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Brothers Gonna Work It Out

Sexual Politics in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

Charise Cheney

Publication Year: 2005

Brothers Gonna Work It Out considers the political expression of rap artists within the historical tradition of black nationalism. Interweaving songs and personal interviews with hip-hop artists and activists including Chuck D of Public Enemy, KRS-One, Rosa Clemente, manager of dead prez, and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers, Cheney links late twentieth-century hip-hop nationalists with their nineteenth-century spiritual forebears.

Cheney examines Black nationalism as an ideology historically inspired by a crisis of masculinity. Challenging simplistic notions of hip-hop culture as simply sexist or misogynistic, she pays particular attention to Black nationalists’ historicizing of slavery and their visualization of male empowerment through violent resistance. She charts the recent rejection of Christianity in the lyrics of rap nationalist music due to the perception that it is too conciliatory, and the increasing popularity of Black Muslim rap artists.

Cheney situates rap nationalism in the 1980s and 90s within a long tradition of Black nationalist political thought which extends beyond its more obvious influences in the mid-to-late twentieth century like the Nation of Islam or the Black Power Movement, and demonstrates its power as a voice for disenfranchised and disillusioned youth all over the world.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

I am a product of the golden age of rap nationalism. Throughout my college years the artists featured in this book—especially Chuck D, KRS-One, Ice Cube, Paris, X-Clan, and Poor Righteous Teachers— sparked my curiosity for learning more about American history and shaped my burgeoning consciousness about the history of African America. For that, I am eternally grateful.

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1. From the Revolutionary War to the “ Revolutionary Generation”: Some Introductory Thoughts on Rap Music, Black Nationalism, and the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

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pp. 1-26

While in Europe for a recent academic conference, I walked the streets of the Marais district in Paris in search of a restaurant an epicurean friend promised would be both trendy and tasty. However, after thirty minutes of wandering aimlessly, I found myself quickly losing affection for the “City of Love.” I had spent forty-eight hours navigating a foreign terrain alone, and I was...

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2. “ We Men Ain’t We?”: Mas(k)ulinity and the Gendered Politics of Black Nationalism

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pp. 27-62

The 1989 film Glory dramatized the story of the Massachusetts 54th, one of the first all-black Union regiments of the American Civil War. It was a tale of the human spirit, of triumph and heroism—of glory—against enormous odds. Yet despite its billing as a war epic, Glory unwittingly revealed a lot about American political culture and black cultural politics. In particular, terrific...

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3. Brothers Gonna Work It Out: The Popular/Political Culture of Rap Music

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pp. 63-96

In the 1988 Public Enemy release “Party for Your Right to Fight,” rap nationalist and lead lyricist Chuck D ushered in a new moment in hip-hop history when he defiantly stated, Power equality and we’re out to get it I know some of you ain’t with it This party started right in ‘66 With a pro-black radical mix.¹ As a trailblazer of the consciousness movement within rap music, Chuck...

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4. Ladies First? Defining Manhood in the Golden Age of Rap Nationalism

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pp. 97-118

During a 2001 interview at his Brooklyn, New York, home, hip-hop journalist Kevin Powell recounted his experiences as a student activist at Rutgers University in the mid- to late 1980’s. “I think that the thing I got from that period in the 1980’s was definitely heightened consciousness,” he recalled. Black students were mobilizing around the anti-apartheid movement, Jesse Jackson’s...

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5. Representin’ God: Masculinity and the Use of the Bible in Rap Nationalism

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pp. 119-148

On the Digable Planets’ 1994 single “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies),” Sara Webb, a featured vocalist, demystifies white power and dismisses social constructions of white supremacy with one short line: “The Man ain’t shit.” Webb takes her cultural cues from urban, black, working-class communities and denounces the representative of white domination—“The Man”—thus...

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6. Be True to the Game: Final Reflections on the Politics and Practices of the Hip-Hop Nation

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pp. 149-171

In a June 1996 interview with noted Bay Area DJ and community activist Davey D, Boots Riley of the revolutionary nationalist rap group The Coup described the demise of the golden age of rap nationalism. Gangsta rap superseded political rap because it was more in tune with the culture and consciousness of black youth. “Rappers have to be in touch with their communities...


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pp. 173-206

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 207-213


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pp. 215-221

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About the Author

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p. 222

Charise Cheney is Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814790441
E-ISBN-10: 0814790445
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814716120
Print-ISBN-10: 0814716121

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 76813290
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Brothers Gonna Work It Out

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Rap (Music) -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • African American men -- Attitudes.
  • Sex role -- United States.
  • Black nationalism -- United States -- History.
  • Masculinity -- United States.
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