Non-Black Hip-Hop Scholars

24 02 2008


Figure 1: Hiphop’s Panacea

The term “non-black hip hop scholar” is almost redundant, because just about anyone I’ve ever met who fits the following criteria:

  • Knows the year that virtually any hiphop album/single was released
  • Vigorously defends hiphop from those who say it’s all about violence and misogyny
  • Has an iPod so chock full of ill-gotten hiphop tracks that you almost develop sympathy for the RIAA
  • Loves loves loves loves loves Tribe Called Quest and/or Mos Def and/or Talib Kweli
  • Takes pride in knowing about ‘underground’ (a wannabe Afro-urban partial appropriation of the term ‘Indie’) rap artists
is not black.
It’s difficult for me to express exactly what about this makes me incredibly angry, but I think number 2 on the list is what causes the most conflict between myself and other people. Hiphop scholars take a lot of pride in the fact that they’ve ‘discovered’ the music to me more than just gangster rap, but as soon as they make that discovery, they take the shit way too damn far. They’re suddenly under the impression that since they understand hiphop more than pretty much everyone else on the planet, then they also understand black people – effectively equating hiphop to black people and the black experience.
This sets up an incredibly tense situation when, inevitably, I make some offhand (and usually exaggerated) claim about hiphop in the presence of a hiphop scholar. For example, I’ve been known to say things like “I don’t need to listen to hiphop. I grew up in DC and lived through the violence and put up with the drug dealers first hand.” I say these things jokingly, and most people get it.

But not the hiphop scholar. This fucker will blindly LUNGE at the chance to defend hiphop – even from black people – and tell me exactly how I’m wrong, why I’m wrong, and how I’ve failed to understand hiphop. The irony of this behavior is what gets under my skin, because it takes a lot of nerve for someone who isn’t black to presume that a.) a black person from the inner city (me) could misunderstand hiphop which, at its core, is an expression of black people and the black experience, and b.) that they could ever in a million years understand that expression better than I could.

I could sit here for the next ten years listening to Fado – but no matter how much I studied it and learned about it, it would never occur to me to ‘correct’ the interpretation of this music by someone from Portugal. That would reflect a combination of rudeness, presumption, and flat-out wrongheadedness that was driven from me in my childhood by occasional smackdowns and yellings at delivered skillfully by my parents. I suppose when it comes down to it, hiphop scholars just don’t have any home training, or perhaps they were gifted children and aren’t accustomed to shutting the fuck up when they should.

With all that said, let me state that I don’t actually have a problem with the hiphop scholar studying the ins and outs of the music and the culture that surrounds it. Furthermore, feel free to light a fire under anyone who isn’t black and presumes to make blatantly false claims and misguided interpretations about hiphop. But when you’re around black people…do yourself a favor and keep your fucking mouth shut.




35 responses

1 03 2008
Jonathan Z (JUICY J)

Yeah its like listening to Ricky Martin and thinking you fully understand the Puerto Rican Experience. Its not all about Livin La Vida Loca and shaking your Bon Bon.

1 03 2008
I love Black Star

The problem with your argument is that hip hop only represents one piece of the grand tapestry that is (what you call) the black experience in America. Also the truth is – as much as hip hop is about black culture – at its very core its not about race at all – its much more about about poverty, rebellion and “the struggle”. Therefore, an individuals complexion is not going to give them a free pass to hip hop culture. The non-black hip hop scholar could quite possibly be born and raised in a location (like a Puerto Rican in Spanish Harlem or a Polish American in Green Point, Brooklyn) that gives them access to a culture that a “black” person doesn’t have (like an African American in the suburbs of No. VA or Long Island). A case in point would be M&M – the dude is white as hell but grew up in a broken home and experienced poverty and despair. You can’t tell me that the rich black kid in the suburbs understands hip hop better than Slim Shady! And no I’m not a “hip hop scholar” at all – just a big fan who always felt included in the hip hop equation – regardless of my skin color.

1 03 2008
I love Black Star

love the blog. Keep it up.

1 03 2008

Black Star, it’s nice to receive a thoughtful reply now and again. Thanks.

You’re right in that hiphop does not represent the whole of the black experience in America. As you correctly state, it’s the product of poverty, rebellion, youth, etc., but the key issue I think you’re overlooking in your argument is that hiphop, at its creation (and when it was at its best and most authentic), looked at these issues through a black lens (I’d say black ‘paradigm’, but I have to be able to sleep at night).

