R. Scott Heath
Natalie Y. Moore
Mark Anthony Neal
With the first presidential debate of the 2008 election three days away, a night many predict will dictate the outcome of this historic election, Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, whether or not it will publically admit to it, banks on getting strong support from generations of Americans who either initiated, were influenced by, or were forged within hip-hop culture. Obama’s campaign wades through America’s past towards a possibility that many of the Civil Rights era thought they would never see, to the delight and chagrin of members of that generation. But an increasingly pressing question is what will the “hip-hop generation(s)”—a lyrically, visually, and aesthetically rebellious group—potentially have to say to a head of state their support, not antagonism, helped elect? We posed the following question to our panel of writers, scholars, and cultural critics:
Barack Obama’s rise in politics to become a legitimate candidate for the presidency of the United States could be considered part of a trend that has been playing out on municipal and state levels for some time now—that is, African Americans, increasingly of the post-Civil Rights generation, leading offices and institutions that many African Americans may view as historically disinterested in or opposed to their prosperity.
___Hip-hop music artists haven’t pulled many punches when it comes to criticizing, arguably without much nuance, and opposing the American political system and U.S. government—from Chuck D (“Neither party is mine / not the jackass or the elephant”), to Nas (“George Bush killer ‘till George Bush kills me”), to André 3000 (“Y’all telling me that I need to get out and vote / Why? Ain’t nobody black, nothing but crackers / So, why I got to register?”), to Dead Prez’s Stickman (“I’m down for running up on them crackers in they city hall”).
___What do you think hip-hop music and its generations of listeners’ relationship to the presidency and government will look like if Barack Obama is elected president? How will hip-hop employ its candor with a leader who is not “the man” but rather “a brother,” and do you see its critiques being forced to grow due to this potential change in dynamic?
Below you will find links of to each of panelists’ opening responses to the above question, and follow-up responses to each other’s statements. The sincerity and fervor of their exchange speaks to the importance of the work that needs to be done in order to process what political maturation in hip-hop culture means to hip-hop heads from age seventeen to fifty. And as you read, please add your own thoughts, via comment posts on this page, to the discussion so that this small roundtable can become a nation-wide cipher.
FIRST RESPONSES (click panelist’s name to read response)
Mark Anthony Neal–Professor, Duke University
Natalie Y. Moore–Reporter, Chicago Public Radio
Adam Bradley–Assistant Professor, Claremont McKenna College
R. Scott Heath–Assistant Professor, Georgetown University
Natalie Hopkinson–Associate Editor, The Root (www.theroot.com)
REBUTTALS & CLOSING QUESTIONS (click panelist’s name to read response)
ABOUT THE RESPONDENTS
ADAM BRADLEY is an assistant professor of Literature at Claremont McKenna College. He is the author of the forthcoming Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop (February 2009) and the co-editor of the forthcoming Yale Anthology of Rap (2010). He has also written about hip hop for the Washington Post.
R. SCOTT HEATH is a professor in the Department of English at Georgetown University. His work addresses topics in African American literature, black public culture, and speculative race theory. His current book projects include Head Theory: Hip Hop Discourse and Black Public Culture and Virtual Is the New Black: Technologies of Race and Contemporaneity.
NATALIE HOPKINSON is Associate Editor of The Root (www.theroot.com) [link]. Previously, she was an assignment editor in the Washington Post‘s Sunday Outlook section, which publishes debate and commentary, and a youth culture writer in the newspaper’s Style section. She is co-author of Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation.
NATALIE Y. MOORE is a reporter at Chicago Public Radio. She’s co-author of Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation.
MARK ANTHONY NEAL is Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies and the Program in Women’s Studies at Duke University and a Fall 2008 Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Neal is the author of What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005) as well as co-editor (with Murray Forman) of That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader.
Neal’s blog “Critical Noir” appears at VibeMagazine.com [link] and he also maintains his own blog at NewBlackMan [link]. Neal uses these venues to further his scholarship and activism, and is among several black scholars engaged in a critical examination of black culture and the problematics of masculinity, homophobia, and misogyny.