Tag Archive | Me’shell Ndegeocello

Sound at ASA 2013

Although this year’s American Studies Association conference location is not as warm and sunny as last year’s (can we have all November conferences in warm, sunny places, please?), Washington DC has a lot to offer this year’s conference attendees. The title for this year’s annual meeting, which takes place from November 21 to November 24, 2013, is “Beyond the Logic of Debt, Toward an Ethics of Collective Dissent.” The focus on debt in all of its dimensions couldn’t be more timely, considering that the conference comes on the heels of a government shutdown that the United States is still getting over, in addition to formal and informal conversations about recovery. In this sense, Washington DC seems an ideal setting for the topic: it’s the center of many of these national conversations about debt.

It is no surprise then that, according to the co-chairs of this year’s programming committee, Roderick Ferguson, Lisa Lowe and Jodi Melamed, many of the panels chosen for this year’s ASA revolve around keywords such as “debt, obligation, ethics, collectivity, and dissent.” The focus on such topics may explain why there are less panels and papers that fall under Sound Studies. The connection between debt and sound may not be immediately apparent for some, which may either keep panels or papers that focus on sound out of the conversation. It may also be the case that the overall topic may not immediately resonate for those who work on or write about sound matters. Sound Studies is still staking its claim, loud and clear. For example, bright and early at 8:00 am on Thursday, November 21st, there’s the Sonic Lives of Debt panel, which looks at how debt is represented in music and sound in general. Another highlight from Thursday is one of two American Studies Journal panels, titled Chocolate Spaceship: Gender Politics and Afro-Futurism in Funk, with papers on Patti Labelle, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Roger Troutman.

For artists and scholars of Sound Studies, the conference theme summons Jacques Attali’s famed text, Noise: The Political Economy of MusicHis theoretical arguments about music as an audible mirror of capitalism, a structured representation of noise, and a means of understanding “debt” through sound, serve as an academic companion to this year’s lineup of panels and papers that address sound.  Some sound-related panels complicate ideas of “dissent” and “debt.” Sonic Ledgers of Dissent (Saturday, 4:00-5:45 pm), chaired by Deborah R. Vargas, focuses on dissent addresses not only the State (FBI), but also gay rapper Caushun, racial musical miscegenation, and Black/Brown alliances in Los Angeles.

However, it’s not just a matter of the connection of the theme with sound. Last year, SO! Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman pointed out in her ASA 2012 conference round-up that there were less sound studies panels than other years, and suggested that this turn may indicate that the field is entering a moment of reflection.  Stoever-Ackerman rightfully argues that academic presentations related to Sound Studies are moving beyond making the presence of the field known and moving toward engaging with sound on a deeper, more complicated level. Consider how some of the panels listed below may not be precisely about sound studies, but include a sound-oriented approach. The panel Debts of Spirit and Substance includes a paper that looks at songs of protest: Glenda Goodman’s “Unsung Songs of the ‘Swinish Multitude’: Transnational Tunes of Eighteenth-Century Political Protest.” Another example is Sunday’s Latinas/os Onscreen and On/Off Air: Rethinking Contemporary Media Audiences and Discourses panelwhich includes a presentation by Dolores Inés Casillas titled “Lost in Translation: The Politics of Spanish-language Radio Ratings.” It is encouraging to see how cultural critiques also include sound as a way to analyze and understand cultural phenomena.

