own, all you have to do is listen to understand.

Hip-Hop and Language

Submitted by Charles A. Pratt on Friday, 11/26/2010, at 4:32 PM


Throughout the viewing of the plethora of the selected Hip-Hop films, the importance of the utilization of language in a creative manner has been an underlying theme.  Hip -Hop allows artists from a broad range of socioeconomic and global backgrounds to express themselves in a unique way that other outlets would not be able to provide.  For example, in “Freestyle: the art of rhyme”, the cipher is portrayed as where “Hip-Hop begins”.  During a cipher, a group of individuals gather in a close circle and collaborate in rhyme, which ultimately produces a freestyled story filled with energy.  What emerges globally through freestyle and artistic expressions such as ciphers is the immediacy of thought required to participate in such art forms.  During these expressions, an outsider can almost tap into the performer’s brain in a way that other art forms would not allow.  One’s ideas about politics, lifestyle, and anything other subject matter weighing on the mind become transferred into an expression somewhere in between speech and song.  These thoughts take on a very exceptional quality of rawness, seeing as what comes out during freestyle will most likely be what is heavily weighted at the forefront of the artists’ conscious. 


After watching a 60 minutes segment featuring Eminem (embedded below), it became evident that what seems to separate the high-quality hip hop artists from the common person is the technique of language manipulation.  In “East of Havana”, one of the Hip-Hop enthusiasts proclaims his passion for rapping has led to his meticulous study of the dictionary.  While this ambitious endeavor may seem beneficial, perhaps his time would be best spent learning how to manipulate and annunciate words in a way that will expand upon his rhyming capabilities.  The ability to alter the pronunciation of a word and perhaps emphasize the “wrong” syllable helps contribute to the creative qualities of global Hip-Hop culture.  In “Alphabet Aerobics” by Blackalicious, the song proceeds in a sequential order strictly adhering to that of the alphabet, and, in order to do so, he must carefully phrase each word in a way that links them together.  Without this technique, or if one just read every single word according to the accepted annunciation, there would be a complete absence of rhyme and flow.







Russian House Beatboxer

Submitted by Ernesto A. Alvarez on Thursday, 11/25/2010, at 11:23 AM

Because most tend to understandably associate beatboxing with Hip-Hop, as it is one of the four fundamental branches of Hip-Hop culture, this video of a Russian beatboxer fusing his skills with the Electronica/House genre is quite impressive. The artist records his beatboxing and combines his own samples with a beat he then creates on electronic keys as well as his own vocals. A friend of mine from Miami who is a successful nightclub promoter is actually trying to find this man to perform at various venues on South Beach. Very cool.


Tags:  house  Beatboxer  Electronica 

This is Why I'm... Like a G6

Submitted by Wangene Hall on Monday, 11/22/2010, at 4:17 AM

I was driving back towards my house during Thanksgiving break with the radio on and up loud. Much of what I heard was the same old Top 40 hit list that I could pretty much sing along to. Then, a slightly slower track came on. In 30 seconds, I couldn't tell who the artist on the track was, but I could tell they had a major hit on their hands. It sounded like "Nothin' On You" by B.o.B ft. Bruno Mars, which meant I was instantly hooked. I was listening to "Rocketeer" by Far East Movement, whose latest hit "Like a G6" has been the staple of recent parties and has even worked it's way into cultural reference, as evidenced by Urban Dictionary.

The songwriters (Bruno Mars among them) and producers like it that way. I started following F.E.M right before they blew up; I checked out their website, figured out that Dev (who sounds exactly like Ke$ha) wrote the hook to "Like a G6" and realized that their style of marketing is focused on lifestyle branding.

After doing some research into the similarity of sounds between the aforementioned tracks, I found an interesting blog post about how they are essentially a new kind of super-group. Instead of one producer and a strict management team creating an artist's sound, the artist is involved in a mass-collaboration between themselves, songwriters, producers, managers etc who make an artist into living, breathing, interactive persona. Up until the advent of social media, which coincided with the breakdown of the record industry, the artist was a series of carefully controlled images and even more carefully controlled sound. Now, the artist is more like a video gallery with streaming remixable music than a still life with an immutable play list. The most interesting aspect of this new age is the presupposed artistic integrity that was supposed to accompany these changes. Where is it?

As we continue to consume music, and are affected by the shifting access points and control centers of global consumerism, it is important to think about the dynamics involved in creating sound. Just because indie is the new pop like hipsters are the new jocks, doesn't mean that music-making is free of the typical concerns involved with its creation. If anything, new ways of listening and consuming music have made things more complicated. The first part of being an active consumer? Noticing just how similar these two songs are!

