- The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop: Power Moves
From the late 1980s breakdance craze, to the corny appeal of MC Hammer, the militant postures of Public Enemy, and the g-funk of Snoop Dogg, hip-hop culture has always resonated with youth across the globe. Whether through multinational entertainment networks, underground record labels, or the passing of mix-tapes, young people of varied backgrounds have come to participate in this culture, which originated among poor blacks and Latinos in the South Bronx. What are the reasons for the global spread of hip-hop? What accounts for the enduring appeal of the culture to such diverse youth populations? Is global hip-hop purely imitation, or has it developed roots in global contexts?
Halifu Osumare attempts to answer some of these questions in her volume, The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip-Hop: Power Moves. Through theoretical reflections, secondary case material, and an ethnographic study of a local hip-hop scene in Hawaii, Osumare concludes that it is through both the global commodification of hip-hop culture and connectivities based on culture, class, historical oppression, and youth rebellion that hip-hop culture became global. She argues that hip-hop's considerable appeal is based on an Africanist aesthetic that includes complex rhythmic timing, rhetorical strategies, and multiple layers of meaning. Hip-hop is the contemporary manifestation of an African-based expressivity of dance and music that empowers local youth and subverts dominant orders. At the same time, Osumare recognizes the constructed nature of the Hip-Hop Globe, as concepts such as "marginality" and "alterity" are themselves commodified and marketed by a multinational pop culture industry. [End Page 97]
Osumare's intervention provides a corrective to the early literature on global hip-hop, which tended to downplay the importance of race and interpretations of blackness in non U.S. contexts. Collections like Global Noise(Mitchell 2001), which focused mostly on nonblack appropriations of hip-hop, sought to distance itself from the racial dimensions of the spread of hip-hop culture. Since then, accounts of hip-hop in South Africa, Senegal, Cuba, Brazil, and other parts of Africa and the African diaspora have shown the centrality of racial identifications in local appropriations of hip hop culture. From its inception, hip-hop culture has always been hybrid and diasporic—several people have documented the participation of Puerto Ricans and Afro Caribbeans. But that hybridity is still largely informed by the black American experience and dialogue among Afro-descendant communities across the Americas.
The book's main arguments are that the global hip-hop underground must be considered alongside the global music industry, that African aesthetics have been a crucial framing tool for exploring diverse forms of marginality, and that local hip-hop scenes draw on distinct historical experiences and cultural tropes in their adaptations of the form. These are topics that have been explored in the literature on global music, beginning with George Lipsitz's classic Dangerous Crossroads(Lipsitz 1997) and extending into the numerous books and articles that have been written on global hip-hop over the last five or so years focusing on South Africa, Brazil, Cuba, Japan, Ghana, Tanzania, Australia, and Samoa among others. For the most part, Osumare does not engage with or mention this literature. There are also a spate of documentaries on global hip-hop scenes that have come out during this time, including six documentaries by Americans on Cuban hip-hop alone. It can hardly be claimed, as Osumare does, that the scholarship on global hip-hop is "in its infancy," given the publications of several monographs dedicated to hip-hop scenes around the world since 2003.
The choice of field sites is especially puzzling. In chapter 2 the author gives brief accounts of hip-hop in Russia, England, France, and Japan based on secondary sources. If Osumare wishes to make an argument about the Africanist aesthetic in global hip-hop, it is unclear why she would choose to focus on early 1990s hip-hop in Russia and MC...