"Washington DC - National Museum of American History: Fireside Chat microphone" by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Washington DC – National Museum of American History: Fireside Chat microphone” by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The ASA Sound Studies Caucus is bringing it this year with three panels that carry the caucus’s stamp of approval. The three panels (two on Friday and one on Saturday) address questions of listening, recording, and memory. The Friday panel at 2:30, chaired by Nicole Hodges Persley, is titled Sampling Phonographies: Sonic Memory and the Long History of Sampling and stars two SO! contributors: Gustavus Stadler (“Charles Chesnutt, Sonic Memory, and Racial Terror”) and Meghan Drury (“Across Time and Space: Hearing Sun Ra’s Egypt”). Each of the papers on this panel discuss the intimate relationship between music’s ritual of sampling and racial memory. That 2:30 presentation is immediately followed by Musical Debts: Appropriations, Reparations, or New Traditions?, chaired by Barry Shank. Shank participated in this year’s cross-blog (and only!) virtual IASPM-US Conference panel on popular music and Sound Studies, Sonic Borders Virtual Panel. Musical Debts explores how music trespasses across racialized, global boundaries for capitalist gains. On Saturday, you can catch the last of the SSC panels, on listening and community: Connected Listening: Re-imagining Community Through Sound. Chaired by Michelle Habell-Pallan, the papers in that panel delve into the role of listening for communities of color.

If you can’t make any of the sound studies panels, make sure to check out the ASA Sound Studies Caucus+Journal of Popular Music Studies Happy Hour Meet and Greet on Friday, November 22, 2013. We’re big fans of the work going on at JPMS, and we’re thrilled to see them partner up with the Sound Studies Caucus. The Caucus’s co-conveners, Roshanak Kheshti, Deb Vargas, SO!’s own Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman and D. Ines Casillas, welcome colleagues equally steeped in topic of sound to help build this important caucus. From the get go, this Caucus has set out to not only bring scholars together under the umbrella of sound but to also push ideas of gender, race, and sexuality as integral components of Sound Studies. Sadly, the editorial crew of SO! will not be present for this year’s SSC Happy Hour, but be sure to swing by and meet some of our guest writers who will be at Glen’s Garden Market from 5:30 to 7:00 pm!

Lastly, if you are not presenting at ASA, not attending the conference, or simply want to check in on the action, take a glance at the official Twitter hashtag #2013ASA . Hopefully we’ll get to meet you at the next ASA meeting: Los Angeles, 2014!

Please comment to let SO! know what you think–both before and after ASA 2013.  If we somehow missed you or your panel in this round up, please let our Managing Editor know!: lms@soundingoutblog.com

This post was co-authored. Liana M. Silva-Ford is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out!. Dolores Inés Casillas is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara this fall. She writes and teaches on Latino media, language politics, and sound practices.

Featured photo: “Stormy Salute” by Flickr user Joey Gannon, CC BY-SA 2.0

"Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon" by Flickr user Cliff, CC BY 2.0

“Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon” by Flickr user Cliff, CC BY 2.0

Jump to THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2013
Jump to FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2013
Jump to SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2013
Jump to SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2013
 
THURSDAY, November 21, 2013

 
8:00 am – 9:45 am

004. Debts of Spirit and Substance

Washington Hilton, C – Cardozo (T)

CHAIR: Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

PAPERS:

James Deutsch, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
In Debt to The Poor of New York: Dion Boucicault and the Panics of 1837/1857

Gino Conti, University of Southern California (CA)
Oh, I feel, I feel, I feel: Moravians, Wasted Labor, and the Afterlives of Enthusiasm

Glenda Goodman, University of Southern California (CA)
Unsung Songs of the “Swinish Multitude”: Transnational Tunes of Eighteenth-Century Political Protest

Tanja Aho, State University of New York, Buffalo (NY)
Wives and/as Debt: Women’s Lived Dissent in the Eighteenth Century

COMMENT: Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

 

007. Sonic Lives of Debt

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Alexandra Theresa Vazquez, Princeton University (NJ)

PAPERS:

Ray Allen, City University of New York, Brooklyn College (NY)
Holy Ground: Woody Guthrie’s Unsung Lyrics

Elliott H. Powell, New York University (NY)
Sampling among the Margins: Hip Hop, Indian Film Music, and the Sonic Life of Debt

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, University of California, Berkeley (CA)
Sound Nation Empire: Emory Cook’s “Sounds of Our Times”

Mark Krasovic, Rutgers University, Newark (NJ)
Steve Reich’s “Come Out” and the Sound of Evidence in the Long Hot Summers

