Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Working out of Fredric Jameson's model of symptomatic analysis from The Political Unconscious, I argue that narrative aesthetics in hip hop music function as ideological symbolic acts that “express the way men live their relation to their real conditions of existence” in the era of post-industrial late capitalism (Dowling 83). My thesis explores how the dialectic between hip hop's competing narratives and aesthetics—the underground and the mainstream—works within and against the dominant discourse of liberal democracy in the United States, revealing its triumphs as a form of commodity distribution and its shortcomings as an epistemological ethos. 

My argument pivots on the broader assumption that hip hop—as an Idea or Virtual problematic—functions through multiple authenticities and representational voices, offering alternative models of localized “worldings” in contrast to the totalizing/globalized ideology of neo-liberal capitalism.

Beginning with Dr. Dre's two solo albums The Chronic and 2001, I trace how the "Idea" of hip hop entered into American mainstream media (and America's collective consciousness) as a set of gangsta rap tropes born out of authentic historical conditions in Los Angeles' urban core. Over time and through hip hop's corporate consolidation, these gangsta rap tropes would become theatricalized for entertainment purposes, reducing the popular conception of hip hop to a marketing gimmick reflecting "the emergence of the internalization of struggle” during the dominant stage of neo-liberal globalization in the 1990’s (Clover 34).

Following with Outkast and the emergence of Southern rap circa 2000, I articulate the rhizomatic diversification of hip hop's subject matter and aesthetic content through Alfred North Whitehead's philosophical concepts of "creative appetition" and patterned contrasts. In Outkast's utopian-themed album Stankonia, these concepts serve as useful frameworks in which to characterize Outkast’s prophetic expansion of hip hop's subject matter and political responsibilities beyond its ideological and aesthetic containment in a post-gangsta rap era.

Concerning the Marxist rap group The Coup and what I characterize as the “image-event” of terror in a post-9/11 era, I outline the ideological underpinnings of America's reterritorialized discourse on global "terrorism" by distinguishing between what separates The Coup's symbolic act of blowing up the World Trade Center on Party Music's album cover with the actual terrorist attacks that happened on September 11. I incorporate Deleuze and Guattari's concepts of "desiring-machines" and "bodies without organs (BwO)" to draw a contrast between the productive forces of the "becoming-activist" in assemblage with the politically subversive music of The Coup to the anti-productive processes of speculative financialization, which "occludes the role of [human] labor" in social production.

My analysis on Marshall Mathers' The Eminem Show and El-P's Fantastic Damage further elaborates on the affect of terror generated by the image-event of 9/11--and the subsequent Invasion of Iraq in 2003--by comparing and contrasting the Jamesonian ideologemes of free speech and ressentiment posited in each album. Both art works are designed to evoke a degree of populist sentiment and proletarian subversion against the reactionary ideological mechanisms of post-9/11 America; however, El-P's work of "aesthetic terrorism" goes further, in that through symbolic d├ętournement it strikes at the Americanized heart of what Guy Debord dubbed as the Spectacle, a mediated reality of images which Eminem in the limelight is prone to be symptomatic of.

By discussing the impact of Lil Wayne, Clipse, and the Re-Up Gang on the mixtape hustle, I characterize how mixtapes have come to revolutionize both the economic distribution of hip hop music and the topography of what characterizes mainstream and underground content. Through delimiting the odd love triangle between corporate media, the mixtape world, and internet file sharing, I outline how the one-way street of information dissemination characterized by older forms of media (i.e. television and radio) are being superseded by more self-reflexive audiences, whose specific interests can't be catered to in mass by the demographic categorizations of top-down corporate marketing.

Lastly, in writing about M.I.A. and the Super Chron Flight Brothers, my goal is to explain how hip hop continues to be a vital “worlded” aesthetic, in terms of being a popular and accessible narrative format capable of delivering in-depth analysis and informed social commentary on globalized culture and current events. While M.I.A. offers an outside-in critique of American globalization through the eyes and ears of border crossing dissidents, the Super Chron Flight Brothers offer an inside-out subversion of American empire and the image-mediated Spectacle through their World Tour trilogy of concept albums.

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