The social issues addressed by hiphop are indeed not exclusive to black people or any other race in particular, but the way those social issues are experienced and interpreted by black people (or white people, or hispanics, or anyone else) is very unique to that culture – much like several people witnessing a car accident from several different angles: everyone saw the same accident, yet everyone sees something different. As a consequence, the expressions of those experiences from black people will be unique to black people, because only a black person can experience the social issues discussed in hiphop AS a black person.

In sum, it seems that your argument is that hiphop is about social issues that cross-cut color lines (which is true)…but I don’t think you can safely remove real hiphop from the racial context in which it was created. To take just one of the issues as an example – poverty – being black and poor is a very different experience than being white and poor.

Another bone I have to pick with your argument is that, while you say race isn’t a free pass into hiphop culture, you seem to imply that poverty and a broken home are…and I think that’s a dangerous statement because it tacitly implies that hiphop = a discussion of poverty. I don’t think that’s what you meant, but the conclusion does follow logically and inevitably from your predicates.

Eminem may know a lot more about poverty than a rich black kid, but Eminem will never ever know more about being black than the rich black kid (let’s call him Jake). Before he was famous, Eminem could put on a cheap suit, walk out of his trailer, and enjoy the ethos shared by every member of the dominant culture which gives him, as a white male, the ability to enjoy no prejudice from that culture. Put the same cheap suit on Jake, and it’s a whole different story – regardless of that kid’s station in life, he will get all the prejudices the dominant culture reserved for black people thrown right at him.

In short, Eminem in a cheap suit is just a guy about whom people won’t really make any assumptions – whereas Jake in a cheap suit is just another black guy with all the negative stereotypical baggage about black people attached to him…and to me, that core issue is what hiphop (when it was real and relevant between the late 70s and late 80s) is all about. The negative themes (remember, there are positive themes too) of poverty, repression, injustice, rebellion, and all the others simply stem from that as a consequence.

I’ll end on this note: most hiphop scholars are not people like Eminem. Most hiphop scholars are like the black kid you mentioned…except they’re not black. They’re white/asian/arab/indian/etc. people who grew up in the suburbs of thriving cities and wouldn’t know hard times if it kicked them in the ass, and white ones sure as hell don’t know a thing about prejudice. These people truly need to keep their mouths shut instead of ‘correcting’ a black person about hiphop – even if they presume that black person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. It’s not about being right – it’s about respect and the ills of presumption. And honestly, the Eminem types need to shut it too. They may be poor, but they’ll never be black – and to me, hiphop is about the black experience, and race is absolutely inextricable from the equation.

2 03 2008
I love Black Star

Nice clarification. I can agree that because of the black “lens” that hip hop began with, it is at its core – a reflection of A black experience in America. The problem I have with saying that ANY black person can understand hip hop better than ANYone else is the history.

If I remember correctly – it was the destruction of tenement housing on the upper west side to make room for the Lincoln Center and the creation of the Cross Bronx expressway that displaced a number of blacks in the 60’s and 70’s and made the South Bronx the most poverty stricken area of the country. Sure, it was because they were black that they were discarded so easily – but I see poverty as a vital element in the spark that began hip hop culture. There’s a reason it started in the Bronx and not a more affluent black community (like Queens).

In short – I can agree with saying a poor whitey can’t truly understand hip hop but I don’t think the rich black guy gets it either. But that’s just me.

10 03 2008
El Gringo Tiro Loco

“and white ones sure as hell don’t know a thing about prejudice.”

Sorry, dude, but I can’t buy that statement. Whereas the general proposition that white people generally have much less to add to the conversation than their darker-toned friends, such blanket statements are simply erroneous.

While I would agree that the way we pale people are treated when we go to black clubs does not compare to the legacy of slavery (we are talking about oceans apart), some of us do know about stereotypes and prejudice. You don’t have to be black and have been discriminated against to know about prejudice.

That said, thanks for writing this blog. I laugh, I cry, I go to Love and ask that we all just get along.

24 03 2008

I agree with El Gringo. Non-white people of America please read this carefully: White people are not the only people on the planet capable of being prejudiced!!!

You proved this yourself simply by blogging “and white ones sure as hell don’t know a thing about prejudice”, which is in itself an inherently prejudiced statement.

I’m a white guy who loves to play basketball; I’m pretty good at it too I might add. Many times I have found myself in the position of being a minority on the court. Most of the other players usually treat me with reasonable respect – but not always. There always seems to be that one person (sometimes more than one) that REALLY dislikes me being there and isn’t shy about telling me so or making disparaging remarks about me based on my race.

Clearly this does not compare to living your whole life as a minority, but implying that white people are NEVER discriminated against, even if it is only to a lesser degree, is flat wrong.

24 03 2008

Oh and BTW – you sight is freakin’ HILARIOUS!

25 03 2008

you make an all right point about most recognizable hip-hop scholars not being Black, but I feel like you’re cutting out a lot of the history of hip-hop itself. Like, what about all the poor Puerto Ricans living in the S. bronx that contributed to b-boy culture?

25 03 2008

Hmmm, well since poor puerto ricans are so separate from black people that the history has to be separated, could you spread the word in the south bx that the next time I see a bunch of puerto rican kids calling each other “Niggas” in every other sentence that I’m gonna postal and start screaming on little Spanish speaking black children who might not actually believe they are black.

25 03 2008

I think most African Americans and Hip Hop Scholars who know anything at all understand that Puerto Ricans are very much apart of the history hip hop in New York City. Other Black People and Puerto Ricans have the same range of colors and racial backgrounds (native, black, white) I know Puerto Ricans Speak Spanish, but Wycliffe speaks Creole/French and no one’s asking about the Haitian history in Hip-Hop.

25 03 2008

i love love love love ATCQ!
be easy Phife!

27 03 2008
S. Lake

Can you add “white racism scholars” to your list? Or maybe not… I guess it’s only right for them to be experts about that ish…

27 03 2008

blog admin I love your response. You are on point.

I think your next post should be about cultural appropriation in general, b/c that is exactly what the white folks who have responded here and the ones who are the subject of the post have done.

I find that these folks are trying to redefine hip hops origins by “deblacking” it and thus making it easier to appropriate. Same song, different era (blues, jazz, rock).

For the record: Yes, Ricans in the Bronx are part of hip hop (another facet of the black experience).

30 03 2008

nice response, blog administrator. i am admittedly and eminem hater, so i do agree. and if i’m not correct eminem was trailer trash on the white side of the tracks, wasn’t he? he chose to be around black people and the black experience. same goes for the other white people who’ve responded. yes, everyone has prejudices, everyone. but you choose to leave your white society to hang at the black club or play basketball with mostly black people. you could easily go to an all white or mixed club or play ball with your white friends. for african americans, there is no choice, it is just a reality of having to interact with whites on a daily basis. that is the difference: choice.

30 03 2008
The Devil


I was just going to say that I love and miss A Tribe Called Quest, but reading through the comments here has got my horns up.

First of all, NOT ALL HIP HOP IS ABOUT POVERTY, STRUGGLE, ETC.!! ATCQ’s music was middle-class hip-hop, offering just a few of the millions of perspectives, tales, and musings on life as a non-white male in America.

The comments by some on this board only goes to show that there is clearly a HUGE-ASS divide when it comes to race relations. Being the only white boy on the court and being treated less than ideally and saying that is an experience that gives you even the slightest clue is like me stuffing a pillow under my shirt and telling a woman who’s been pregnant for 40 weeks, then in labor for 42 hours with three big-headed triplets that “I’ve been there…”

It’s callous, glib, and plain wrong. You cannot distill hundreds of years of history handed down through generations, or the thousands of unique racist experiences of certain minorities in America into one or a few instances where you were made to feel uncomfortable.

Let me come to your house, say I discovered it, take your ATM card, rape your woman, sister, and your mom, sell your screaming kids to NAMBLA charter members, make you learn a new language, and then tell you and your future generations that you are inherently immoral, stupid, and inferior. Then we can talk about you knowing where I’m coming from. As opposed to you catching the stink eye from a few bruthas, and all of a sudden becoming the Yoda of racism…

– The Devil

30 03 2008
Mr. Smith

@ The Devil,

It’s funny that your name is the Devil, yet you’re one of the least evil, most knowledgeable people on here. Preach!

5 04 2008
Sister Toldja

This post fucking amazing. You submit this (and the response you gave to I Love Black Star) to….well, I don’t think there is any mag that would print this. The Source doesn’t have room between the titty pics and rim ads and the readers of the Fader, URB and are “Hip Hop Scholars” and their heads would explode immediately upon reading this.

I think what is more heartbreaking is the disinterest that most young Black folks have in “Real” Hip-Hop. When I was finally old enough to attend Hip-Hop parties and concerts in high school. I was devistated and shocked to find that I was often one of a handful of Blacks and usually one of the 1-3 Black chicks. Craziest shit ever: going to a Dead Prez concert at the 9:30 Club in DC, which is spitting distance from a Howard dorm, and being SURROUNDED by White people!

I went to Hip-Hop Karaoke last night at the Knit in NYC and the White guys made up the majority of the enthisuastic particpants. When I got up at the end of the night and did “Stakes Is High” (ALONE!), the White guys were very excited. The few brothers there were somewhat ambivilent. If I were down with the swirl, I coulda scooped me a nice Jewish boy last night.

Just like Jazz, the Blues and Rock and Roll, we have given up one of our most shining cultural products for Whitey to dissect, and obsess over. Black people have turned their backs en masse against all but the most virulent. destructive forms of Hip-Hop. And that is our fault, but dammit I’ma still need Chad and Artie to STFU about it! The same White guys waxing poetic about the potential of the Public Enemy movement and the role of Hip-Hop as a political means will be the same ones moving in to Big Mamma old house when the landlord realizes he can make more money renting to a bunch of douchebag gentrifiers who are dying for a taste of “real” “urban” living.

5 04 2008
Sister Toldja

Fuck me. That is the most glaring grammar mistake ever (“RE: This post amazing”).

1 05 2008
To My Readers: Taking a Day Off « Stuff Black People Hate

[…] Non-Black Hip Hop Scholars […]

2 05 2008

@ The Devil

“Let me come to your house, say I discovered it, take your ATM card, rape your woman, sister, and your mom, sell your screaming kids to NAMBLA charter members, make you learn a new language […]”

while it does add literary effect, i am almost offended by you using this. There isn’t an American Negro alive (myself included) that knows how this feels. so don’t try to make this synonymous with something that you or any of us has felt. The white dudes were simply saying that they’ve felt a taste of racism, so they can relate a little bit. they weren’t calling themselves the yodas of racial awareness. hyperbole can be cool, but i don’t think that quote should be in your argument.

lastly, NY rap realllly sucks now = ] “Capo status dipset byrdgang one eyed willy dunny dun dun” GD it sucks… at least you northeasteners will always have biggie…

2 05 2008

I happen to have went to school with a whole heap of what we call ” The White Hip-Hop Heads”, They swear they are more hip- hop than you could ever be. Nothing makes me more pissed than going to a Roots or Common show and being 1 of 3 sistas there amongst 10 brothas (the rest are white dudes with dreds and Bob Marley t- shirts on). Oh, and I forgot the random White girl jumpdowns. I’m at a Black rap show and I’m the one feeling out of place. And this is at just about every rap concert ever I’ve been to (with the exception of Jay- Z).

2 05 2008
soldier boy tells them

dear abby,

what does it mean if you’re white and you cant stand this nefarious “white dude who’s into hip hop thinking he’s a hip hop scholar”?

who does he turn to? the brothers givin him the stink eye? prolly not.

certainly not the white kid with sandals, a bob marley shirt, sipping his michelob clutching the latest mos def b-side.

im starting to wonder if there will ever be a ground we can all stand on. I mean, seriously, i cant stand going to roots shows. wu-tang, forget about it. (ok maybe not, but i slept when they came through philly, and im not thrilled w/ 8 diagrams anyway cuz i side with raekwon and wanna hear some punch you in your face music), and shit someone fuckin save me if i wind up at a talib or common show.

i think there’s some people who agree with this by and large, but with all these statements that sweep every damn person besides themselves aside, i wonder where my family is at in all this?


some funny fuckin name that turns into an acronym that summarizes my agrument

2 05 2008

No one is knocking whites that are into hip-hop. We are knocking the ones that think that they have more knowlege and insight into the culture than Blacks. As if we weren’t born into it- well, most of us anyways. I like all kinds of rap. Soldier Boy Tell Them, what are you into, if you don’t like Common or Talib or Wu-Tang sometimes (me too)? I hope not Soljah Boy.

9 05 2008
soldier boy tells them

Whoah, lemme restate something. I am a fan of the wu. 36 chambers to me is and always will be a classic. liquid swords? another classic. all ODB. OB4CL etc etc.

that said, almost all golden age (early 90’s, i prolly dont even have to explain this) stuff. lord finesse. some earlier new school, big daddy kane.
i’ve been into hip hop since i was a wee kid. first album i ever bought was jeru’s sun also rises on cassette when it came out. i could drop names for days, but you get the picture. believe me my love runs deep.

i definately cannot stand how people somehow equate a love for a music with an perfect understanding of a culture. i dont presume to have some deeper understanding of black culture, black history, black existence via hip hop, but at the same time, i dont feel a sense of kinship with the fanboy #1 of mos def or talib (prolly the only talib verse i like is the one on that jaylib collabo, not for its lyrics specifically, but how it sounds, and i wont bore you with the list of crappy talib lines ‘blunts is still fifty cents, it’s intense’ ) and lemme also say i aint just straight hating on talib or mos def, but they are consistently in the stereotypical top five of white dudes who listen to hip hop. and i aint discrediting every white dude who listens to hip hop as some kind of fraud either. its just tough to talk about stuff without making blanket statements that you dont intend to apply to every individual.

but to sum it all up and kinda reiterate my words from my previous comment – i agree with the depiction presented in the post. its absurd, ludicrous, and understandably frustrating. and im probably even being nice by saying only that. hip hop to me is a beautiful common ground for all of us to stand on, its just a damn shame people gotta step in and ruin it for the rest of us. i guess i just wanted to vent some of my own frustrations as viewed from the other side and say hey, some white folk cant stand those white folks too. apologies for the wall of words.

9 05 2008

@ soldier_Wonderfully stated.

9 05 2008

I think Talib and Mos Def are nice tho. My love for hip-hop runs deep also. I’m not around enuf White dudes lately to know whats hip to listen to now, but Ive been with them(Mos and Talib) ever since Black Star.

9 05 2008
soldier boy tells them

Oh yeah definately. I still listen to that Blackstar album, Mz Fatbooty is excellent track. whenever i dj i definately will play that. its a crowd pleaser, everyone knows it, its a solid track and the aretha franklin sample is perfect. the only reason i’m using mos def and talib as an example is because i think it easily conjures the image of white-dude-as-scholar-on-all-things-black, and maybe im comin off a little too harsh on my criticism, but i will say i havent been much into their more recent stuff. lately i mostly listen to stuff that was released a while ago.

9 05 2008
soldier boy tells them

and i know ms fatbooty isnt on blackstar, im just using that track as an example

27 08 2008

The Onion captured what is at work here in one simple headline:

“History of Rock written by the losers.”

I know it says Rock rather than hip-hop, but these are the same people you are dealing with.

17 11 2008
Lil Crawford

no doubt.

8 04 2009
Whitey Ford

That’s funny because I was one of like 6-7 kids white kids in the suburbs that listened to hip hop exclusively up until about when Eminem first came out. It was a severe crime back in the early 90s and made you a social outcast. Most of those hip hop scholars listened to nirvana, greenday, 311, sublime etc and would call you a wigger and ask why you’re listening to nigger music. Or say that rap just sounds like noise and they don’t even play insturments so it’s not real music. They couldn’t even tolerate one song and would get irrate if I put some on unless it was big butts, informer or gangstas paradise. Now those guys are telling me to check out Aesop rock, def jux, del the funky homosapien and how they just saw the roots, talib kweli or dead prez in concert. They love to remenisce about the good old days of old school hip hop like KRS-One, and Kool G. Rap. They always mention Rakim and then 5 people also quickly agree that he was the shit, or a few rebels debate whether G. Rap was better. Then I become less of a hip hop fan then them because I don’t give a shit about rakim or kool g. rap in 2009 and feel like to much of an asshole standing their gushing about how awesome I think they are just to fit in. And I don’t know my hip hop history. Only boot camp, nas, the alkoholiks, gravediggas, killarmy, wu-tang, mobb deep, cormega, capone n noreaga and all the shit I listened to in my walkman for 10 hours a day while they were skateboarding and playing the guitar. Truth be told I love some misogynistic gangster shit about guns and drugs. That’s basically what got me interested in hip hop in the first place. Doggystyle and the chronic was the most incredible I ever heard as a 10 year old white kid in the suburbs. It was like watching goodfellas without having to be in the mafia.

12 06 2009

All I have to say is FUCK CORPORATE hip hop.

22 07 2009
steve wells

you guys are all wrong about hip hop. hip hop has no color. any race you use the music . gangster rap is not hip hop.

10 09 2009
mike meeds

i have never been into the gangsta rap ‘cauz I ain’t no gangsta. I’m a lovely little white boy from Prairie Village, Kansas! and I’m definitely not trying to move in on “black culture” – but I have to state that I agree with steve wells, who must be white, since we both feel like hip-hop isn’t about one race or the other.

once you’re argument turns into “Whitey is stealing our last cultural offering” you’ve lost the cultural offering to process of making the argument. I can’t wait to do “fieldwork” in this arena, since I love gettin the stink eye (YO)

Should be about love not color, inclusion, not exclusion.

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