- Hip-Hop in Africa: Prophets of the City and Dustyfoot Philosophers by Msia Kibona Clark
Msia Kibona Clark's Hip-Hop in Africa: Prophets of the City and Dustyfoot Philosophers contends that, as a practice of cultural representation, African hip-hop constructs social reality for emcees and their young audiences (2). African hip-hop courses through this book as a contemporary expression of a long history of circum-Atlantic musical exchanges between the United States and postcolonial Africa. Clark's text bristles with ambition, engaging songs and emcees from an expansive array of places and communities, from Atlanta and New York to Dakar, Accra, and Dar es-Salaam. This range lends Hip-Hop in Africa a traveling and encyclopedic quality that occasionally concedes deepness. Ultimately, however, the book makes for a crucial resource for hip-hop fans, as well as for scholars of Black/African popular culture. The text is jargon free—a stylistic choice that coheres with Clark's explicit commitment to accurate and accessible research (207). Hip-Hop in Africa renders the stakes of key African cultural studies debates digestible—for example, Afropolitanism (174–81) and cultural (mis)appropriation (199–205). Readers familiar with these debates will find Clark's treatment refreshing.
Clark's treatment of hip-hop's stylistic diversity exemplifies the rigor of her thinking. Ghanaian emcees embrace oblique political commentary, enveloping critiques in proverbs, in vivid contrast with explicit criticism of Senegalese hip-hop (43). The interanimation of hip-hop aesthetics and socio-political context undergirds Clark's analysis of the extensive use of Kiswahili in Tanzanian hip-hop, versus the massive censorship of Ghanaian popular music in the wake of the Rawlings era. Border conflict (with Mauritania), economic crises, and emigration have shaped the textures of Senegalese hip-hop culture, which, because of Islam, is distinguished by the striking absence of references to sex, drugs, and alcohol (42–44). The nuances that Clark captures of place, culture, and politics make for an engaging read.
Hip-Hop in Africa opens with a foreword by Quentin Williams, followed by an introductory chapter 1, which lays out the book's conceptual thrusts: cultural representation, Pan-Africanism, and hybridity. Chapter 2 maps the historical trajectory of African hip-hop as an artistic response to neoliberalism from the 1980s onward, underscoring successful political movements directly attributable to hip-hop activism in countries like Senegal, Egypt, and [End Page 191] Tunisia. The evolution of hip-hop from a platform for social dissonance to an extramusical system of representation (35) is embodied in a discussion of hip-hop's five elements, which the author notes are unevenly spread across Africa (53–54). Breakdancing and DJing persists in South Africa, for instance, in contrast with their decline across the continent. The South African example raises questions, for me, about the processes by which hip-hop elements become absorbed, transformed, or discarded in different contexts. How do these elements accumulate or empty in significance as they travel across hip-hop communities? Clark pursues this kind of analysis sparingly, as in her discussion of graffiti's seamless assimilation into Senegalese urban culture. Clark shows that graffiti came to Senegal on the heels of an established public art movement known as set setal, "beautifying the city" (58). Teasing out the interanimation of hip-hop elements with existing cultural forms and practices holds promise for African hip-hop studies. Chapter 3 applies Frantz Fanon's discussion of national culture to unpacking the three stages of evolution of hip-hop emcees, as well as their roles in shaping public discourse. In the first stage, assimilation, emcees imitate the style of American counterparts. In the second, they indigenize their works to address social and political concerns within their communities. Emcees seldom enter the final stage, combat, in which they align themselves with broader activist groups and aspirations, reaching the highest potential for political mobilization. Fanon offers a productive frame for interpreting the trajectories of hip-hop's politically conscious emcees, but perhaps less so for...