Krumping, a 21st-century incarnation of break dancing, embodies both competitive and spiritual dimensions that manifest in the circle harkening back to the African American ring shout. Krumping is a type of serious play that combines aspects of street fighting, moshing, spirit possession, and even striptease, wherein dancers may confront anger, pain, and sadness.
In krumping competitions, one dancer sits in a chair while the other performs to the seated opponent with boastful moves of intimidation. Though the dancers are not allowed to touch each other, they get as close as they can—close enough to feel their opponent’s breath and sweat, to make their blood burn and boil. As a locus of spirit possession, krumping competitions become contests of physical and emotional revealing.
This according to “The multiringed cosmos of krumping: Hip-hop dance at the intersections of battle, media, and spirit” by Christina Zanfagna, an essay included in Ballroom, boogie, shimmy sham, shake: A social and popular dance reader (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009, pp. 337–53).
Above and below, excerpts from Rize, a documentary from 2005.
In 2007 the innovative young Wu-Tang Clan producer Cilvaringz took an incendiary idea to his mentor RZA. They felt that the impact of digitization threatened the sustainability of the record industry and independent artists, while shifting the perception of music from treasured works of art to disposable consumer products.
Together they conceived a statement that would unleash a torrent of global debate–a sole copy of an album in physical form, encased in gleaming silver and sold through an auction house for millions as a work of contemporary art.
The execution of this plan raised a number of questions: Would selling Once upon a time in Shaolin for millions be the ultimate betrayal of Wu-Tang’s fans? And could anyone ever justify the selling of the album to the infamous Martin Shkreli? Opinions were sharply divided over whether this was high art or hucksterism. Was it a subversive act of protest, an act of cultural vandalism, an obscene symbol of greed, or a profound mirror for our time?
The album’s journey from inception to disruption proved to be an extraordinary adventure that veered between outlandish caper and urgent cultural analysis, a story that twists and turns through mayhem and mischief while asking questions about our relationship with art, music, technology, and ultimately ourselves.
This according to Once upon a time in Shaolin: The untold story of Wu-Tang Clan’s million dollar secret album, the devaluation of music, and America’s new public enemy no. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017).
Above and below, the album in question.
Hip hop teen dance films flourished in the 2000s. Drawing on the dominance of hip hop in the mainstream music industry, films such as Save the last dance, Honey, and Step up combined the teen film genre’s typical social problems and musical narratives, while other tensions were created by interweaving representations of post-industrial city youth with the utopian sensibilities of the classic Hollywood musical.
These narratives celebrated hip hop performance, and depicted dance as a bridge between cultural boundaries, bringing together couples, communities, and cultures, using hip hop to construct filmic spaces and identities while fragmenting hip hop soundscapes, limiting its expressive potential.
These attempts to marry the representational, narrative, and aesthetic meanings of hip hop culture with the form and ideologies of the musical film genre illuminate the tensions and continuities that arise from engagement with musicals’ utopian qualities.
This according to “Space, authenticity and utopia in the hip-hop teen dance film” by Faye Woods, an essay included in Movies, moves and music: The sonic world of dance films (Sheffield: Equinox, 2016, pp 61–77).
Above, a scene from Save the last dance; below, a scene from Honey.
The complexity and range of Meshell Ndegeocello’s hip-hop works extend largely from her willingness to push boundaries—but in pushing sexual and gender boundaries, Ndegeocello declines to traffic in singular dimensions. Danyel Smith has described her as “an African American, woman, lesbian, musician, and mother” who thrives on “pondering the riddles that accompany all her selves.”
In Berry farms Ndegeocello addresses a female lover: “Can you love me without shame?” Giving way to the bass groove, she aggressively concludes: “Yeah, you like to mess around!” She goes on to suggest that her girlfriend prohibits them from sharing honest, enduring love for fear of public scorn because they are lesbians and because she desires the material things her “boy” can give her.
“You know how we like material things,” she observes, reminding us of the dominant perception that most black women effortlessly and willingly sacrifice substantive self-fulfillment for social approval and material gratification. The discursive modes of many of the tracks on Cookie: The anthropological mixtape strike an unambiguously combative chord with this perception by elaborating the tensions of same-sex female desire, fulfillment, and repression.
This according to “‘You sell your soul like you sell a piece of ass’: Rhythms of black female sexuality and subjectvity in Meshell Ndegeocello’s Cookie: The anthropological mixtape” by Nghana Lewis (Black music research journal XXVI/1 [spring 2006] pp. 111–30).
Today is Ndegeocello’s 50th birthday! Below, the song in question.
808s & heartbreak was a jarring departure from Kanye West’s previous work, and, although its initial reception was mixed at best, it has proven to be the most influential album of his career both as a performer and a producer.
Written and recorded in haste on the heels of his mother’s death and a breakup with his fiancée, 808s features chilly synth textures, brittle drum machines, and West’s blatantly auto-tuned singing throughout. With the help of T-Pain, who, ironically, had come to be mocked for his extensive use of auto-tune, the album made the pitch-correction technology relevant again.
Another unexpected source of inspiration was found in Phil Collins—both in terms of his vocal style and the gated reverb drum sound that he invented in the 1980s. Trapping and snuffing out overtones with a signal processor, the noise gate made the programmed beats of the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine sound both vivid and lifeless.
The album’s distinctive sound has since filtered into contemporary hip hop and R&B, and the only thing more influential than its sound is its tone: bitter, confused, self-pitying, defensive, and accusatory. 808s & heartbreak made sullen solitude fashionable, with many a male R&B star now presenting himself as a misunderstood antihero, reenacting the public breakdown that West staged without a net.
This according to “The coldest story ever told: The influence of Kanye West’s 808s & heartbreak” by Jayson Greene (Pitchfork 22 September 2015).
Today is West’s 40th birthday! Above, performing Love lockdown, the album’s lead single; below, the full album.
HipHop Academy Hamburg’s rappers, dancers, and beatboxers use hip hop as a platform of integration, shaping feelings of belonging and perceptions of dual identities.
The Academy’s 2013 production DISTORTION examined migrant descendants’ places in Germany and provoked audiences to contemplate the new faces of the nation. This symbiosis of hip-hop and contemporary dance performed macro- and micro-political integration, illuminating how the boundaries of German national identity are disrupted by the presence of interculturality.
This according to “Ich fühle mich Deutsche: Migrant descendants’ performance of integration through the Hamburg HipHop Academy” by Emily Joy Rothchild, an essay included in Transglobal sounds: Music, youth and migration (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. 155–76).
Above and below, excerpts from DISTORTION.
Humor provides a means of navigating the race and gender politics of hip hop culture in several ways.
The Beastie Boys (above), a trio of white Jewish rappers, have relied heavily on humor to mark their outsider status while mitigating claims of racial inauthenticity.
The triumphant career of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott shows how her humor—especially when aimed at the rapper herself—has functioned as an artistic expression of old-school legitimacy and as a means of empowerment for a businesswoman in the male-dominated music industry.
While the proliferation of hip hop parody relies on racial and gender stereotypes for much of its humor, it also offers outsiders the possibility to negotiate otherwise prohibitive social differences from within hip hop culture.
This according to “Pranksta rap: Humor as difference in hip hop” by Charles Hiroshi Garrett, an essay included in Rethinking difference in music scholarship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 315–337).
Below, Missy Elliott performs Work it, her classic send-up of sexual stereotypes.
Hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture at Indiana University, Black Grooves is a review site that aims to promote black music by providing monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres—gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.
Reviews of selected new discs and DVDs are featured, with occasional attention to books and news items. An extra effort is made to track down releases by indie, underground, foreign, and other labels that are not covered in the mainstream media. While the primary focus is on African American music, related areas such as Afropop and reggae are also covered.
This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here for a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.