The Significance of the South Bronx

Submitted by Timothy F. Clark on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 11:10 PM


Taking off of what Ofori has pointed out in his posting, we must always keep in mind that  hip-hop and rap started amongst people who were being oppressed and significantly marginalized in American society. As Rose relates nicely, the South Bronx in the 1970s was home to a people who felt that the rest of America cared little for their well-being. With real estate brokers and the Cross-Bronx Express Way limiting housing and with little hope of economic help from any government, many must have felt alone and abandoned by the rest of the country or even their own city. Out of this pain and frustration, even anger, the urban poor--black but also Hispanic and other minorities, fashioned a cultural way of life, an integrated system of music, art, and the values that went with these (such as the idea of "keepin' in real"). At its core, this music and art was fashioned out of a desire to say what they had not or could not say about politics, racism, but even about such mundane things as getting girls. 

Thus, to a certain extent, hip-hop as music of the oppressed and downtrodden has been and probably always will be translatable to other cultures. The origins of the music in the South Bronx amongst a people who were poor and neglected will, at some level, always be attached to it. In East of Havana, the government was not the first to pick up Miami radio via homemade antennae at Alamar amidst brutal poverty. The idea of hip-hop as urban music--which Rose stresses-- is also maintained in Cuba. And the idea of "speaking one's mind," or "expressing one's self" when one's socioeconomic position prohibits other means of doing so reoccurs multiple times when the various protagonists in East of Havana discuss why they play hip-hop and rap--the idea of self-expression comes up quite a bit. Of course, this expression is conducted within a very specific political context: in opposition to Castro's communist government, both its failure to live up to the Revolution and its stranglehold on power. Nevertheless, the sense of the music as being fundamentally of those who have been socially, economically, politically, racially oppressed continues to have a substantial effect here.

However, I think that the meaning of hip-hop as a musical style of the oppressed--in any sense of the word--specifically is more easily prone to cross-cultural translation  than as music specifically of the "poor." The economically oppressed are not the only ones, in other words, who might be attracted to this music. Here again is Ofori's idea of struggle. It is entirely possible that people who are subjugated or exploited in any given country but who are not necessarily living in the equivalent of the Bronx or Alamar  might find that this music speaks to them as well. In a dictatorial state like Cuba, where pretty much anyone is under the thumb of the ruling regime, oppression could exist anywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum. In addition, the purpose of the music to comment on non-political or non-controversial topics might also be maintained. In Wild Style we saw this usage at play in the scene at the dance club. So too in East of Havana El Cartel's members do not always rap vis a vis Castro or the government. One of their songs is also about lost love.

The Emigration of Hip-Hop

Submitted by Adam E. Gerchick on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 10:33 PM

In the summer of 1973, at a party in the Bronx, DJ Kool Herc pressed his hand on a record and began rapping during the pause.  Thirty years later, the geographic center of hip-hop as the residents of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue had heard it left the southern East Coast and made its way into the Atlantic.  In those three decades, traditional hip-hop – the rhythmically spoken word over a beat, often with a repetitive, synthesized underlying melody –rapidly spread across North America and then to every other populated continent on Earth, finding a home wherever large populations of lower-income black and Latino youth resided and providing them a free and often edgy voice to express their own desires and social and political perceptions.  By 2010, however, global expansion had turned to emigration, with the original form of hip-hop emerging as a political force in countries of oppression and economic weakness while giving way to a pasteurized successor in the United States.

The 1990s saw the popularized music style transition from its roots to a more universally appealing genre.  While hip-hop found some mainstream success adhering to its populist roots – Public Enemy’s 1989 song “Fight The Power” was a call against the political marginalization and abuse of urban black communities – the appeal of a broader market share as a less politically and racially divisive music weakened its fundamental message.  The American hip-hop scene, once the genre of block parties and the urban economically disadvantaged, was appropriated by the greater entertainment industry in the 1990s, with major record labels owned by Japan’s Sony (Sony BMG), France’s Vivendi (Universal Music Group), and the United State’s Time Warner (Warner Music Group).  Through a corporate network of exposure, such as through MTV and VH1, and careful mass- and targeted marketing to more affluent demographics, including white suburbanites, American hip-hop has slowly moved in the direction of electronica and R&B, with more musical overtones, more and more-complex vocal and other auditory synthesizing, and less a focus on the struggles of the “ghetto” or the gritty empowerment of a “gansta” or pimp lifestyle than on the glories of international fame, sex, and wealth.  The movement has arguably been one of maturation, with the genre, as an artist itself, having conquered the limitations of the ghetto to achieve the idealized “good life.”  Yet American hip-hop still attempts, almost weakly, to preserve its gansta identity.  Raps 50 Cent in this year’s “I Get Money:”

“I’m the baker, I bake the bread, a barber, I cut your head,
The marksman, I spray the lead, I blood cot, chop your leg.”

