Archive | Sonic Borders Forum RSS for this section

Sonic Borders Virtual Panel: Devon Powers’s “Popular Music Studies: An Audible Discipline?”

listening1“Without careful deliberation about these issues, then, the perennial marginalization of sound in numerous fields may quite easily result in the eclipse of popular music studies. Given the choice, it is quite possible that sound studies will become the terrain of choice for answering questions related to sonic phenomena, leaving popular music scholars with  an existential question: who are we and where are we going? And more: how should those of us who study popular music think about ourselves? Are we sound studies scholars by another name? What might be lost were we to decide that we were? In short, does popular music studies continue to matter?[. . . ].”  [Reblogged from IASPM-US.net]

Click here to continue reading today’s installment at IASPM-US.

SO IASPM7

Sonic Borders Schedule

1/21 – Liana Silva, Sounding Out! – “I’m on My New York Sh*t”: Jean Grae’s Sonic Claims on the City

1/28 – Regina Bradley, Sounding Out! – I Like the Way You Rhyme, Boy: Hip Hop Sensibility and Racial Trauma in Django Unchained

2/4 – Marcus Boon, Sounding Out! – One Nation Under a Groove?: Music, Sonic Borders, and the Politics of Vibration

2/6 – Barry Shank, IASPM-US – On Popular Music Studies

2/11 – Tavia Nyong’o, Sounding Out! – Freedom Back: Sounding Black Feminist History, Courtesy the Artists

2/13 – Theo Cateforis, IASPM-US – No Control, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying about Sound

2/18 – Tara Betts, Sounding Out! – They Do Not All Sound Alike: Sampling Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis

2/20 – Shana L. Redmond, IASPM-US – The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia

2/25 – Airek Beauchamp, Sounding Out! – Queer Timbres, Queered Elegy: Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass and the First Wave of the AIDS Crisis

2/27 – Devon Powers, IASPM-US – Popular Music Studies: An Audible Discipline?

 

Queer Timbres, Queered Elegy: Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass and the First Wave of the AIDS Crisis

177318868_21ebb7cf06

SO IASPM7Welcome to the final week of our February Forum on “Sonic Borders,”  a collaboration with the IASPM-US blog in connection with this year’s IASPM-US conference on Liminality and Borderlands, held in Austin, Texas from February 28 to March 3, 2013.  The “Sonic Borders” forum is a Virtual Roundtable cross-blog entity that will feature six Sounding Out! writers posting on Mondays through February 25, and four writers from IASPM-US, posting on Wednesdays starting February 6th and ending February 27th.  For an encore of weeks one through four of the forum, click here. And now, while we regret to inform you that Art Jones’s dispatch from Pakistan must be re-booked at a later date, the show must go on . . .and I am thrilled that writer and Ph.D. student Airek Beauchamp is stepping in as our closing act. Make no mistake, he brings the pain!  Once again, Sounding Out! gives you something you can feel. –JSA, Editor-in-Chief

At dinner a few days later in the Village Jarrod tells me that he cries whenever anyone says that they really ‘get’ his work. Because his work is so horrifying. It hurts him to know that he has inflicted it upon someone, someone able to understand it.–A.W. Strouse, in reference to the recent performance of Jarrod Kentrell at Ps1‘s “The Meeting”

I first heard Diamanda Galás’s The Plague Mass (1991) around 1994, when I would have been about 20 years old. Equal parts mass and babble, The Plague Mass is an elegiac tribute to Galás’s brother and other victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a sonic rage against the silence surrounding the disease that redefines “the elegy” in the process. I suppose that I should make a confession here and say that contracting HIV was one of my biggest fears at the time. I was fresh out of the closet and ready to experiment, yet the media coverage of the crisis had pretty much told me that, as a gay man, an active sex life was a death sentence, a message I had been receiving since I was in fourth grade. There was something in Galás’s record to which I automatically, deeply connected.  Although this brand of desire was new to me, there was also something deeply familiar about it–ancient even–and this feeling was produced by the horror of her work, not in spite of it.

