This episode, South African hip hop scholar and sociolinguist Dr. Quentin Williams discusses his new book Remix Multilingualism: Hip Hop, Ethnography and Performing Marginalized Voice (Bloomsbury Press).
Dr. Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the Linguistics Department at the University of Western Cape. He has published papers and book chapters on the performance of multilingualism, popular cultural practices (specifically Hip Hop), agency and voice in urban multilingual spaces. In addition to the book we’ll be discussing today, he is also currently editing the book Kaapse Styles: Hip Hop Art & Activism in Cape Town, South Africa.
Dr. Williams has been writing on language and hip hop in South Africa for several years, and has extensive credibility within South Africa’s well established hip hop community. Dr. Williams’ research and work has also made valuable contributions to the field of linguistics.
In this interview we discuss the book, Dr. Williams research on South African hip hop, and ultimately his place as a Coloured man from the Cape Flats in one of the oldest and largest hip hop scenes in Africa.
6:24 – Being a hip hop sociolinguist & self reflection in the book.
7:50 – The arena of freestyle rap battles
11:35 – His work with the group Suburban Menace
16:05 – Hip hop research and scholarship, & the responsibility to the subjects of the research
22:43 – His experiences in the Cape Flats township of Bishop Lavis during hip hop’s days of hip hop, during the last years of the anti-apartheid struggle
29:10 – Relationships between Black & Coloured hip hop heads
38:05 – Different hip hop language varieties in South Africa
39:40 – Braggadocio, and its place and purpose in hip hop
45:00 – Masculinity & toughness in hip hop
49:24 – Dr. Williams concept of “Body Rap”, respectability politics, the pornification of hip hop culture, & rape culture within hip hop culture*
58:12 – Women navigating masculine hip hop spaces
1:07:44 – The diverse audiences that this book speaks to
*Dr. Williams defines Body Rap as “a sub-genre of local rap, where the overarching theme in the lyrics is the sexualization and often the denigration of women’s bodies, performed for the pleasure of men”.
The article Ambiguous Relationships: Youth, Popular Music and Politics in Contemporary Tanzania by Birgit Englert talks about Bongo Flava music in Tanzania. The article talks about how Bongo Flava has given the Tanzanian youth more visibility by giving them a voice. Young Tanzanians comprise a large percentage of the population. They migrate to cities seeking better life but are faced with high unemployment and poor living conditions. Bongo Flava musicians address these and other public concerns and also include political messages in their songs. The writer argues that Bongo Flava has a political impact not by encouraging the youth to take oppositional position but in the sense that it motivates young people from all levels of Tanzanian society to use their creativities in trying to make their living, thereby working as a source of a self-confidence and empowerment. The article can be accessed by clicking the following link.
The article Code-Switching in Contemporary Nigerian Hip-Hop Music by E. Taiwo Babalola and Rotimi Taiwo discusses about the use of code-switching by Nigerian hip-hop artists. Code-switching, according to the article, is a sociolinguistic term that describes the alternating of two or more languages or dialects in a single communication. The writers talk about how even though most Nigerian hip-hop singers use English, they still try to identify with their roots by mixing English with their indigenous languages. In this article, the writers examine the nature, reason, stylistic effects and implications of code-switching by giving illustrations from the works of various Nigerian hip-hop artists. The article can be accessed by clicking the link below.
The article ‘Mimi Ni Msanii, Kioo Cha Jamii’ Urban Youth Culture in Tanzania as Seen Through Bongo Fleva and Hip-hop by Maria Suriano talks about how bongo flava is empowering the young generation by giving them a channel to voice out their grievances and concerns in a region where their place in society is ambiguous. The sentence ‘Mimi Ni Msanii, Kioo Cha Jamii’ is a line from the song Darubini Kali by Afande Sele and it means “I am an artist, a mirror of society”. Bongo Flava artists address issues in the society in their songs. The author argues that Bongo Flava has evolved to be a music genre of its own and should not just be regarded as Tanzanian hip-hop or rap. The author also talks about Bongo Flava styles and how it borrows from Western culture, social values the songs address and the music’s impact on media and politics. The article can be accessed by clicking the link below.
In the article “Sharing Hip-Hop Cultures: The Case of Nigerians and African Americas,” author, S. Shonekan presents a thorough description of the state of hip hop as an artistic expression as a whole in the U.S. and in Nigeria. The author draws on the socio-economic conditions of African Americans who are pushed to the fringes of society through racist class oppression and Nigerians who live in one of the poorest and most deprived and dangerous places on Earth. In describing “Black Art” as a cultural expression of resistance and struggle, the author points out how many earlier hip hop artists in America such as Public Enemy, Kool Herc, Queen Latifah, Boogie Down Productions and others have been replaced by commercialized, mutated hip hop that clogs media today such as 50 Cent, Ludacris, Lil Jon, Snoop Dog and others who degrade women, promote violence and drug use and reinforce stereotypes.
Similarly in Nigeria, early pioneers of hip hop with messages of reality and resistance such as Junior, Daddy Showkey, Pretty and Baba Fryo have been replaced, overshadowed by flashy Nigerians who also mutilate hip hop. They look to American ‘pop’ hip hop for inspiration and imitation. Examples used by the author are 2Face, Black Face and others. However, within the U.S. mostly on the underground, sometimes managing to sell, are true hip hop artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and Immortal Technique. In Nigeria as well largely shunned artists exist though they are even harder to find such as the Unsung Heros and Tribesmen, more on them to come.
Shonekan, S. Sharing Hip-Hop Cultures: The Case of Nigerians and African Americans. American Behavioral Scientist 2011 55: 9 originally published online 5 November 2010
In her article, Being a ‘bitch’: some questions on the gendered globalisation and consumption of American hip-hop urban culture in post-apartheid South Africa, Lliane Loots explores how American hip-hop has impacted the identities of youth in South Africa. Loots begins her article by discussing her first encounter with hip-hop in Wentworth, South Africa. This town was historically colored and featured a dance studio where many of the local youth would hang out with friends and practice their moves. She noticed that many of the young men would attempt difficult breakdancing moves while most of the young women would “dance like Janet Jackson”, refusing to be labeled as ‘b-girls’ because they did not want to seem “unfeminine”. Loots claims that American hip-hop culture had not only affected the music scene in South Africa, but it had also affected the mindset of many young people. She saw the incoming hip-hop movement as a culture from the North that was being sold to South Africans as superior, and as “defining our entry into this global (American) village”. She notes that many of the songs contained misogynistic and vulgar lyrics. Loots claims that this hip-hop culture is a form of “cultural colonisation”.
Loots spends a great deal of time discussing the gender dynamics in the hip-hop culture of the US. She claims that many women are often objectified and relegated to sexy background dancers while males are the ones who make music. She criticizes American hip-hop because she feels it does not provide a space for black women to be treated as equals. Since many young people in the South are consumers of this culture, Loots argues that hip-hop could have a detrimental effect on the way women and men interact.
Many of the young people in South Africa have adopted some of this American hip-hop culture but they have also subverted traditional hip-hop by adding new sounds, lyrics and experiences. South African youth do have agency and have been using hip-hop as a way to express their own opinions instead of just blindly following American trends.
The article Immunization Strategies: Hip-hop and Critique in Tanzania by Koen Stroeken written in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, talks about Tanzanian hip-hop music style called Bongo Flava, which when translated to English literally means “flavor of the brains”. Just like Hiplife in Ghana, Bongo Flava is another example of localization of hip-hop to conform to existing traditions and customs of a society. The author talks about the history of the emergence of Bongo Flava and the various factors that affected its growth, various Bongo Flava artists and their songs together with the social and political issues they address. This article can be found in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol.75, No. 4 (2005), pp. 488-509 or can be accessed by clicking the link below.
The article Aesthetic of the Entrepreneur: Afro-Cosmopolitan Rap and Moral Circulation in Accra, Ghana written by Jesse Weaver Shipley on Anthropological Quarterly talks about Hiplife music in Accra, Ghana. Hiplife, according to Shipley, is a music genre in Ghana that “combines hip hop sampling, scratching and rap lyricism with older forms of highlife popular music, traditional storytelling (Anansesem), and formal proverbial oratory.” Hiplife, is one of the many examples of the hybridization of western hip hop with local culture to create a unique music genre. In this article, the author explores the lives and works of hiplife artists like Sidney and the Mobile Boys. He talks about the messages of Hiplife artists and how they portray public morality in their songs. This article can be found in the magazine Anthropological Quarterly, Volume 82, Number 3, Summer 2009, pp. 631-668 or can be accessed online by clicking the link below. One has to use CSULA NIS account to log in and read the article.
The article written by Mwenda Ntarangwi titled African Hip Hop and Politics of Change in an Era of Rapid Globalization shows how African hip hop artists address social and political issues in their songs. The writer gives credit to globalization for the emergence of hip hop in Africa. The writer writes how African hip hop has gained popularity because the youth comprise a huge percentage of the total population of Africa. The youth, the author says, use hip hop “…to express and represent their lived experiences, to formulate the relationship between Africa and the West, to challenge the practices and policies of their own governments, and to paint a picture of the kind of society in which they desire to live.” Hip hop gives the youth the empowerment and representation they lack due to the African culture already in place that marginalizes them. The author also recounts the evolution of African hip hop from being an imitation of American hip hop to being a culture of its own and the various factors that shaped it. The article can be accessed by clicking on the link below.
The article Keeping it Real: Reality and Representation in Maasai Hip-Hop by Katrina Daly Thompson published in the Journal of African Cultural Studies analyzes the style, message and success of a Maasai-themed Tanzanian hip-hop group X Plastaz. The Maasai are a tribe of semi-nomadic people who live in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They are known around the world for their distinct culture and residence in and around national parks in Kenya and Tanzania. With a member of the Maasai tribe as part of the singing group and the use of Maasai language, costumes and chanting in their performances, the group X Plastaz can be viewed as an example of how hip-hop which has origins in the West has been localized and is an integral part of Tanzanian culture. The writer tells how the group was very popular in Tanzania when they used Swahili in their raps and sounded “…like the Tanzanian version of the Brooklyn rap crews they had been listening to.” When they changed their style, the group became very popular internationally while their success locally declined. Their decline in popularity at home, according to the writer, is attributed to the group’s refusal to pay bribe to get their songs on the air and Tanzanians’ attitude towards the Maasai. Their international success can be attributed to “…their use of traditionalism to appeal to the touristic desire of Western audiences.” The author also writes how by their unique style and message the group X Plastaz claims it is “keeping it real”. CSULA students can access the article by clicking the link below and signing in with their NIS account.