Yet, two stanza before that, 50 observes,

“Yeah, I smell like the vault, I used to sell dope
I did play to block, now I play on boats.”

It is a poignant admission for the American hip-hop industry itself: in its dominant, commercialized form, it has moved from its origins.  Elsewhere, however, the socio-political origins of the genre remain strong.  Where the people lack economic influence or true popular governance, hip-hop, as an aggressive yet simple and easily disseminated means of conveying political messages and protests, has found a powerful cultural niche.  In Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe’s thirty years of uninterrupted dictatorship have stifled dissent, a burgeoning rap community, including stars Maskiri, Mizchif, and female rapper Black Bird, have established House of Hunger, a poetry-jam-style competition between various rappers that celebrates hip-hop in its most fundamental form.  The jam is highly political in nature, with its participants often alluding to the plight of a country once known as the bread-basket of Africa but now plagued by extraordinary economic and agricultural mismanagement and a highly self-enriching and retributive leader.  The event in itself, given its potential to inspire dissent from government policy, is revolutionary, and it embodies the original values and purpose of the American hip-hop genre as a movement. 

In the Philippines, hip-hop is experiencing a tension between the English-dominated national music industry and Tagalog-speaking artists from the slums of Manila.  Like a replication of the global marketability-authenticity battle over hip-hop, the Philippines’s pits the rappers, many of whom choose to discuss the difficulty of life in the slums, against the commercial interests that want to distribute their music to a mass-, and often English-speaking, audience.  Still, Tagalog artists seem to maintain a strong segment of the domestic market, recognizing the common affinity millions of young Filipinos feel for their lyrics and themes.  Death Threat, one successful Pinoy group, preserves the blunt sound of American hard-core hip-hop while discussing the slums’ capacity to tempt them to commit crimes, as heard in their hit “Gusto Kong Bumaet” (“I Want to Be Good”). 

The Death Threat song manages to do what the United States’ most popular contemporary hip-hop artists have not: call attention to the difficulties of the urban ghetto life and thereby indirectly protest the intolerable nature of their living conditions.  The song, and its artists, have developed a following in the Philippines largely as a product of that political commentary, suggesting that, even as record labels in both Southeast Asia and the United States seek to sterilize and soften hip-hop and its politics for easier mass-consumption, their remains, globally, a desire for the music in its true poetic and protesting form. 

Hip-hop as a sound or form of spoken word is and cannot be dependent on its philosophical origins to survive.  So long as the genre is popular as a form of music, with a widely recognized auditory appeal, it will be saleable and retain a following.  Whether hip-hop as an institution or movement may persist despite the loss of its original meaning is a separate question.  With the weakening of that purpose in the United States over the past two decades, hip-hop has given way toward a less meaningful form of music that assumes its sound and, under heavy melodic makeup, its beat, yet eschews its original vision entirely.  That new form –  perhaps “Top-40 Hip-Hop” or “Bat Mitzvah Rap” – is not, in principle, hip-hop.  Yet, as the original genre makes its way across the world, gaining popularity in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Russia, and Southeast and East Asia, moving its geographic center somewhere over the tropical Atlantic like a hurricane in reverse, it has somehow retained its philosophical shape.  Such has not necessarily been the case, but, in general, it seems to have been, establishing itself across the world as a challenge to oppression and destitution, the marriage of music and protest.  Overall, hip-hop continues to fulfill its fundamental purpose as it emigrates abroad, preserving its meaning and allowing its origins to shape its global development.

A language understood by all-Struggle

Submitted by Ofori-Kwafo Yaw Amponsah on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 8:55 PM

“Hip hop is an Afro-diasporic cultural form which attempts to negotiate the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity and oppression within the cultural imperative of African-American and Caribbean history, identity and community” (Rose, pg 2)

Hip hop in America was the byproduct of the creative genius in people born and or pushed to the fringes of American society. Lower-class blacks, Latinos, and Caribbean’s created this musical art form as a way to deal with their frustration in America. Hip hop has been recreated and translated worldwide due to the never ending supply of individuals unable to express their frustration creatively. Also, few creative outlets have the social resonance and formal actual ease that hip hop does. Art required supplies, and traditional music or dance requires formal training and instruments. Rapping requires a pen and pad and maybe a friend to join in the cipher. Various forms of hip-hop dance are less about a formal steps and more about how your move with the music. A great deal of global hip-hop came to being because it was adopted by those feeling a connection with the roots of hip hop.