PM

Cover of The Plague Mass (1991)

Recorded live in 1990 at Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, The Plague Mass was  conceived as a performance piece, enabling Galás to use sound to move in a messy, unstructured, and often terrifying way across multi-dimensional space.  Her sonic trajectories seemed to take my global, abstract fears and make them intimate and concrete. In “Diamanda Galás: Defining the Space In-between,” Julia Meier describes Galás’s soundscape as composed of “chants, shrieks, gurgles, hisses often at extreme volumes, frequently distorted electronically and accompanied by a torrent of words” which defy description (2). In the space created by this cacophony, Galás mourns her brother, responding to the silence surrounding AIDS by making use of what composer and sound theorist Yvon Bonenfant refers to as “queer timbres” in “Queer Listening to Queer Vocal Timbres,” the unique, dynamic sounds of desire and self in the voice that also operate as a kind of touch, a reaching out to other desired and desiring bodies.  In homage to Antonin Artaud’s theory of the theater of cruelty–in which audiences are exposed through multisensory domains to truths they often do not wish to see–Galás uses queer timbres to form an outsized means of aural communication in The Plague Mass that fills more affective space than standard musical productions or theater productions.  The shrieks and howls suggest Galas as depicted on the album’s cover: flayed, raw, and radically open to the passage of every vibration. By erasing semantic and syntactical codes, these sounds deeply engage the entire body in the process of making sound.

Artaud

Artaud

Queering the traditional theater, Artaud argued for new intersensuality that would occupy space in a three-dimensional manner.  In The Theater and Its Double, Artaud describes how the “intensities of colors, lights, or sounds, which utilize vibration, tremors, repetition, whether of a musical rhythm or a spoken phrase, special tones or a general diffusion of light, can obtain their full effect only by dissonances. But instead of limiting these dissonances to a single sense, we shall cause them to overlap from one sense to the other” (125).  Texturing sound, or working with dissonance and disruption to create a more forceful product,  offered Artaud a unique play between the senses, allowing it a more direct and apparent physical impact upon the bodies of both performers and the audience.

The plague and how it inhabits and destroys bodies is a central metaphor for sound and language in the work of both Artaud and Galás. Artaud focused much of his theory on the plague as an example not only of an affective space but also as a transformative event in human history and in individual lives. Artaud’s writing on the plague, however, also garnered him harsh criticism. By suggesting a theater in which language became subordinate to the shriek, the grunt or other non-semantic orality, he decried all of traditional French theater and its lofty legacy. Nonetheless, he was invited to speak about his essay “The Theater and the Plague” at the Sorbonne.  Deciding to actually incorporate his ideas about ‘liquefying boundaries,” he began speaking in a standard oratorical mode but slowly devolved into a theatrical performance of the plague, eventually ending in shrieks of physical pain. In Watchfiends & Rack Screams, Clayton Eshleman describes how, by the end of his speech, the only people left in the lecture hall were a minor contingent of his close friends, including Anais Nin, who recounted the tale (12).  The shrieks, the howls are all a further way to engage the whole body in the process of making sound, while also erasing semantic and syntactical code. In Gilles Deleuze’s estimation of Artaud’s work in The Logic of Sense, it reached the depths of language: “The word no longer expresses an attribute of the state of affairs; its fragments merge with unbearable sonorous qualities, invade the body where they form a mixture and a new state of affairs… In this passion, a pure language-affect is substituted for the effect of language” (89).

Jaap Blonk performs Artaud’s “To Have Done with the Judgement of God”

Reflecting and refracting Artaud, Galás uses the space of The Plague Mass to re-consider and re-theorize the ailing body. In her work the body represents not just Galás herself, but also the bodies of all the afflicted, the bodies issuing negation of suffering, and finally, the collective body of the spectacle of the AIDS crisis.  Like Artaud, Galás sees the plague of AIDS as transformative, but without the safe buffer provided by the critical space of history.  This plague is instead an immediate issue made all the more volatile due to the refusal to help the victims by the conservative Reagan administration as well as the rigidity of the Catholic Church’s encoded dogma that characterizes homosexuality as sinful depravity and refuses to acknowledge the need for AIDS education and condom distribution.  Galás evidences this in the opening track “There Are No More Tickets to the Funeral” which incorporates traditional Christian hymns, liturgical representations of condemnation, and the voices of the afflicted.

