Conclusions and Implications
This chapter discusses how previous chapters fill gaps in the literature and how this has implications for academics, readers, and the hip-hop community. Future research needs to be done to understand the current state of hip-hop and its relationship to the broader community. Artists’ and listeners’ grievances are changing, especially as independent hip-hop artists and listeners are becoming more diverse in terms of their gender, sexuality, and racial and ethnic make up, a new generation of artists and listeners is emerging, technological and media changes are shifting the boundaries between independent and major, and the political and economic context is shifting. All of these changes are likely to have important implications for the potential of indie hip-hop to inspire oppositional consciousness among its listeners.
KeywordsCooptation and resistance Diaspora and glocalization Music and technology Old school and new school hip-hop Millennial generation Fil-Am hip-hop
Independent hip-hop has seen a revival in response to the mass corporatization of its culture in the 1990s (Watkins 2005 ). Songs such as “Commencement Day” by Blue Scholars (2005) write: “instead, rock the mixtape and Walkman discrete, with the headphones threaded from the pocket through the sleeve, you received education through the music you heard.” They demonstrate the resurgence of an indie culture that emphasizes messages of resistance to domination and oppression. My book addresses an age-old question: to what extent and how independent hip-hop challenges or reproduces mainstream hip-hop culture and US culture more generally. In particular, I explore and analyze the historical trajectory of indie hip-hop in the post-golden era and how it has affected the culture today. I contend that indie hip-hop remains a complex contemporary subculture. While it consistently expresses grievances related to both race and class inequality, its gender and sexual politics are contradictory (Oware 2014 ). Nonetheless, independent hip-hop expresses the oppositional consciousness of its artists and listeners as well as the limits of that consciousness (Harkness 2012 ; Kubrin 2005 ; Lena and Peterson 2008; Martinez 1997 ; Myer and Kleck 2007 ; Stapleton 1998).
My research combines theoretical insights from neo-Marxist, critical race, intersectional feminist, and queer theories as well as Mansbridge and Morris’ (2001) concept of oppositional consciousness to critically analyze the politics of hip-hop culture. The previous chapters utilize a mixed method approach to answer these research questions using qualitative data. Chapters 2 and 3 use acontent analysis of twenty-five independent hip-hop albums from 2000 to 2013 to determine the salient themes in artists’ lyrics. Chapter 4 gathers data from forty-six interviews of independent hip-hop community members who are self-defined listeners or fans that are active in the community to unpack the meanings they associate with hip-hop culture, how technology and media have created changes for the artists and listeners, and how it shapes their engagement in oppositional consciousness.
Overall, my findings highlight the vexed and contradictory nature of the politics of independent hip-hop. Chapter 2 finds that independent hip-hop in the post-golden era indeed challenges US mainstream hip-hop culture and US culture more generally. First, these acts resist the majors in three ways: (1) mainstream artists, (2) large radio stations, and (3) major record labels. Second, they reject the corporatization and commodification by major record companies and mainstream culture in favor of independently owned companies. Third, they advocate for a culture based on alternative cultural ideals, and thus socially construct and advocate for a brand of authenticity rooted in hip-hop’s origins.
In addition to cultural differences, Chapter 3 focuses on how independent hip-hop of the genre resists economic exploitation from mainstream culture and large corporations in various ways. For example, indie musicians claim that major labels profit at the expense of performers. Their exploitation is predominantly reflected in the contracts acts sign with major labels. This has repercussions for artists in numerous facets of the music industry: (1) advances/forwards, (2) control of copyrights, (3) artistic direction and relations with A&R, (4) touring, merchandising, and advertising deals, and (5) radio stations, media, and press. Finally, some hip-hop artists argue that creating and maintaining independent record labels helps mitigate economic exploitation, controls record label oversight, and better serves the hip-hop community.
Chapter 4 unpacks how listeners interpret and navigate the changing landscape and blurring lines of major and independent hip-hop culture in the post-golden era. It also analyzes their interpretations of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and the fomentation of oppositional consciousness. Interviewees indicate that the traditional definitions of major and independent remain intact as record label affiliation remains salient to listeners. Interviews suggest that authenticity is socially constructed and reinforced through listener’s interpretations of artist messages regarding race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Many respondents, particularly women and queer listeners, claim that heterosexual working-class men of color dominate indie hip-hop, and thus issues of gender and sexuality remain at the margins. Yet, their representation has increased and led to challenges in the traditional conceptions of authenticity within hip-hop. Also, results show that there is a blurred line between the majors and independents as performers attempt to retain economic and creative freedom while still attempting to become financially successful. In essence, the culture is not viewed as binary oppositions but rather as fluid and constantly changing in the ways that they are complexly intertwined. Lastly, many respondents discuss waves of commodification and resistance in the “indie” movement. They state that a period of resistance followed the mass commodification of hip-hop in the early 2000s. Currently, major advances in technology have allowed artists to become commercially successful without the aid of large corporations. But interviews reveal that they still remain intensely intertwined with large businesses in various ways such as affiliating with major companies to utilize their marketing and distribution channels. Ultimately, the findings reported show that hip-hop is indeed highly intertwined with broader technological shifts and resistance.