Ms. Dynamite (Great Britain)


Mc Solaar (France) -

Terror MC (South Africa)-


In my experience foreign hip-hop artists are often more hip-hop purists than their western counterparts. For example, In the film East of Havana, the most prominent character commented that he doesn’t listen to hip-hop music past the late 1990’s. For him any hip-hop music following this time became to commercialized and has the spirit of the hip-hop.

Hip-hop is the most culturally ubiquitous form of an American music worldwide. From Japan to Germany, you can always find someone performing hip hop dance or rapping in their native tongue. Though it is widely present I think every new culture that encounters it interprets it differently. Every language carries a different cadence and every country or indigenous people has a different history. So although foreign hip-hop often has different inspiration, I think foreign hip-hop still represents the same people as its American predecessor. Hip-hop allows a wide range of individuals express themselves under the same banner of struggle. Hip-hop allows those who struggle to be heard to have a voice. Hip-hop allows people socially, economically or racially marginalized to stand out.

 Hip-hop and rap has evolved into various forms around the globe but the idea of struggle has always shaped it. Hip-hop and rap have come to embody the struggle of the minority and the misunderstood. Though other forms of hip-hop and rap exists abroad, not shaped by the origins of hip-hop, but rather the commercial music industry, I think strongest and longest lasting versions are inspired by struggle.


Submitted by Theresa L. Kelley on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 8:47 PM

Hip-hop and its relationship to technology varies greatly depending on the style and environment in which it is being produced and or performed. There has definitely been a dramatic increase in the level of production technology that has directly corresponded with the sonic complexity in any given hip-hop song. Now that there is so much technology available and at the disposal of even the most amateur hip-hop “producer” the genre of hip-hop has evolved very quickly. A lot of new songs have continued to pile on the different sonic trends until a track is so complex that it layers auto-tune over synthesizers, horns, guitars, beats, and anything else that an artist can fit into that particular song. One can always breath a sigh of relief however in knowing that no matter what new trends come about for this genre of music, there will always be the stripped down version that requires absolutely no technology, only a rapper and a beat-boxer (if even that). On opposite sides of the spectrum, both this simple form of hip-hop and its complex counterpart cater to the different values that people have with regards to what they desire in their hip-hop music. Watching the assorted films that highlight the sundry of aspects involved in the hip-hop making process as well as the evolution of the genre shows both sides of the genre.  In the movie “Scratch” the art of turn tabling is shown. This is an example of a component of the hip-hop that has fallen by the wayside as a result of the plethora of technology that has forced this phenomenon into its out-dated situation. Seeing the equipment that is being used in the Cuban hip-hop world really highlights the fact that this type of music only as reliant on the production level as one cares to make it.  

Values In Hip Hop

Submitted by Joseph W. Higgs on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 8:15 PM

I find the idea of a genre of music having a value system an interesting concept. The notion suggests that the hip-hop genre is significantly more than just music if the genre can dictate decisions outside the music making process. Not to say that this idea is exclusive to hip hop (you can sometimes tell what type of music a person likes by their clothes) but hip hop in its truest state reflects a set of moral standards that have a profound effect on artist's lifestyles.

The group El Cartel, embodies the values of hip hop in their decisions in and out of their music. In light of Cuba's Ministry of Hip Hop, they decided to remain underground, foregoing the monetary incentive to be able to speak their mind in their music. To be in cohorts with the Ministry would be submitting themselves to censorship which is inherently against what hip hop stands for. ” I mean, it's understandable for artists to agree to be under the Ministry because they need financial stability and look to advance their careers and notoriety. Not only that but the Ministry began because as a form of concession by a legitimate hip hop artist looking to ensure a watered down version of hip hop instead of none at all. A big part of hip hop, however, is self expression, so to not to speak about what's important to you is not really “keepin' it real.

El Cartel's decision to partake in underground hip hop affects their way of being in the world. Financial hardship as a result of their decisions also sculpts the hip hop culture in Cuba. Artists have to work with low quality equipment to produce tracks. This lack of technology forces artists to work harder to compete with big time professional studio equipment. The artists do in fact make quality songs with what they have, attesting to their resourcefulness and artistry.