These appropriated sounds circulate in constant tension, queering the ominous, authoritative patriarchal drones by contrasting them to the timbres of desire and pain embodied by the shrieks.  In “Confessional (Give Me Sodomy or Give Me Death),” the narrator’s voice bleeds into the frantic voice of the defiant dying, blending in with the conjured voices of angels of death that hover over the bed. This commentary places the listener in a very immediate and uncomfortable multidimensional space encompassing several terrifying aspects of death.  Here Galás exemplefies Bonenfant’s queer timbres through the tactile effect of layered sound that is felt with the skin, in the bones, as well as with the ears, communicating a palpable experience that lies beyond the barely-nuanced music it is seductively easy to grow accustomed to.

It is Galás’s use of sound’s affective properties that makes The Plague Mass most effective as queered communication.  In “This is the Law of the Plague” she incorporates elements of glossolalia, colloquially known in religious communities as “speaking in tongues,” a speech act that embodies voice by implying a physical loss of control of the body as well as the casting off of concrete linguistic structure.  Galás’s use of glossolalia deliberately blurs the border between spiritual possession and the madness inherent to AIDS as the virus passed through the blood/brain barrier of its human host.

Aided by electronics, Galás’s vocals begin as the chant of orator. Punctuated by a throbbing, sparse single drum-beat, her sickened, keening crawl of words enumerates in detail what it is that defines a person as unclean.  The language is precisely enunciated, each word sharply edged and cornered—a practice that would no doubt double Artaud over in pain, given his struggle with schizophrenia that left him vulnerable to crisp sounds.  Slowly, Galás’s voice rises to the shriek of a pious, avenging angel, a shrill, wail shimmering with vibrato communicating the sound of a raptured body, rent in chaotic ecstasy. Eventually her ululations are submerged in a bath of primordial babble, a place where language moves in every direction through a body somehow more permeable, a sonic space that Deleuze would describe as topographic, that is, possessing heights and depths. Enacting and inviting the babble of the mad and the afflicted maintains a red line on the tolerance of the listener’s psyche before returning, without ceremony, to the sparse and cold incantations of the church.  Here queer(ed) timbres push the audience to limits well past the reaches of patriarchal or accepted sound; Galas plays along the edge of tolerance before dropping the audience abruptly back into the decidedly colder and less humane sonic tropes of an unforgiving religion.

Galás’s sonic practices encourage in me a listening that reaches out into space to connect with these sounds, whose physicality communicates fears and apprehensions that are old enough to feel genetically encoded in my psyche.  Bonenfant describes this reaching as “queer listening,” an extrinsic process based on desire in which “we listen ‘out’ for (reaching towards) voices that we think will gratify us” (77).  Bonenfant queers the body in the process of sound; it becomes abstracted, absorbed into a process and functioning on many layers that include—but also subsume—the subjective Cartesian body of agency we are comfortable with. The body becomes bodies, and it becomes present in spaces that go beyond the immediate space it occupies in space/time.  Galas traverses time and space in The Plague Mass, from the ancient litanies of hymns and spirituals to the anguish of those afflicted with AIDS, and layers voice on voice until they are inextricable, a huge din telling more than just a story, or The Story but the stories of many.

Image by Flickr User 1v0

Image by Flickr User 1v0

In a personal e-mail exchange, Bonenfant clarified his relation to both Artaud and Galás.  When asked if he was influenced by Artaud he explained:

Not directly, but certainly indirectly, and his ideas affect extended voice practice generally. I think the idea of the ‘theatre of cruelty’ is often deeply misunderstood and it was a product of its time. I understand Artaud to have been crying out for an anti-bourgeois theatre that actually stirred people up. But stirring people up is only part of the story. What stirs some, attracts others. Now, my argument is more that: these voices we might call ‘queer’ stir SOME people up but actually they ATTRACT others – others who might be seeking queered bodies to contact.

