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  • Sampling and Remixing Blackness in Hip-Hop Theatre and Performance by Nicole Hodges Persley
  • D. A-R. Forbes-Erickson
Sampling and Remixing Blackness in Hip-Hop Theatre and Performance. By Nicole Hodges Persley. University of Michigan Press, 2021. Paper: $34.95. 310 pages. 15 illustrations.

In Sampling and Remixing Blackness in Hip-Hop Theatre and Performance, Nicole Hodges Persley analyzes nuances in Black cultural appropriations by selected "non-African American" theatre and performance artists. By "non-African Americans," Hodges Persley refers to anyone outside of African American culture, including white, Jewish, Latinx, Asian, and Black immigrants. She refers to the hip-hop music parlance of "sampling" and "remixing," which means to borrow and rearrange sounds and rhythms to create music. She uses "sampling" and "remixing" as metaphors for borrowing racial characteristics of the "Other," or for the borrowing of Black cultural expressions by non-African American theatre and performance artists. Although she does not fully acknowledge the emergence of hip-hop among Caribbean immigrants in the Bronx in the 1970s, she does acknowledge hip-hop's broad African Diasporic roots. Her overarching question is whether non-African American hip-hop artists can truly understand the relationship between white oppression and hip-hop. In an introduction and five chapters, plus a conclusion, Hodges Persley argues for a distinctive African American hip-hop culture. The structure of the book follows the hip-hip performance aesthetic of banter, which is the competitive rapping between two or more artists, though in chapter 5, she delivers a complex analysis of cultural appropriations in Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton.

In chapter 1, Hodges Persley explores the ways in which white masculinity and privilege unsettle white Jewishness and vice versa in Danny Hoch's solo play Jails, Hospitals, & Hip-Hop (1996), and in Matt Sax's solo performance, Clay (2015). In chapter 2, she critiques Korean American conceptual artist Nikki S. Lee's The Hip-Hop Project (2002), and Caribbean and European spoken word artist Sarah Jones's Bridge & Tunnel (2004) as appropriating hip-hop's Blackness without acknowledging its history in the United States. Most cringeworthy is Lee's performance of so-called American subcultures, such as African American hip-hop, Latinx culture, and punk, as "projects." Lee is photographed with each group or "project," wearing their fashion, hair, and makeup styles, and even engaging in blackface, darkening her skin to appear Black or Brown. Hodges Persley chides [End Page 95] Lee's "sampling" of hip-hop's Blackness (including blackface in costumes) as glib and somewhat disconnected from anti-Black racism and its history. When it comes to Black British dancer/choreographer Jonzi D's hip-hop dance theatre piece, TAG … Me vs. The City (2006) in chapter 3, Hodges Persley criticizes the artist's reduction of hip-hop to glamorizing "ghetto" and "gangsta" life. In chapter 4, she catalogs several cultural appropriations and Black erasures in Miranda's musical In the Heights (2005), and in Venice, a 2010 musical by white Jewish American actors and playwrights Matt Sax and Eric Rosen.

In chapter 5, Hodges Persley dissects Miranda's use of hip-hop in Hamilton by exploring the concept of ghosting, which means to absent or erase Blackness. She presents a tripart of ghosting in Hamilton as (1) a residuum of sampling, the act of borrowing from one racial identity to amplify another without acknowledging its origins; (2) being spiritually present after dying, which Hodges Persley explains as a selective absence and presence; and (3) using the Black vernacular of "a state of being gone, done, not be[ing] legible," which Hodges Persley decodes as Blackness "being gone" or erased altogether from the text and musical. For example, she illustrates how an erasure of Blackness occurs in Hamilton when Miranda takes one part of Alexander Hamilton's biography—his Caribbean birth—and codes it as being Black or Brown when, in fact, Hamilton was a white man. Hodges Persley argues that Miranda's selective inference in Hamilton's racial identity is then used to co-opt Black and Brown people into US history without recognizing the vast differences among race, power, and privilege then and now.

Sampling and Remixing Blackness in...