Hip Hop plays with structure

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

Amherst, MA

Boundaries or Identities?

Lately I’ve been wondering which comes first, or if this is a classic chicken-and-egg dynamic. Talking about whiteness raises interesting identity questions about belonging – to whom, when and where, how much. The privilege of being known on the basis of mind rather than body is one of the core features of whiteness: white people (like me) might notice attractive white people but would consider the physical as an extension of the mental. In contrast, white people (like me) might notice attractive brown people and stop there, as if the physical is the entire package.

You can see how this works by watching the strategic representation co-constructed by Director Hype Williams and Rihanna, as she is featured in the Kanye West video “All of the Lights” with Kid Cudi and a host of others: Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Tony Williams, Alicia Keys, La Roux, The Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis. The reflection of whiteness back at itself is heavily dosed with gender, too.

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

My Hip Hop Education

I learn through interaction, talking about ideas and observing responses until I locate a stance that reflects the kind of ethos I want to project into the social world. Teaching allows me to test and assess some of the effects of acting consistently within that ethos, especially where it rubs against conformity. This semester, at least a third of the students in a Communication course on Media and Culture are proactively engaged in cultivating their own ethical stance in today’s fast-forward society. Together, we are all working to develop collective intelligence.

My hip hop education merged with my teaching in a surprising way. The cultural anthropologist and digital ethnographer Micheal Wesch – described as the “Head Honcho” by one of my students – commented on three videos submitted as midterm projects by students in my class to his call for “Visions of Students Today.” In one of his comments, it is obvious that he misunderstood something about hip hop, which I – roughly six hours ahead of Professor Wesch on the learning curve, haha! – was able to recognize.

Given a penchant for using my own mistakes to extend the learning process for myself and possibly others, I engaged:

Michael Wesch, thank you for joining our conversation! I am going to drag you into this lesson, too. An interesting coincidence of timing occurred with your comment to Jamar’s video “My Life, My Eyes, My World” and me learning about Hip Hop. I juxtapose our mistakes (!) to see if there is anything to be learned from them.

I shared all the gory detail with my students because it allowed me to provide them with an immediate and non-academic example of the communication phenomena of juxtaposition and articulation.

Juxtaposition and Articulation

In the All of the Lights video, Rihanna’s adult female body – the physical manifestation of her person – is juxtaposed with rousing lyrics and an exciting musical beat in a saccade. The combined visual and auditory stimuli articulates the dark female body as an object of desire. Because the body is foregrounded, considerations of mind fade from consciousness.

4 thoughts on “Hip Hop plays with structure”

  1. To understand the song “Pretty Lights” one must have to understand where Rihanna and Kanye West are coming from. But that is impossible to do because no one watching this music video and listening to the song can actually understand the day to day struggles and happiness that these two partake in. From a third party perspective on the matter all I know about Rihanna was abused in her past relationship with Chris Brown and sense then all of her songs seem to have to do with pain and abuse. Kanye on the other the hand I know had a drug problem, and left the spot light for a little while after the incident with Taylor Swift.

    Steph makes a great point when asking a question about what do people belong too mind or body? Can we chose what we belong too? My question to this from my point of view is yes. And from my freshman year at college I have observed this too. Girls can make themselves how they want to look. If you want to get a lot of attention while going out by the guys then all one has to do is: wear extremely tight clothing with there breasts hanging out, dye your hair platinum blond, go tanning everyday and be drunk. It’s simple. But if you want someone to take you seriously then you should dress more conservative, and be a little classier while out and about on nights. The way you act is how people view you. Rihanna on the other hand is more like those girls that wear extremely tight clothing. We like Rihanna because she is a sex simple and of course she is good looking, but I do not know Rihanna personally. For all I know she could be as dumb as bricks. And this could certainly be the case seeing that one of her most famous lyrics happen to be “sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.” The public doesn’t care that those lyrics were extremely slutty everyone just thinks this is normal and they like it. We also do not know Kanye West personally or mentally. All we know about him is that he’s asshole ( sorry Kanye fans but its true). And people like him for being suck an asshole, I’m not going to lie it is entertaining and I have gotten a view laughs from his stupid behavior. But that’s all I get from him.
    “ All of the Lights” looks at things from a different perspective. We finally get to see things from there mental point of view with their lyrics.
    “Turn up the lights in here, baby
    Extra bright, I want y’all to see this
    Turn up the lights in here, baby
    You know what I need, want you to see everything
    Want you to see all of the lights”

    I feel this song is about the consequences of being in the lights and how people really don’t know what really is going on with celebrities these days they just make assumptions by the way they act or portray themselves. No one really knows anyone unless they know them on a personal level.

    Fast cars, shooting stars
    Until it’s Vegas everywhere we are
    If you want it you can get it for the rest of your life
    If you want it you can get it for the rest of your life”

    Shes making a point….she could have fame for the rest of her life. But would she really want to do that?