The lack of technology in the beat making department is more than compensated where lyrics are concerned. In general, there seems to be more of a focus on self expression in the Cuban hip hop than in mainstream American hip hop. The artists that were featured in the documentaries identify so completely with hip hop, that it's evident they pour their heart and soul in their prose. In Cuba, it seems like an important part of the hip hop scene is the ability to express yourself. I think the value system reflects this because being inauthentic and derivative seems to be the two of the major ways of not “keepin' it real.” When it seems like mainstream American hip hop isn't meeting up this high standard, it's refreshing to know that Cubans, who are living in a place with the most preventing them from “keepin' it real,” are doing just that. 

The Value of Traditional Rap

Submitted by (inactive) on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 8:06 PM

Until recent readings and films, I was under the impression that the terms, rap and hip-hop were synonomous. Tricia Rose discusses that hip-hop is a compilation of break dancing, grafitti, urban elements and rap. Rap, an aspect of hip-hop began as expression of freedom against the poltical and social injustices of the 70’s. In DMC’s interview with Chuck D, he spoke of the differences between the rap of today and of the 70’s. He said that there was a time when rap consisted of the elements of one's enviroment. One could escape from the problems through rap, but today the aspects of ‘the enviroment’ (drugs, poverty etc.) are being constantly glorified.  “America doesn’t have a monopoly on ghettos.”  D.J. Johnny ‘Juice’ Rosado said.  He was right. Rap has now globally migrated to people who feel the need to self express the aspects of their own enviroment.  Rap does not migrate alone. Through these films, we see that rap and hip-hop are a pair, not having the ability to separate from another. In the film, I Love Hip-hop in Morocco, Arabic grafitti was presented. In China, break-dancing has become a popular form of entertainment in conjuction with rap. They rap of the poverty they experiece with-in their enviroment. The rap that is performed in China and Morocco is simlar to traditinoal American rap. But this pattern continues across the globe. Rappers of vaious countries perform with gold chains and wave caps and speak of violence and injustices. The thematic pattern that is consistantly presented with-in these countries is freedom.  Rap began as a way to express social freedom and is still continuing along this path across the world.

            The films presented prove the true value of tradional rap. Traditional rap did not begin as a form of entertainment, but as a way to inform. The South Bronx for example had no representation. Therefore, rap became it’s representation.


“rapping is about taking care of our well being”(Johnny Juice)


It was becaouse of the struggle that occurred in the South Bronx that rap was created. Since then, the value of traditional rap has  increased. Becaue of the advances in technology, there is no longer the need for both a d.j. and an m.c. Tradional rap included a d.j. to sample and mix music, and scratch the turn tables. Mean while, the rapper is free stlying, with a constant usage of layering. Today, layering with in rap is being used all over the world. Today in American rap, d.j.’s are no loner needed and layering is not consistantly used. It is no longer imformative, but exploitaive. The value of traditional rap has greatly increased. Meanwhile, various countries have adopted the styles of  traditional rap. So although American rap has strayed away from it’s traditional styles and values, these values still remain apparent across the globe.


Cuba Keeps It Real

Submitted by Eve T. Ketchum on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 8:01 PM

Often times, a culture grows up around or within a particular musical genre which serves to provide a cohesive set of ethos and style.  In the case of rap the culture associated is called hip-hop.  Hip-hop provides a sense of style for the rap genre.  The clothing and mannerisms of rappers are directly tied to hip-hop was well as the ethics of rap which is summed up in the phrase, “keepin’ it real”.  “Keepin’ it real” consists of several standards that dominate what is considered ethical in rap, chief of which would be the importance of originality, artistic integrity, and not forgetting your roots.
    It is the “keepin’ it real” ethos which provides a key part of the meaning behind not only rap, but the hip-hop culture in general.  This remains true even when hip-hop spreads to areas outside of its place of origin in the United States.  The best example of this would be the rap which has come out of Cuba.  Even in an area that has officially been culturally opposed to the outside influences of its much larger neighbor to the north, American culture has traveled and taken root in Cuba.
    Cuban rap was directly influenced by the origin of rap.  American rap has traveled via radio waves or packages from relatives living on the mainland and grown into something distinctly Cuban.  Originally in Cuba, when people heard and were inspired by rap, they would take the beats constructed by famous American producers such as Dr. Dre and provide their own lyrical content.  This of course is a direct violation of “keepin’ it real”.  It is known as “biting” which is when one takes the work of another and uses it for his own music.  In this way Cuban rap abandoned the spirit of hip-hop while still being directly influenced by it.
    This didn’t remain the dominate expression of hip-hop from Cuba though.  Rap artists began constructing their own beats and taking a far more personal interest in the “keepin’ it real” ethos.  Cuban rap artists used local sounds taken from domestic music such as Mambo to construct their own unique beats, falling quickly into line with the “keepin it real” ethos.
    The beats aren’t the only way most Cuban rappers keep it real.  Many draw on their own experiences within Cuba to provide deeply personal lyrical content.  Frequently people living in some of Cuba’s worst neighborhoods express their frustration to with Castro and the current conditions in their home.  This is “keepin’ it real” at its most pure.  This is especially true when one considers that these artists are potentially putting themselves at risk for dissenting against the  oppressive and censoring Castro regime.
    On the other hand, Castro himself has embraced rap, provided that it passes his standards.  Sanctioned rap is allowed, while subversive rap is pushed underground.  This causes a situation where the most visible rap from Cuba utterly fails to keep it real.  On rap that is pro-establishment keeps it real.  This is a core component of the ethos.  Rap was born out of poor neighborhoods and provided an expression of frustration with the status quo.  When that is abandoned, the music may be rap technically, but without the hip-hop culture and the “keepin it real” ethos, it is a mere shell of its former self.
    In these ways it is clear that origins play an important and necessary role in the transmission of sound globally.  Nothing can be transmitted unless it has a starting point.  It is however how these origins are interpreted and whether they are embraced or rejected that gives a sound definition once it has been diffused.  What a region embraces or rejects provides the vehicle for taking a sound and making it their own.  Cuba, while officially has rejected “keepin’ it real” in its state authorized music, unofficially keeps it quite real.  And when “keepin’ it real”, unofficially is the only way to go.

