Throughout the course of 10 weeks, we studied music in its various ways and forms. It is not a surprise that music has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, society and mainstream media; it consumes a large portion of our times. One of the ways that music has resided among us has been through the connection of identity. For example, Korean media and K-pop functions as an ethnic or pan-ethnic identity expression and connection. Ju and Lee summarized this ethnic identification process by stating “identifying a specific ethnicity is a dynamic practice that involves synthesizing distinct dimensional information; this includes the identification of ethnic membership, knowledge of ethnic culture, and a sense of feelings and belonging to the ethnic group” (334). This alludes to the notion that identity is a complex field that involves various levels of dimension and music as an expressive medium allows for this complexity to flourish.
Another way that identity played into music was through race especially in the hip hop scene. The debate of the “Blackness” or the ownership of the hip hop still remains as non-Black rappers emerged to the surface. In Sharma’s analysis of hip hop, Anthony stated, “Maybe Blacks cling to rap because it is ours. Hands down. Period… It coincides with the slang, “secret culture” that Blacks use to relate to one another… that common bond, which is the underlying principle of what culture really means” (212). What Anthony mentioned as the “secrete culture” denotes to the idea of the shared culture as the platform for racial connection. This affinity for identity and groups seemed to be especially strong within the hip hop industry as the history of hip hop was born out of a racial conflict in the United States.
“Secrete culture” … that common bond – Anthony
Without delving too much into the history of hip hop, it has been dominated and attributed to the Black culture to this day. Beyond the ownership, Hip Hop has been largely performed and associated with Black urban males, which has caused controversy and difficulties for non-Black rappers to enter the scene. This disparity is evermore distanced by the usage of racial politics and controlling images. When someone imagines hip hop or rap, they picture Black urban males and the characteristics that are stereotyped to Black urban males. These controlling images, which are strategically commercialized and created, stand directly opposite to the controlling images of the Asian American males especially. The images that you see of Asian American males are asexual, nerdy and passive. Because the hip hop scenes are already dominated and therefore expected to be of Black urban male aesthetic, Asian American males cannot and does not “fit” the hip hop industry. Now the element of commercialism comes into light as capitalism and profit seems to be the main driving force of music industry. Sharma explains this perfectly when she says, “Still, perhaps the biggest issue surrounding disputes over racial authenticity in this area are the effects of corporate capitalism and the problematic and profit-driven links that corporate leaders make between racist stereotypes of Black men and women with “real” hip hop. It is profitable for businesses to sell the images of Black masculinity and femininity, including notions of sexuality and criminality, that emerge during slavery” (213). It alludes to the power that economy has to influence and control how music is consumed, shaped and even fragmented. This power has been hugely of disadvantage to not only the Asian Americans, but also to the Blacks who seem to “own” hip hop. As for Asian Americans, visibility alone is difficult as well as limited space and opportunities. As for the African Americans, the limitation still seems to exist even though they own and monopolize hip hop because they are bounded by the stereotypes of Black urban males. Sharma states that “the marriage between Black popular culture and global capital illustrates just one of capitalism’s central contradictions – that the increasing commercialization of hip hop exports new tastes and “needs” – including racist ones –to new markets” (231).
These limitations are no coincidence as they are directly produced by the commodification of artists by the people who control the music industry. I theorize that this commodification is also not just profit driven, but also stemmed from the fear of those with power as Sharma includes, “the ability of hip hop to possibly unite disparate and disenfranchised groups may be seen as a threat to the dominant race-class system” (233). All this points toward the dangers of identity politics within hip hop. As discussed above, identity politics not only divide and limit the discourse of counterhegemonic content being expressed through music, but it also allows capitalism to prey upon, take advantage of and prevent expressive forms of resistance. It furthers the existence of stereotypes and controlling images as well as participates within the false illusion of minorities against each other. Hip hop, aside from some mainstream hip hop, is a lively and authentic space that allows for expression of identity, frustration and real life things. However, being fixated on identity politics invites more dangers than good such as capitalism that disrupts fluidity and true authenticity as well as the power that hip hop has to resist and empower people.