    (All of the lights)
    Cop lights
    Flashlights, spotlights
    Strobe lights, street lights
    All of the lights, all of the lights

    I slap my girl, she call the Feds
    I did that time, and spent that bread
    I’m headed home, I’m almost there
    I’m on my way, headed up the stairs
    To my surprise, a nigga replacin’ me
    I had to take him to that Ghetto University

    Kanye is talking about things the public doesn’t get to see what he sees. We should look at all the lights just not the ones that we are presented. Kanye also doesn’t have a daughter but I think his daughter is symbolic for his career. In his career he is presented with all the different kind of lights: cop lights ( criminal), flash lights ( paparazzi), strobe light ( party lights), street lights ( drug life)
    Kanye says in his line “slap my girl”. When he “slapped his girl” I can see that having to do with what he did to Taylor Swift and how everyone reacted negatively towards him afterwards. He “did his time”. He’s back to the music the things that are important.

    So what comes first? The classic chicken or the egg? Or should we rephrase the question. What comes first with your opinion on someone: mind or body? Is being attracted to someone the reason that we get to know people? Or is it the way you think?

  2. I have been a fan of hip hop/rap for years now. I really got into it listening to classic artists in high school. These include NWA, KRS-One, Skee-Lo, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, amongst many. many others. I guess I really got into rap because I loved the fast paced, percussion centered instrumentation (I play the drums,) and the raw emotion and energy that goes into the lyricism. As a scholar, and someone who is pretty curious about the world around him, I have always read between the lines in anything I see, questioned authority whenever possible, and been decently cynical about things that are offered and presented to me, especially ones that are offered and presented to the masses. And this is where music comes in. I don’t only listen to rap. I pretty much listen to everything. I draw connections between music, its reception within the public, and what that says about the times, and about issues within the collective conscious that come to make us who we are and who we become.
    i have read throughout the history of hip hop music, that the public respects and supports a culture of patriarchy and of the male supremacy. Now as a man, I understand that this seemingly elevates man in society, yet if you investigate further, you can infer that it makes men all seem brutish, disrespectful, and rude. Glorification of weapons throughout most mainstream rap, glorification of patriarchy throughout most mainstream rap, and glorification of violence throughout most mainstream rap is creating a born into image of the man, specifically the black man, as a dumb, violent brute with no trace of nobility and intelligence, but only recognized for his rejection of social constraints and adoption of the “bad boy ” image. Even songs sung by women glorify the submissiveness of the female to the male, putting an unfair burden on both races to conform, or be ostracized as weird or out of the ordinary.
    To directly address Steph’s points, I believe that the culture does create its future self, yet it is an interdependent process and connection existing between the old and the new. We are born into a world which we react to, and in turn we bring others into that world of our creation. We are not a generation independent from our ancestors, we are all the same, in a different context, and with different knowledge of the previous. We can change things we don’t like about this world, but only if we recognize that we are always being affected by the things around us. Hip Hop is just one aspect of art that expresses the innermost notions of humanity that we strive to show those around us.
    I disagree with Steph’s notion of intellectuality as seen absent from the dark form. I think that throughout history, darker cultures have been in a position where they were put to use, or exploited for their simpler culture and therefore “less likeliness to object”, so to speak. (cont.)

  3. Yet I am not an anthropologist, and can’t tell you where intelligent culture first developed, and to what color it infiltrated, yet I can definitely argue that intellectuality is not an inherently white trait, nor do I believe its seen that way, even in hip hop culture or music as a whole. I believe that mainstream hip hop has moved past any such notion, and I believe that there is a glorification of the white female body even more in hip hop than ever before. There has been a recent uprising of black intellectual rap and hip hop, with artists such as Common, John Legend, and smaller artists such as Los becoming huge hits.
    Its how society reacts to what it is given that makes society what it is. The mainstream and the grassroots work together, they are not separate entities.

  4. When I first heard the song All of the lights I had many mixed feelings about it. It is a great song, and is becoming popular very fast, but I believe it is more because of the lyrics rather than the music itself. Kanye and Rihanna use different types of lights to symbolize moments in their lives that were extremely significant, or even life changing. “Cop lights, flashlights, spotlights, strobe lights, street lights, all of the lights, all of the lights”. Each one of these references to lights can relate to something that goes that often occurs during most hip hop artist’s lives. Both Kanye and Rihanna do a great job of describing to the audience different aspects of their everyday lives. They want the world to realize that “All of the lights” might bring fame and fortune, but is followed by tons of potential lawsuits, family issues, and stress. Kanye, as well as many other artists, have been trying for years to portray their struggles to the world, and make it evident that just because someone is successful in the music industry, television industry, etc., doesn’t mean that they live the perfect life. While reading deeper into the lyrics of my favorite hip hop artists, I gained more respect for all of them, and realize that their lives might not be as east as everyone might think.

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