Underground vs. State-Approved: What is Authenticity

Submitted by Katherine W. Cole on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 7:59 PM

All these aspects—biography, technology, ingenuity, “a way of being in the world”—are interconnected in the world of hip hop, all contributing to the precious idea of authenticity. These films demonstrate how essential authenticity, or at least the perception of authenticity, is to hip hop culture. From crate digging in order to discover beats no one has used yet, to the pride freestylers take in improvising in the moment, to the unacceptability of stealing beats rather than creating them, hip hop artists place a premium on being creative and judge those who take copycat shortcuts.

As in other musical and artistic disciplines, hip hop artists have a mixed and sometimes contradictory view of success. For some, including many of the Cubans we have encountered, the struggle of everyday life forms a good deal of their artistic identity. Those biographical elements inform the way we as an audience perceive their work, as the personal biography of the female rapper in East of Havana lends authenticity to her rhymes. Interestingly, the struggle of life in poverty can serve as a fertile ground for musical creation and ingenuity. As one of the hip hop artists in East of Havana said, “We have nothing, so we make culture.”

Many artists are happier underground where the scene is more “real.” They view state-approved success as selling out, contrary to the values of hip hop. This puts someone like Ariel Fernandez Diaz, the appointed Cuban Minister of Hip Hop, in an awkward position. He, in the name of the state, is supposed to reach out to artists who by self-definition do not want to be associated with the government.  I found his situation interesting as he would have to walk a fine line, straddling the often at-odds worlds of underground and state-approved hip hop.

Diaz did a 120 Seconds piece in which he talks about the role of hip hop and politics. Take a look:


A few lines struck me, especially his statement that “Everything is politics.” It is important to note how political much of Cuban hip hop has been, in contrast to most popular American hip hop that deals primarily in superficiality. Diaz encourages this, saying that a “coalition between artists and activists” could create positive change. Yet much of the underground hip hop of the 1990’s was very critical of the Castro status quo. I don’t know that much about Diaz and this is probably naïve, but he doesn’t seem like a puppet of the Communist state (especially in his adoration for Barack). It seems like he truly believes that hip hop can be an instrument of social change, that it can truly make the world a better place. When compared with the hardscrabble lives of many of the Cuban artists we saw in those films, this perspective seems a bit too optimistic. I think it is authentic though, which shows how authenticity is, at least at some level, in the eye of the beholder.

Hip-Hop is Not Dead

Submitted by Joseph B. Nassirian on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 7:49 PM