Bonenfant went on to explain that artists such as Galás can thus make contact with people who desire the kind of disruption or ‘stirring’ that they provide. He went on to relate a story that Galás shared in an interview, in which she described a performance in which she looked out at the audience and noticed a very young boy listening to her perform. For the rest of the concert, Galás said she felt guilty for the damage she was undoubtedly inflicting on the young boy’s ears and psyche. However, after the concert the boy approached her and thanked her profusely. It turns out that he had suffered from a terminal and painful illness and felt unable to express the physical and emotional distress that he lived with. Here, though, was an artist onstage articulating it, broadcasting it to him and others, for him and others.  This is what Bonenfant refers to as “an affective, somatic bond” created through shared sonic experience, and this is what Galas constructs.  By standard definitions The Plague Mass is almost unlistenable, but yet it has connected audiences remote in space and time (a nod here to Karen Tongson’s “remote intimacy”).  A sonic reaching out attracting listeners similarly reaching, its indelicate music draws the suffering near, providing a form of collective comfort by exploring and embodying the suffering, grief, and rage located beyond the permeable membrane of conscious thought and feeling.

Diamanda Galas performing in the 1980s, Image Courtesy of Flickr User Carl Guderian

Diamanda Galas performing in the 1980s, Image Courtesy of Flickr User Carl Guderian

It is this kind of connection through a tonal richness that is uncoded but yet full of information  that is radically important.  Galás’s groans, growls, and chants create an intersubjective circuit of communication that moves active listening outside of the body and draws visceral connections in a three-dimensional psychic space. This is what Galás immediately stirred in me back in 1994, and what I have been determined to recover and communicate since that first listening cut me to the quick. Queer listening does not just entail an affirmation of the soundtracks of queer lives–a kind of perpetual disco, 12” remix project–but rather it also demands a critical–and visceral–vulnerability to the jarring, violent world arranged against queer agency.  Galas’s work  hijacks the elegy and queers it, extending it to us as an offering against the true horror: the official silence in the face of so much death.

Featured Image of Diamanda Galás courtesy of Flickr user digital_freak

A Taurus who enjoys the ocean, Airek Beauchamp is currently at SUNY Binghamton pursuing his PhD in Creative Writing. He also studies composition pedagogy and queer theory, although he is becoming more and more seduced by sound studies.  He can rock a disco all night or just stay in and maybe catch up on some 30 Rock. Some call him fancy, some call him a bitch, but really he is both. He is a multiplicity of multiplicities, all in one mortal shell.

Sonic Borders Virtual Panel: Shana Redmond’s “The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia” from IASPM-US

chuck-berry-my-dingaling-chess-4For a song often derided as trite, “My Ding-a-Ling” has much to tell us about the immediate post-civil rights sexual imagination. This imagination was not organized around the puerility of the title but rather the performer’s unique history, which he demonstrates through distinct musical and listening practices on stage. Chuck Berry’s 1972 live recording from the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England, models musical reciprocity as he sings both to and for his co-ed audience. His vocal of the onomatopoeia “ding-a-ling” resonates as a thinly veiled sexual reference while also lingering in the performance space as that which beckons the audience to sing-a(-)long, a practice that he regularly responds to with improvisatory comments. The “harmony” that he notes coming from two women attendees is announced by Berry in the moment as a sexual relation, not only with him as they sing with his “Ding-a-Ling” but also with each other, producing their own queer counterpoint. A number of asides within his performance exhibit the collaborative nature of Black music-making and the play involved in Black crossover to the mainstream. Berry’s project on stage that night also manifests a collision and collusion of popular music and sound studies by erotically traversing a number of performative and sonic boundaries through the exposure of alternative sexual relations. [Reblogged from IASPM-US.net]

Click here to continue reading today’s installment at IASPM-US.

