Freaks of the industry : peculiarities of place and race in Bay Area hip-hop
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Through ethnography, I examine how hip-hop’s expressive forms are being used as the raw materials of everyday life by residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, home to what many regard as one of the most stylistically prolific, politically charged, and racially diverse hip-hop “scenes” in the world. This focus on regional specificity provides a greater understanding of the impact hip-hop is having on the ground, as an aspect of localized lived practice. Throughout, I make the case for the importance of ethnographically grounded localized research on U.S. hip-hop, which is surprisingly still relatively rare. Most scholars simply stress its continuity within a set of deterritorialized Diasporic African and African-American verbal-art traditions. My aim is not to contest this assertion, but to add to the body of knowledge about one of the most significant cultural inventions of the twentieth century by exploring hip-hop’s racial heterogeneity and its regional specificity. Acknowledging this kind of diversity allows us to reconceive what hip-hop is and how it matters in U.S. society beyond the ways it is usually framed: as either an oppositional form of black-vernacular culture or a co-opted and corrupted commodity form that reinscribes hegemonic values more than it actually contests them. Examining hip-hop within a specific, regionally delineated community reveals how hip-hop’s role in American life is more nuanced and complex. It is neither a pure vernacular expression of an oppressed class nor merely a cultural commodity imposed upon consumers and alienated from producers. In the Bay Area, hip-hop “heads” simultaneously consume mass-produced rap while producing homespun forms of music, dance, slang, fashion, and folklore. Through these forms, they construct individual and group identities that register primarily in expressive, affective terms. These novel cultural identities complicate rigid social markers of race, gender, and class; more specifically, they challenge the widely held perception that hip-hop is solely the terrain of inner-city young African-American men. More fundamentally, a sense of belonging is engendered through localized modes of expression and embodied style that manifest through shared practices, discourses, texts, symbols, locales, and imaginaries.