            Many music critics and even artists believe that hip-hop is dead.  What was once exciting, powerful, groundbreaking music that had such political and racial undertones has become a style of music that focuses on materialism (money, cars, girls, etc.) and violence.  Artists such as Public Enemy urged people (especially African Americans) to “fight the powers that be” in their song “Fight the Power”.  Other artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Arrested Development used different, unique methods to speak about the black experience, but ultimately hip-hop artists were working together for a common goal: keep hip-hop a refreshing and cool style of music while speaking your mind and not “selling out”.  Now hip-hop is about making money and being famous by any means necessary, even if that means selling out.  Many critics believe hip-hop was a style of music that took chances and that modern day hip-hop has lost sight of that.  While producers like Puff Daddy used to make creative, new music, his latest albums use so much sampling from other songs it could not really even be considered his own music.  And now with the nuance of auto-tune any person can manipulate their voice to sound any way they want eliminating the need for much talent.  So, is hip-hop dead?  While most would say yes, there are signs of life of true hip-hop in Cuba.  The movies Guerilla Radio: The Hip-Hop Struggle Under Castro and East of Havana show the viewer how truly important the music is to Cuban hip-hop artists.  Cuban hip-hop artists face lives of discomfort and uneasiness because of tight government restrictions on what can be said, but choose to do so anyway for many reasons.  For some rapping is a way to achieve mental clarity while others do it to prevent themselves from going with the flow and surrendering to the government’s will.  Still others use rap to talk about social and political issues.  Hip-hop in Cuba is about knowing who you are, where you are from, and keeping it real. 

            Stylistically, Cuban rappers have a lot of merit, but their progress is hindered by government restrictions and primitive technology.  One of the most popular hip-hop groups in Cuba, Anonimo Consejo, records their music in one of the rapper’s parent’s living rooms, not an elaborate recording studio.  Cuban hip-hop producer, Pablo Herrera, (referred to by the New York Times as the Cuban Dr. Dre) has a jumble of recording studio tools set up in the closet of his apartment.  Another Cuban rapper and hip-hop producer known as Alexander comments “Imagine if I had the same gear as Dr. Dre here in my little room.  Imagine what I could do with all he has!  If I’m getting my music heard around the world now, imagine what I could do with the machines that Dr. Dre has!”  Even Pitbull, the major American hip-hop star with Cuban origins, comments that the music is good already and could be better with actual beats.  Since these artists do not have the equipment Dr. Dre has, they can stay in touch with their roots and keep it real.  Because all of these Cuban hip-hop artists live around where they produce their music there is more of an intimate relationship between the artist and the music.  Most hip-hop artists in Cuba have to scrounge around for parts and pieces to make a computer that can create very simple beats and rhythms.  Though these makeshift computers pale in comparison to Dr. Dre’s equipment the viewer can see how resourceful Cuban rappers are out of sheer love for the music. 

            These Cuban rappers are also revered for their clever use of language.  In another segment of the interview with Pitbull from the movie Guerilla Radio, he says, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”  He continues to speak about the use of wordplay, smooth “flow”, and truthful and meaningful lyrics makes Cuban rap intriguing.  As opposed to prevalent rappers in America today like Drake who sing about money and cars while distorting their voice with autotune, Cuban rappers speak about real issues they face as a people.  The rapper and producer Alexander raps about Cuban’s who flee Cuba on a raft in hopes of finding America and end up being eaten by sharks or are swallowed by the sea.  Other rap groups like Anonimo Consejo rap about social and political issues.  To draw back to the interview with Pitbull, he comments about how these people are so oppressed and limited in what they can say about their situation that when they write something down it has much meaning to it, and that is what hip-hop is all about.  He goes on to say that American rappers make albums to make money, but the Cuban artists rap, despite the fact that not much money will come out of it, because they love the music and want to speak their mind.

            The rebellious, free spirit of hip-hop may be dying in the United States, but the spirit clearly lives on in Cuba.  The movies East of Havana and Guerilla Radio may give some music critics and former hip-hop artists some faith that the true values and beliefs of hip-hop live on somewhere.  It might prove to these artists and critics that there are people who keep it real and refuse to sell out or bow down to the government’s demands.  These movies will show them how meaningful hip-hop still exists in the world and how all the rappers in the world do not have songs where they are consumed by material goods or violence.  Despite faulty technology and little promotion Cuban rappers pursue their dream and continue to make music and speak their minds creatively.  Though hip-hop may be dead in the states, Cuba is certainly keeping it real.

Hip-Hop's Relevance

Submitted by Rohan Mazumdar on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 7:39 PM

It’s not often that one gets to see the actual creation of an artistic movement. Hip hop’s relatively recent emergence means that its development can be traced in far more comprehensive a manner than sounds whose formative history occurred prior to the advent of universal video and audio media. However, perhaps more importantly, the inseparability of the music and its associated lifestyle means that studying hip-hop involves studying the people behind it, and the environment that cultivated it.