SO IASPM7Sonic Borders Schedule

1/21 – Liana SilvaSounding Out! – “I’m on My New York Sh*t”: Jean Grae’s Sonic Claims on the City

1/28 – Regina BradleySounding Out! – I Like the Way You Rhyme, Boy: Hip Hop Sensibility and Racial Trauma in Django Unchained

2/4 – Marcus BoonSounding Out! – One Nation Under a Groove?: Music, Sonic Borders, and the Politics of Vibration

2/6 – Barry Shank, IASPM-US – “On Popular Music Studies”

2/11 – Tavia Nyong’oSounding Out! – “Freedom Back: Sounding Black Feminist History, Courtesy the Artists”

2/13 – Theo Cateforis, IASPM-US – “No Control, or: How I Learned to Start Worrying About Sound”

2/18 – Tara BettsSounding Out!, They Do Not All Sound Alike: Sampling Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis

2/20 – Shana L. Redmond, IASPM-US – The Sounds We Make Together: Chuck Berry’s Onomatopoeia

2/25 – Art JonesSounding Out!

2/27 – Devon Powers, IASPM-US

They Do Not All Sound Alike: Sampling Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, and Angela Davis

Assata Shakur, Image with quote courtesy of Flickr user Jacob Anikulapo

Assata Shakur, Image with quote courtesy of Flickr user Jacob Anikulapo

SO IASPM7Welcome to week four of  our February Forum on “Sonic Borders,”  a collaboration with the IASPM-US blog in connection with this year’s IASPM-US conference on Liminality and Borderlands, held in Austin, Texas from February 28 to March 3, 2013.  The “Sonic Borders” forum is a Virtual Roundtable cross-blog entity that will feature six Sounding Out! writers posting on Mondays through February 25, and four writers from IASPM-US, posting on Wednesdays starting February 6th and ending February 27th.  For an encore of weeks one through three of the forum, click here. And now, Tara Betts drops some science, Sounding Out! style–JSA

When underground hip-hop artist P. Blackk released Blackk Friday (2011), several reviewers insisted that he sampled political activist Angela Davis. Oddly enough, one of the reviews from The Meara Blogfeatured the video for “Brainz,” the song in question–and the video clearly showed that the sampled track was in fact not Davis but activist and lawyer Kathleen Cleaver. Why the automatic assumption that any black woman sampled from the 1960s is Davis? Why the collapsing and erasure of so many distinct and powerful voices?

Davis, Cleaver, and Assata Shakur are arguably the three most iconic women of the Black Power Movement, but they largely go unrecognized in mainstream history. Erasure by omission represents how many historical sources are resistant to identifying their specific contributions to grassroots organizing, intellectual life, and politics, while the male leadership of the Black Power Movement is often mentioned by name.  So, the inclusion of Davis, Cleaver, and Shakur in songs by hip hop artists P. Blackk, John Forté, and Common simultaneously amplifies the distinctiveness of their voices while signaling conscious choices by younger male artists to align themselves with the political thinking espoused by these radical women in politically-rooted, layered tracks–even as these samples inadvertently reveal the mainstream public’s tendency to treat black female activists as interchangeable.  Both in their moment and in its sampled echoes, these women resist being grouped into an amorphous group of misconstrued black people, and these tracks highlight that.

Kathleen Cleaver, 1960s

Kathleen Cleaver, 1960s

In “Brainz,” P. Blackk samples a 1968 speech by Cleaver. In the track, the basic bassline reverbs beneath the emcee’s repeated hook.  He  begins the song with the “huh” sound that many emcees use to amplify enthusiasm, start rhyming, and alert whomever is listening that the words are about to arrive.  Blackk repeats certain phrases and utilizes internal rhyme as he makes observations about the choices people should make to care for themselves, their children, and their communities.  The most original slant rhyme emerges in the second of two verses, replicated here:

It’s funny how we love chains and whips

when we were bound by em.

and we hate rock’n’roll and it was found by us.