COMMENT: Alexandra Theresa Vazquez, Princeton University (NJ)

 

014. Televising Multiculturalism and its Discontents

Washington Hilton, Georgetown East (C)

CHAIR: Sharon M. Leon, George Mason University (VA)

PAPERS:

Allison McCracken, DePaul University (IL)
Blind Auditions and Vocal Politics: Enacting and Exposing Vocal Essentialism on NBC’s The Voice

Janani Subramanian, Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IN)
Mindy Kaling and Television Multiculturalism

Gregory Zinman, Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)
Nam June Paik and the Aesthetics of Interventionist Media

COMMENT: Sharon M. Leon, George Mason University (VA)

 
10:00 am – 11:45 am
 
019. Nineteenth-Century Public Lecturing, New Media, and Technologies of Orality

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Thomas Augst, New York University (NY)

PAPERS:

Carolyn Eastman, Virginia Commonwealth University (VA)
Speechless: America’s First Celebrity Orator and the Origins of Nineteenth-Century Platform Culture

Granville Ganter, Saint John’s University (NY)
Anne Laura Clarke, Lecturer on History, 1822–1835

Tom F. Wright, University of Sussex (United Kingdom)
How Silence Spoke for Lucy Parsons

COMMENT: Thomas Augst, New York University (NY)

 

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

048. Song, Screen, Stomach: Cultural Debt and Transnational Italian Americanism

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Grace Hale, University of Virginia (VA)

PAPERS:

Joseph Sciorra, City University of New York, Queens College (NY)
“Core ‘ngrato,” a Wop Song: Mediated Renderings and Diasporic Musings

Benjamin Cawthra, California State University, Fullerton (CA)
Under the Volcano: Gordon Parks, the Bergman-Rossellini Romance, and Postwar U.S.-Italian Relations

John Gennari, University of Vermont (VT)
The Knife and the Bread, the Brutal and the Sacred: Family Trauma and Retaliatory Gastronomy in Louise DeSalvo’sCrazy in the Kitchen

COMMENT: Grace Hale, University of Virginia (VA)

 

050. American Studies Journal: Chocolate Spaceship: Gender Politics and Afro-Futurism in Funk

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas (KS)

PAPERS:

Tammy Kernodle, Miami University of Ohio (OH)
Deconstructing the Groove: Meshell Ndegeocello and the Politics of Funk in Post–Civil Rights America

Francesca T. Royster, DePaul University (IL)
Labelle: Funk, Afrofuturism, Feminism and the Politics of Flight and Fight

Scot Brown, University of California, Los Angeles (CA)
Roger Troutman and Blues Afrofuturism

COMMENT: Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas (KS)

 

4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

077. Transpacific Dissent

Washington Hilton, Monroe (C)

CHAIR: Yu-Fang Cho, Miami University of Ohio (OH)

PAPERS:

Chris Suh, Stanford University (CA)
Beyond the Logic of International Indemnity: How an American-educated Korean Became an Anti-American Leader

Fritz Schenker, University of Wisconsin, Madison (WI)
Imperial Producers: Filipino Jazz Musicians in 1920s Colonial Asia

Elizabeth Son, Northwestern University (IL)
Monuments of Dissent: Transpacific Memorializations of Sexual Slavery and Social Justice Struggles

Jennifer Sun Kwak, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
Spam, Sex Work, and U.S. Militarism: Consumption and Conscriptions of Empire in Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl

COMMENT: Yu-Fang Cho, Miami University of Ohio (OH)

 

"Washington DC - Shaw - U Street Corridor: True Reformer Building" by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

“Washington DC – Shaw – U Street Corridor: True Reformer Building” by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2013

2:00 pm – 3:45 pm 

144. Caucus – Sound Studies: Sampling Phonographies: Sonic Memory and the Long History of Sampling

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas (KS)

PAPERS:

Gustavus Stadler, Haverford College in Pennsylvania (PA)
Charles Chesnutt, Sonic Memory, and Racial Terror

Alexander William Corey, University of Colorado, Boulder (CO)
Collaborative Sampling: The John Coltrane Quartet’s Favorite Thing

Meghan Drury, George Washington University (DC)
Across Time and Space: Hearing Sun Ra’s Egypt

Jack Hamilton, Harvard University (MA)
Making Beats, Making Wakes: Loss, Memory, and Style in the Music of RZA and DJ Premier

COMMENT: Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas (KS)

 

4:00 p– 5:45 pm

160. Caucus – Sound Studies: Musical Debts: Appropriations, Reparations, or New Traditions?

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Barry Shank, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)

PANELISTS:

Kirstie Dorr, University of California, San Diego (CA)

Sumanth Gopinath, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (MN)

Roshanak Kheshti, University of California, San Diego (CA)

COMMENT: Jonathan Sterne, McGill University (Canada)

 

5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

 

 

Glen’s Garden Market PUB

 

2001 S Street NW, Washington DC
"50.MakeSomeNoise.Newseum.NW.WDC.17August 2013"  by Flickr user Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

“50.MakeSomeNoise.Newseum.NW.WDC.17August 2013” by Flickr user Elvert Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0

 
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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2013

 
8:00 am – 9:45 am
 
180. Caucus – Early America Matters: Commons Democracy

Washington Hilton, F1 – Fairchild West (T)

CHAIR: Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University (TN)

PAPERS:

Joanna Brooks, San Diego State University (CA)
Why We Left: Archives of Common Memory, Martial Power, and Peasant-Class Anglo-American Communities

Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University (MA)
Performative Commons in the Atlantic World

Melissah Pawlikowski, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)
Endeavors for The Common Good: The Communitarian Foundation of Frontier Republicanism and the Populist Push West

COMMENT: Dana Nelson, Vanderbilt University (TN)

 
181. Repudiating Debt Across the Americas: Latinidades, Embodied Performance, and the Archive as Site of Contestation

Washington Hilton, F2 – Fairchild East (T)

CHAIR: Ernesto Javier Martínez, University of Oregon (OR)

PAPERS:

Magdalena Barrera, San Jose State University (CA)
Refusing Pedagogical Debts: Mexican Women in the Verbal and Visual Archives of Americanization

Laura G. Gutiérrez, University of Arizona (AZ)
Sell Your Love Steep: Prostitution, Indebtedness, and other Transnational Transactions in Rumbera Iconography

Marisol Negron, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
Tributo a “El Cantante”: The Making and Unmaking of Héctor LaVoe’s Abjection

Micaela Díaz-Sánchez, Mount Holyoke College (MA)
From the Page to the Stage and Screen: Queer Chicana Cultural Production, Spectatorship, and Community

COMMENT: Ernesto Javier Martínez, University of Oregon (OR)

 

193. American Studies Journal: Groove Theory: Funk, Feminism, and Afro-Beat

Washington Hilton, Monroe (C)

CHAIR: Deborah Whaley, University of Iowa (IA)

PAPERS:

Nikki A. Greene, Wellesley College (MA)
Don’t Call Her No Tramp: The Feminist Funk Power of Betty Davis and Renée Stout

Tony Bolden, University of Kansas (KS)
Groove Theory: A Vamp on the Epistemology of Funk

Alex Stewart, University of Vermont (VT)
Funky Drummer: Fela Kuti, James Brown, and the Invention of Afrobeat

COMMENT: Deborah Whaley, University of Iowa (IA)

 
12:00 pm – 1:45 pm

222. ASA Artist in Residence Ricardo Dominguez: Disturbance Research Lab: Digital Disobedience (Practicum)

Washington Hilton, International Ballroom West (C)

 
2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

246. ASA Women’s Committee: Critical Conjunctures of Debt: Women of Color, Healthcare Disparities, and Advocacy

Washington Hilton, Jefferson West (C)

CHAIR: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University (NY)

PAPERS:

Shirley Tang, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
Invisible Debt: Digitizing and Voicing The Health Disparities and Experiences of Asian American Women