Something that early hip-hop was definitely not was contrived. The context of mostly low-income, urban surroundings gave rise to a need for an expressive outlet that was accessible at nearly no cost, and that would require no ‘formal’ training. With limited access to other forms of musical expression, hip-hop artists had to construct homegrown methods of music making. As an outcome, this meant that the themes hip-hop artists invoked in their rhymes were a true reflection of the lives they were leading. To ‘keep it real’ was fundamental; to talk about the people the artists lived among, to mirror their worldview, and to echo their aspirations.

Personally, the understanding of hip-hop as an all-encompassing way of living was new. That graffiti (a visual paradigm), break dancing (a physical one), and rap and DJ-ing all fit together to serve as an expressive vehicle (as defined by Grand Wizard Theodore) had not been the way I saw it. Now, with that outlook, it is clearer to see that there was an incredible ingenuity at work behind that vehicle. It seems like the cultural and resource constraints faced by the early artists forced them to innovate, such as the use of walls and spray paints where canvas and acrylic colours could not be found. The combinations of microphones, turntables and PA systems may initially seem to run counter to the idea of relatively cheap technologies, but given that instruments such as pianos and violins are likely to be much more expensive, and require far more training to initially learn, emcees and DJ’s used what they had to be commentators on their surroundings.

With the lyrics as the central feature in hip-hop, it is the case that language is critical, both in the physical construction of the lines, as well as in what is conveyed through the words. At the same time, this is perhaps the most powerful tool hip-hop has in transcending the physical context that it originally inhabited. While initially spoken in the dialect of urban blacks, with no tonal paradigms to characterize it (Oriental, Western, Arabian, etc.), it remains adaptable to any form of the human voice. I’m hard pressed to find any qualitative difference – at least on an aesthetic and musical level – between the American and Cuban artists seen in any of the films.

One gets an overall sense of ‘groundedness’ reflected in the films seen. Hip-hop seems ingrained in the very existence of all its representatives. Prior to this exposure, I had always assumed it to be purely a commercial endeavour with the themes revolving around money, sex and violence for no apparent reason. While it is lamentable that that is the impression that most people outside the physical environment of the artists get of the genre, it is heartening to note that it still holds relevance in their lives.

Hip Hop: An Underground Culture

Submitted by Taylor L. Heacock on Sunday, 11/14/2010, at 7:33 PM

The continuities that allow hip hop to be classified under one genre across nations is rooted in the style of hip hop that emerged during the late seventies. The underlying meaning and sense of community that hip hop creates ties the music of Cuba, the United States, China, and Japan all together. The social conditions of limited power and limited access to expensive equipment that catalyzed the beginnings of hip hop in the U.S. are present in societies where hip hop has flourished outside of the US. In these societies the ideals of hip hop such as originality, ingenuity, street smarts and the need to prove oneself in terms of talent and internal strength resonate and lead to the creation of hip hop music. The translation of hip hop across cultures has been a method for empowering those that have been marginalized by allowing them to vocalize their struggle through music.

 The characteristics of flow, rupture in line, and layering from Tricia Rose’s article “A Style Nobody Can Deal With: Style, Politics and the Postindustrial City in Hip Hop” are present not only in the early hip hop of the United States but also in the music of Cuba displayed in East of Havana. While the culture and methods of musical production mirror that of the United State’s early hip hop, the music in the East of Havana is distinct from that of the United States. DJs mix their own music for beats which includes the native music of Son. Hip hop artists  in countries such as Cuba localize and innovate the sounds of U.S. hip hop.

Because hip hop music is not a specific sound, but rather a layering of sounds and an original combination sounds, the hip hop music of Cuba does not have to sound exactly the same as American hip hop to be hip hop. In addition the music is still a manifestation of struggle and a representation of a community and personal growth. In many ways the hip hop of places such as China and Cuba is more closely related to early hip hop. However, because of the distictive style of hip hop and the culture associated with it, global hip hop cannot be completely dissociated from its origins on the United States.

Ironically where the meaning of hip hop music has failed to translate is in the United States, in its transformation into a commercial music in the hands of recording labels. Hip hop culture in the United States has dissipated as commercial rap and record labels have transformed what is heard in the mainstream music. The social and political strife that created the sounds and music of hip hop are no longer related through what many call hip hop. The message behind the hip hop of the late 70s and early 80s has been lost in the rap music that is sold today. Although, artists such as Talib Kweli, the Roots, Lupe Fiasco, Common, and many underground artists try to stay true to the origins of hip hop. As seen in the U.S. and abroad, hip hop music thrives underground, where artists can express themselves and uphold the music's original ideologies. 


Nas and Common lament the “Death of Hip Hop” in the United States' mainstream and distinguish the difference between hip hop and commercial rap in their music. 

Hip Hop Is Dead:

The Sixth Sense: