Bigger than hip-hop : music and politics in the hip-hop generation



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In 1988, rap group Public Enemy's front man Chuck D declared that hip-hop was the "black CNN." His assertion was that hip-hop music could be used as a tool to disseminate information amongst communities that traditionally have been underserved by mainstream media outlets. In the years since, several explicitly political and activist groups have formed within hip-hop communities. Most hip-hop audience members are not, however, directly involved in such groups. My dissertation investigates the links between hip-hop music and culture and politics in the lives of audience members, exploring audience member's definitions of politics and community and examining the influence of hip-hop on these definitions. This is an ethnographic project that includes participant observation as well as in-depth interviews with self-identified hip-hop fans. Participant observation took place at two National Hip-Hop Political Convention conferences, in Austin at concerts, panel discussions, and other hip-hop oriented events, and online in an email listserv devoted to hip-hop and politics. Interviews address listening and other practices that serve to connect individual members to hip-hop communities. In addition, I asked participants to explore their definitions of "politics" and to comment on connections between music and politics from their individual perspectives. Finally, participants were asked to list issues of particular concern to them. This is an interdisciplinary project that combines aspects of sociology, cultural studies, and popular music studies. I also rely upon Patricia Hill Collins' concept of intersectionality, assuming that race, class, and gender each work together to contribute to audience members' experience with hip-hop music and culture and their sense of belonging to the hip-hop community. This project contributes to understandings of music reception as well as to understanding political affiliation and practice by exploring and describing the ways in which people register and experience music and politics in the hip-hop generation.