Jacki Rand, University of Iowa (IA)
Native Dissent and Debts of Imperialism: Choctaw Women, Violence, and Health Disparity in the Southeast

Koritha Mitchell, Ohio State University, Columbus (OH)
Pay Yourself First and Pay it Forward: The Black Girls RUN! Project

COMMENT: Alondra Nelson, Columbia University (NY)

 

 4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

258. Caucus – Sound Studies: Connected Listening: Re-imagining Community Through Sound

Washington Hilton, Columbia Hall 9 (T)

CHAIR: Michelle Habell-Pallan, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)

PAPERS:

Jessica Schwartz, Columbia University (NY)
No Longer Can I Stay, It’s True: The Politics of Hearing Harmony in Marshallese “Free Association” Diaspora

Kevin Fellezs, Columbia University (NY)
You Listen But Don’t Ask Question: Listening for the Sounds of Hawaiian-ness

Eric Porter, University of California, Santa Cruz (CA)
Bill Dixon’s Voice

COMMENT: Michelle Habell-Pallan, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)

 
263. Sonic Ledgers of Dissent

Washington Hilton, Jefferson West (C)

CHAIR: Deborah R. Vargas, University of California, Riverside (CA)

PAPERS:

Andreana Clay, San Francisco State University (CA)
Searching for Caushun: Homo Thuggery and the Search for Queer Black Masculinity

Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
The Future has a Past: Spatial Entitlement, Race, and Cultural Expression in Black and Brown Los Angeles, 1940–Present

Sherrie Tucker, University of Kansas (KS)
Following the State on the Dance Floor of the Nation: The FBI at the Hollywood Canteen

Shana Redmond, University of Southern California (CA)
All Around the World, Same Song: The Trials of Black Musical Genre and Racial Solidarity in the Twentieth Century

COMMENT: Herman Gray, University of California, Santa Cruz (CA)

 

"Washington DC_cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin" by Flickr user robposse, CC BY 2.0

“Washington DC_cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin” by Flickr user robposse, CC BY 2.0

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2013

 

8:00 am – 9:45 am

 288. Folklorization on the National Mall: Representations of Culture through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Washington Hilton, Georgetown West (C)

CHAIR: William S. Walker, State University of New York, College at Oneonta (NY)

PAPERS:

Virginia Myhaver, Boston University (MA)
Institutionalizing the Folk: Emergent Neo-Liberalism and the Mixed Legacy of the Bicentennial Folklife Festival

Jesse Pearlman Karlsberg, Emory University (GA)
Participation on Folklore’s Terms: Sacred Harp Singing at the 1970 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife

Olivia Cadaval, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
Negotiating Cultural Representations through the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Diana Baird N’Diaye, Smithsonian Institution (DC)
Curating Crucial Conversations about Twenty-first-Century African American Diversity at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

COMMENT: William S. Walker, State University of New York, College at Oneonta (NY)

  

10:00 am – 11:45 am

300. Latinas/os Onscreen and On/Off Air: Rethinking Contemporary Media Audiences and Discourses

Washington Hilton, D – Du Pont (T)

CHAIR: Mari Castañeda, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA)

PAPERS:

Jillian Báez, City University of New York, College of Staten Island (NY)
Losing Weight, Balancing, and Aging: Intergenerational Readings of the Mediated Latina Body

Dolores Inés Casillas, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Lost in Translation: The Politics of Spanish-language Radio Ratings

María Elena Cepeda, Williams College (MA)
Latinidad as Transnational Marketing Construct and Performative Category: Latina/o Youth Interpret Los Tigres del Norte and Calle 13’s “América”

Hannah Noel, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
Imagining NPR’s National Publics: Latinas/os and Neoliberal Models of Social Regulation

COMMENT: Mari Castañeda, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA)

 

"Washington DC Day 2 - a bit blurry" by Flickr user H. Michael Miley, CC BY-SA 2.0

“Washington DC Day 2 – a bit blurry” by Flickr user H. Michael Miley, CC BY-SA 2.0

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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.

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