‘Street Music’, Urban Ethnography and Ghettoized Communities

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Abstract

Hip-hop is a definitively urban movement, born in the crisis of the Fordist city and rooted in the 1970s street culture of poor and working-class African Americans and Latinos in New York City. Engaging with the contributions of Beer and Lamotte, this essay addresses two questions. Firstly, can we understand hip-hop as a politics of resistance, a social movement rooted in a claim on urban space and a practice of urban citizenship? And secondly, is hip hop, and particularly rap music, a form of urban and regional research? I argue that as a primarily artistic movement and black expressive culture (subject to commercial imperatives), hip-hop has a layered and complex relationship with the social, political and spatial fabric of urban America. The complexity of this relationship renders problematic attempts to understand hip-hop as urban ethnography or as a resistance politics. I conclude by discussing the potential of an engagement between hip-hop and critical urban studies.

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