You can’t hate what’s beautiful.  I’m black and I’m proud,

but that ain’t got nothing to do with my pants sagging down.

Society is pimping you.

I’m just a man who’s a little more sensible.

I used to be invisible, now I’m invincible.

Not the stereotypical,

and I’m doing my thing in a game with no principles.

Knowledge and power, all I need, yeah, that’ll do.

The difference between me and my peers is gratitude.

Younguns is dumb too and too cool,

but it’s uncool living in a city that’s gun-ruled.

Here, P. Blackk most closely echoes how Cleaver expresses a sense of embracing and affirming black beauty while still acknowledging flawed educational systems, materialism, the origin of rock music, intergenerational disconnects, and gun violence.  As a member of the Black Panther Party, wife of Eldridge Cleaver, attorney and professor, Cleaver has been a spokesperson for African American struggles.  When the chorus simply repeats “real n-gga wit a brain,” P. Blackk is claiming the term that is still an affront to middle class people reaching for the civility of assimilation.  He is insisting that some people are afraid of their intelligence and growing awareness as marginalized people and what actions that might entail.  This fear of a nascent threat was at the root of resistance towards the slogan “Black is Beautiful” in the 1960s.

The Cleaver sample comes at the end of “Brainz,” and in the music video appears in its entirety on a projection screen and against P. Blackk himself, decked in a white shirt and bow tie, as he “lectures” students in a darkened classroom. As different black historical figures, including the likes of Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, Ralph Abernathy, George Jackson, and James Baldwin, are projected on the screen behind Blackk, the instrumental audibly drops much lower so the only voice heard is Cleaver’s.

[Cue to 3:05 for Kathleen Cleaver]

The footage from which her sample is taken has background sound such as others talking and a chant with cadences that were often heard at black political protests; these can be faintly heard along with the audible buzz of varied speaking voices in the crowd that surrounding Cleaver.  She was not onstage nor the main focal point of the larger event, but P. Blackk’s re-framing places her at its center.   When one considers the position of Davis and Cleaver as esteemed and radical activists and professors, it’s not surprising that P. Blackk video positions him as an educator, like these women, to further reinforce the point of Cleaver’s words.

Image of Assata Shakur on Community Mural of Revolutionary Heroes, Image by Flickr User Gary Stevens

Image of Assata Shakur on Community Mural of Revolutionary Heroes, Image by Flickr User Gary Stevens

In “A Song for Assata,” from Like Water for Chocolate (2000), Common retells some of the events detailed in Assata: An Autobiography, but his sample reinforces why her activism was so important to Common and others like him.  Her looped voice concludes his song, incredulously repeating the question, “You askin’ me about freedom?” In the sample Shakur explains how she knows more about what freedom is not, which is similar to a comment that Shakur made in Gloria Rolando’s documentary Eye of the Rainbow: Assata Shakur and Oya.  Shakur then defines how freedom allows one to be one’s self, and the definition is faded down and the last of the soaring music rises slightly.  When this fade occurs, we have a few examples of what Shakur imagines what freedom could potentially be, but it also leaves a sonic pause where listeners might contemplate how they define freedom for themselves.

The choice to fade out a sample says so much about not just the message that it (and Common) hopes to convey, but also reveals narratives that have been enforced consistently through institutions and time.  I read the fade out as sonically emphasizing “the struggle,” rather than the intellectual present of an activist speaking; it limits her to the role of an representing the past.   In dream hampton’s documentary Black August, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement organizer Meron Haile Selassie elucidates how women like Shakur are idolized:

Historically, the black liberation movement and actually all movements, let’s be honest, have fallen short of trying to incorporate the role of women, what women need, and how we incorporate anti-sexist theory and anti-sexist work in our general liberation movement. And when the woman that we put on the poster every single year, Assata Shakur, is someone that these artists revere and talk about yet but they’re somehow unable to see an Assata Shakur in the woman they’re dating that’s a painful realization.