This Chapter first recapitulated the key findings of my work. Currently, my research fills two large gaps in the literature. Most work tends to focus on mainstream hip-hop (Kelley 1994; Perry 2004; Rose 1994), disparate underground groups (Ball 2009; Harrison 2006 ; Wang 2014), or global hip-hop (Androutsopoulos and Scholz 2003; Bennett 1999; Mitchell 2003), leaving a large portion of the culture in the USA understudied. Also, a majority of hip-hop (Kelley 1994; Perry 2004; Rose 1994) focuses on the “old school” generation, leaving a plethora of research on younger artists and listeners understudied. Thus, my research: (1) aimed to better understand the politics of independent hip-hop through the lens of artists and listeners in America today, (2) added to the current scholarship by giving a voice to the new generation in the hip-hop community concerned with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and oppositional consciousness, and (3) understood the historical trajectory of independent hip-hop in the post-golden era and how that affects the complex and changing nature of the culture.
Future research needs to be done to understand the current state of hip-hop and its relationship to the broader community in order to anticipate future directions in society. Artists’ grievances are changing, especially as indie hip-hop acts and listeners are becoming more diverse in terms of their gender, sexuality, and racial and ethnic make up, a new generation of artists and listeners is emerging, advances in technology and media are occurring, and the political and economic context is shifting. All of these changes are likely to have important implications for the potential of independent hip-hop to inspire oppositional consciousness among its listeners.
My work has various implications for academics, readers, and the hip-hop community. My research provides valuable insight to the academic community and readers in three ways: (1) the emphasis on the dialectical process of cooptation and resistance, (2) a reminder of hip-hop’s vitality and contribution to broader society, and (3) its potential to subvert domination and oppression by fomenting oppositional consciousness and the potential for resistance. It also contributes to the hip-hop community by explicating how it has changed and evolved since its inception. This is particularly useful for the Millennial and Generation Z population in understanding hip-hop’s history when facing continued problems of racism, classism, and sexism, yet possessing new means of technology such as the Internet and social media to create a discourse about these salient issues.
My work highlights the importance of the continued need to study independent hip-hop, which has many complex pockets of cooptation and resistance (Rose 1994; Terkourafi 2010; Vito 2015a; Watkins 2005 ). A nuanced understanding of the struggles between cooptation and resistance will allow scholars to understand hip-hop as a site of contestation within the social landscape in America; particularly the contradictions among artists and listeners regarding issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. In this current generation, much of the culture is still marred with patriarchy and heteronormativity (Harkness 2012 ; Kubrin 2005 ; Lena and Peterson 2008; Martinez 1997 ; Myer and Kleck 2007 ; Stapleton 1998). Socially conscious rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have ascended into the spotlight. While being touted as intellectual leaders of their generation, they still struggle to not fall into the hands of capitalism, engage in misogyny, and uphold heteronormative standards. Similarly, artists such as Frank Ocean and Young Ma helped push issues of gender and sexuality into the forefront of American culture and challenge many traditionally held notions of heteronormativity in hip-hop. Yet they must still deal with the problems of assimilation into Western European capitalist ideology, espousing heteronormative ideology, and the commodification of queer culture.
My research also supports the expanding body of literature that analyzes the diaspora of hip-hop around the world. For example, indie Iraqi act Lowkey utilizes glocalization to address issues of race and class in his local community (Vito 2015b). Lowkey has since returned from a hiatus in 2011 to continue rapping about the current sociopolitical landscape in the UK. My analysis emphasizes the complex dialectical struggle between cooptation and resistance as communities use hip-hop to address pertinent local and global social issues (Delamont and Stephens 2008; Dennis 2006; Hesmondhalgh and Melville 2002; Lin 2006 ; Maxwell 1994; Mitchell 2000; Omoniyi 2006 ). I believe that scholars need to continue to look both within the USA and globally to understand how different subcultures respond to periods of cooptation and resistance. This means that these dialectical forces must be analyzed with a strong understanding of the long history of struggle for power within the hip-hop community (Vito 2015a).
Further, scholars such as Tricia Rose (2008) have previously questioned hip-hop’s vitality as it moved past the golden era. While much of the mainstream has been co-opted by major record labels and corporate culture, I argue that independent hip-hop has remained relevant and significantly impacts society today as artists and listeners continue to challenge the status quo and engage in critical thought. California rapper Hopsin has amassed an established fan-base in the independent hip-hop community for his critical opinions of American society. After obtaining popular success in 2012, he has continued his “Ill-Mind” song franchise and started his own label: Undercover Prodigy. In 2017, he signed with 300 Entertainment. New York’s Marlon Craft has gained popularity on the East Coast underground scene as an unsigned act addressing many social issues Millennials and Generation Zs face today. Similar to his predecessors like Eminem and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Marlon Craft addresses issues of being white in a predominantly African-American and Latino scene. I believe that the new generation of acts will continue to challenge mainstream culture in various ways despite shifting conceptions of indie culture and music. Scholars must remain attuned to three trends in the industry such as the new methods of music distribution such as online mixtapes and streaming media sites, the innovative ways of garnering buzz in the digital age, and alternative deals with corporations that keep big business at arms length from their musical content, persona, and daily operations.
While I believe that artists are finding new means of music production, distribution, and advertising that may minimize the need for record label involvement and subsequently subvert the power structure that favors large corporations, they must be aware that companies constantly attempt to forge new ways of expanding their market and regain control of these revolutionized means of production (Maher 2005 ; Rose 2008; Morgan and Bennett 2011). The previous generation of scholars explicated the lasting impact that CDs and P2P sharing had on the industry, but this generation is still seeing the profound effects that the Internet, social media, and even virtual reality will have for the future. I argue that scholars need to continue to study these dialectical forces to better understand the broad historical patterns that shape the current industry.
Additionally, writers continue to analyze the impact that hip-hop has globally (Saunders 2016; Taviano 2016). Current research has demonstrated that hip-hop scholarship is still relevant even as it continues to be commercialized and connects with other genres of music, television, movies, and social media. Yet the key question remains: How will the next generation interact with other forms of media, the community, and social issues?
Implications for the Hip-Hop Community
As a fan and avid listener, I believe that in order to grow hip-hop must continue its affiliation with racial and ethnic minority groups in the USA and globally, bridge the gap between the “old school” and “new school,” and stand united in opposition to all forms of oppression and domination. Hip-hop needs to increase its affiliation with minority groups in the USA and globally. For example, Fil-Ams (Filipino-Americans) continue to be marginalized in the community. Hip-hop must be inclusive of other minority groups rather than asserting that only “African-American hip-hop” is authentic and genuine. This requires an understanding of the multiple axes of oppression, which includes race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, to spark critical thought and encourage oppositional consciousness. California rapper Ruby Ibarra addresses these multiple axes when rapping about her experiences as a female immigrant coming from the Philippines to the USA.
I also believe that the previous generation must work with the Millennial and Generation Z population to build strong bridges between the “old school” and “new school.” Some old school enthusiasts argue that the new generation has become popular music and merely reproduces dominant ideologies. I remind critics that the previous generation responded to a similar changing landscape in their era—namely—the rise of recorded music and the widespread availability of television and computers in disseminating hip-hop culture. Concordantly, the new generation has faced similar shifts in technological advancement, globalization, and unstable sociopolitical climates. While the new school has adapted to these changes, they still need to learn from the past in order to positively shape the present and future. These generations may clash in terms of their views on the true “authentic” version of hip-hop culture, but they must maintain a common ground—namely engaging in critical thinking and the opposition to oppression—to instigate social change.
Ultimately, the hip-hop community needs to stand united in its opposition to social oppression and domination. Its value lies in the ability to challenge multiple relations of domination and to support the causes of multiple types of left-leaning social movements. For example, hip-hop has played a major role in expressing the ideas, broadening the reach, and publicizing the events of various social movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and #MeToo, and A Day without Immigrants Movement. Yet I predict the industry is headed toward another period of commodification. With the releases of artists under the independent brand but still possess strong ties to major corporations, I contend that we will see major record labels and corporations taking back much of social media, the means of production, and technology. With this, I think that hip-hop will need to again revolutionize the means of production and come up with innovative ways to resist cooptation and corporatization if they are to continue challenging status quo.
I also intend to study a local barbershop in San Diego and their connection to the hip-hop community. Knowledge, culture, and language are disseminated at these local shops and thus act as an important source of potential resistance to mainstream America. In addition, they act as a transcultural space wherein individuals of various racial and ethnic backgrounds interact with one another in an intimate setting. In San Diego, many shops have to adapt to their local demographics, which can include forming ethnically homogenous enclaves or creating sites of multicultural production. I am particularly interested in how Fil-Ams (Filipino-Americans), particularly second and third generation Fil-Ams, negotiate their identity by incorporating hip-hop and barber shop culture into their everyday experiences. I ultimately believe that analyzing the independent hip-hop community in San Diego will allow for a rich understanding of the culture’s relationship to local and global social processes (Fig. 5.2).
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