Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Lewis Gordon, Hip hop, and black intellectual tradition

In addition to the aesthetic challenges posed by hip hop, which ranged from emphases on technology and, at times, even antimusicianship, and an antiestablishment fashion sensibility that even valorizes gangsterism, hip hop counts as a black intellectual tradition with genealogical links to the Black Aesthetics movement of the 1960s. --Lewis Gordon from "Black Intellectual Tradition"

A couple of my students who read Lewis Gordon's essay "Black Intellectual Tradition" have already mentioned his discussion of hip hop as a black intellectual tradition. When my full class covers the essay, we'll have even more discussion about that idea as well.

Many of my younger students have been having conversations about hip hop for years. They have favorite rappers and songs. They know new and old dances. They are well versed in rap styles, beefs, terminology, different aesthetics of the music based on region, and all those micro-histories of the music.

Still, they are newer to the idea of "black intellectual traditions." And who could blame them? Where, in their educational experiences so far, would they hear about such a phrase or concept, in a formal sense, given the nature of their public school systems? Even the curriculum at SIUE creates few chances to cover works by Anna Julia Cooper, C. L. R. James, Frantz Fanon, Paul Robeson, and Angela Davis. (Ok, folks might hear about Davis during February every now and then).

Whatever the case, Gordon's essay serves as a prompt for us to start thinking about hip hop as its own intellectual tradition as well as a tradition within a tradition, that is, a larger black intellectual tradition. There's no small coincidence that Malcolm X was a Muslim and highlighted black consciousness then later so many leading Golden Age of hip hop rappers also embraced Islam and being conscious. More notably, hip hop's "genealogical links" to the Black Aesthetic and Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and various other cultural movements and trends speak to art form's intellectual roots and routes.

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