In other words, even in black history and social movements, some women are canonized and celebrated and others are disregarded, which is not a far cry from the well-worn debate of using the word “b-tch” or “ho” and insisting that this namecalling does not address all women. Such overlooking and fading out is a subtler silencing of women.

angela_davis_blogspot

Angela Davis speaking in Oakland, 1969

John Forte’s “Drift On” works against the narrative of the fade-out in “A Song for Assata.” In “Drift On,” from his album The Water Suite (2012),  Forte lyrically articulates the feeling of being distant from someone; however, it is the brief sample of a few seconds from Angela Davis that reinforces the possibility of redemption during and after confinement. Forté begins singing the hook over a guitar-like loop that functions almost like a chord, and his soft singing of the chorus contrasts with his solemn rhyming lines and the firm solemnity of Davis’ brief sample midway through the song.  A little more than a minute before “Drift On” ends, Davis speaks:

many people recognize that they can refashion themselves. They can rehabilitate themselves. They can live a life of the mind.

Davis stresses the words “they,” “refashion” and the third, final “can” spoken in this sample. Her tendency to stretch and soften particular nouns and verbs in speaking is a consistent pattern in Davis’ public speech, achieved by rhetorical devices such as metanoia– the immediate restatement of a phrase–and amplification.  When Davis speaks in this manner, she makes listeners pay attention to the “they” whom she refers to as intellectually capable, but it also stresses  “possibility” and redemption of the self.

It is important to note that the artists sampling these iconic Black women are men.  Although women such as Me’shell Ndegeocello, and Terri Lyne Carrington and Diane Reeves have sampled Angela Davis on successful records, these records were not necessarily considered hip hop, which has consistently relied on men’s voices to create a radical impression in music, like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” Public Enemy long relied on voices like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., but happens to (and with) women’s voices?  Including these voices in hip hop shows that women do exist as thinkers, activists, and speakers, even if the exposure is being exercised by artists who are men.

However, each song extends the narrative of each woman in a different manner than they constructed for themselves. P. Blackk stops admonishing, advising, and insisting on pragmatic Afrocentrism so he can to listen to Cleaver explain why black beauty was finally being embraced in the 1960s.  Cleaver, in her 1968 speech, eschews white standards of beauty to embrace herself, which P. Blackk uses to connect self-hatred in the past and self-destructive behavior in the present.  Common ends “A Song for Assata” with Shakur so she can share some of her thoughts on freedom after the song relates major events from her life based on details and paraphrased lines from poems in Assata: An Autobiography.   Forté uses the sample of Angela Davis to further a narrative that reveals how the prison industrial complex diminishes perceptions of the humanity and the intellectual capacity of prisoners in “Drift On.”

These three hip hop songs align with a continuum of specific radical women during a time when there are few women getting consistent recognition in the genre of hip hop music, so it marks a curious point of departure where women can be part of conversations in a musical genre where they are not frequently prominent as vocalists. This sampling practice also places men and women in conversation–activists, artists, and listeners–in a manner that reflects strength, certainty, and a sense of coming together with specific political ideas in a manner that, importantly, does not erase intellectual, or sonic, difference.

Tara Betts is the author of the poetry collection Arc and Hue, a Ph.D. candidate at Binghamton University, and a Cave Canem fellow. Tara’s poetry also appeared in Essence, Bum Rush the Page, Saul Williams’ CHORUS: A Literary Mixtape, VILLANELLES, both Spoken Word Revolution anthologiesand A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry. Her research interests include African American literature, poetry, creative writing pedagogy, and most recently sound studies.  In the 1990s, she co-founded and co-hosted WLUW 88.7FM’s “The Hip Hop Project” at Loyola University while writing for underground hip hop magazines, Black Radio Exclusive, The Source, and XXL. She is co-editor of Bop, Strut, and Dance, an anthology of Bop poems with Afaa M. Weaver.

%d bloggers like this: