I didn't want to derail Tiffany's post re: Glee's cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's Baby Got Back so I figured I'd just start a new post, because I really would like to have a conversation on cultural appropriation & hip hop (particularly trap/ghetto/gangster/whatever else white people call "non-conscious" rap genres).
Last week we talked about being mindful of boundaries and respectful use of indigenous knowledges and cultural practices--it's easy to preach that when we're talking about hypothetical Amazonian herbs, but how does that dialogue change when we're talking about something as easily consumable as a youtube video? Tiffany's post reminded me of the really problematic ways dominant narratives on both cultural appropriation and on respectful use are polarized to the benefit of those in privilege (particularly along axes of race & class)...the question I raised in my comment on her post is, why is no one asking what Sir Mix-a-Lot thinks of all this? I think this question can be expanded to open up a conversation on respectful use & hip hop more generally, and the ways in which copyright law as well as the dominant understanding of authorship in the US are lacking in ways that are especially detrimental to low-income communities of color.
I wanna present a mini genealogy of some of Chicago-based newly popular rapper Chief Keef's tracks as an example; we'll start with his breakout track, I Don't Like (please note the youtube video is heavily censored):
I Don't Like earned Chief Keef rapid fame, & was later picked up & remixed by fellow Chicago rapper Kanye West, for his record label GOOD Music's newest compilation album, Cruel Summer. Chief Keef was featured on the track, alongside Pusha-T, Jadakiss, & Big Sean. While the track itself was a success and is immensely popular (and was produced with Chief Keef's involvement), some have criticized Kanye for essentially piggybacking on Chief Keef's aesthetic:
Meanwhile, one of Chief Keef's other tracks, Love Sosa
(along with the rest of his debut album) started to blow up and gain a wider audience. Thanks to "geek rockstars" like Coulton & Ben Folds' efforts to put ironic white acoustic covers of 'ghetto rap' on the map (note that the original artists, often POC from low-income areas like Dre, Sir Mix-a-Lot, & now Chief Keef are typically consumed by white audiences as dehumanized criminal thugs, while aforementioned white artists copping their experiences, aesthetics, & work are praised as comedic geniuses and rockstars), youtube is now chock full of annoying upper-middle class suburban white people doing acoustic covers of rap songs, like this one of Love Sosa:
Technically, this girl's cover is legal because under copyright law it would be considered a derivative work (same as Coulton's cover of Baby Got Back); that said, it's incredibly offensive (and imo pathetic and boring in typical suburban saltine fashion). So how is it this girl has received tons of praise for this video, and this kind of appropriation
is more popular than ever? When it comes down to it, respectful use is not something many white consumers of hip hop consider when appropriating/utilizing elements of hip hop culture(s) because the dominant landscape re: hip hop consumption (I'm talking about both copyright law and hegemonic cultural morays) simply does not require respect of black artists, and especially of uniquely black experiences and cultural expressions.
Aside from interrogating deep-seated racism and classism in order to treat rappers as artists and black people as human (something both monied suburban whites and the US government seem to be continuing to struggle with), what could an alternate nexus of copyright law/understanding of authorship, that is mindful of these kinds of pitfalls, look like?