HHAP Ep 79: Hip-Hop culture as a space where Black identities are negotiated and presented

The first episode of 2023 is a special episode on hip-hop as a cultural space where Black identities can be negotiated and presented. The research project was part of a larger seminar project with the University of Maryland College Park on African/Black Diaspora Studies. The larger project was funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The overall project focused on: “the dynamics of race, ethnicity, gender, and interactions between and among first and second-generation African diaspora immigrants and native-born African Americans in the U.S.”

My project explores representations of Black identities and shared experiences by African hip-hop artists in the US.

The initial objective was to examine the music of 2nd generation African artists in America to understand how they

  1. Represent Black identities
  2. Discuss shared experiences
  3. Represent Africa

This was done via a content analysis of their songs & interviews. The artists could be classified as Millennials and Generation Z artists. The music of these artists differed from the music produced by 1st generation African hip-hop artists. The early 2000s saw a small group of hip-hop artists who had all migrated to the US around the same time, usually for college, and would find varying degrees of success.

Some of these artists stayed in the U.S., and others migrated home. Their presence was followed by an increase in African music on mainstream platforms, & collaborations between artists of 1st or 2gen African ancestry and artists of multi-generation African ancestry (African Americans). Hip-hop’s structure as a genre that is largely autobiographical lends itself to being a conduit for meaningful conversations around race, gender, sexuality, & politics. These artists were nuanced in their coverage of topics of immediate concern to other African & diaspora communities.

We saw the articulation of African American & African connections among several African hip-hop artists who came to the U.S. in the early 2000s. Interestingly, many of those artists were Ghanaian. Artists like Blitz (the Ambassador) Bazawule, Wanlov the Kubolor, M3nsa, Minista of Agrikulcha, & M.anifest all arrived from a country whose place in Pan-African history had been well established.

 “In our simplicity we are elegant/so to us your coat and tie are irrelevant/give up my culture for your religion?, I can’t”

Wanlov the Kubolor, “Gentleman”

Other artists like, K’naan (Somalia), Krukid/Ruyonga (Uganda), and Shad (Kenya) also would speak to those connections. These artists may have impacted the growth of African music in the US. This growth led to the emergence of afrobeats artists like Davido, Burna Boy, Shatta Wale, & others.

In looking at 2nd generation African artists, I identified 583 songs by 10 Millenial and Generation Z artists. Again, I wanted to find representations of Black identities, African identities, and shared experiences between Africans and African Americans.

The artists were:

  1. Nipsey Hussle (1985): Los Angeles/African American and Eritrean parents
  2. Lola Monroe (1986): Washington, DC/Ethiopia
  3. Bas (1987): New York/Paris/Sudan
  4. Maxo Kream (1990): Houston/Nigeria
  5. Wale (1984): Washington, DC/Nigeria
  6. Amine (1994): Portland/Eritrea & Ethiopia
  7. Chika (1997): Montgomery (Alabama)/Nigeria
  8. Doja Cat (1995): Los Angeles/American and South African parents
  9. Earl Sweatshirt (1994): Chicago & Los Angeles/African American and South African parents
  10. Thutmose (1995): New York/Nigeria

In the review of over 500 songs, very few had any references to African identities or shared experiences. Notable exceptions include Wale’s “My Sweetie” and Amine’s “Roots”

During the research, it became clear that there needed to be a more global consideration of what African hip-hop artists are saying. There are artists in other parts of the Diaspora, especially in England, France, and Australia and they complicate Black identities even further.

A more global perspective on Black identities helps us to fully understand hip hop’s role in shifting conversations around identity.

Some of the European artists studied include.

  1. Sefyu (1981) France/Senegal
  2. Shay (1990) Belgium/Congo
  3. Bree Runway (1992) UK/Ghana
  4. Stormzy (1993) UK/Ghana
  5. Niska (1994) France/Congo
  6. Enny (1994) UK/Nigeria
  7. Little Simz (1994) UK/Nigeria
  8. Shaybo (1996) UK/Nigeria
  9. J Hus (1996) UK/The Gambia

The songs played in this episode are

  • “My Sweetie” by Wale
  • “Roots” by Amine
  • “I Want” by Enny
  • “Woman” by Little Simz
  • “En noir et blanc” by Sefyu
  • “Gentleman” by M.anifest and Wanlov the Kubolor
  • “Dollar & a Dream” by Blitz the Ambassador

I’m lost in the stew, I’m lost in a concept of fixing a brew
Identity crisis for me and my crew
We’re black and we’re British and African too, but so far removed
I’d like to go back to my mother’s land

“I Want” by Enny

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: