Traversing Racial Distance in Hip-hop Culture: The Ethics and Politics of Listening

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Hip-hop is often studied as a ‘political’ culture. Listeners, however, often contest the attachment of a political nature to hip-hop. After the ‘dilution’ of “real” hip-hop by record labels seeking to package the sound for mainstream consumption, is it fair to say that hip-hop retains political relevance? To address this question I make two moves. In the first, I approach hip-hop from a perspective that moves beyond lyrics, seeking to understand what the music ‘does’ rather than what it represents. In the second, I take this approach to the study of race in hip-hop culture, examining how phenotypical variation affects the affordances and subject-positions available to a given body in hip-hop culture. In approaching hip-hop through the materiality of racial difference, I find that the “political” in hip-hop emerges in moments of creative and ethical experimentation in the face of alterity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-31
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • hip-hop
  • race
  • materiality
  • ethics
  • responsibility

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