By Adam Kruse
Here’s a real short one just aimed at starting a conversation:
Sam Seidel (2011) talks about the concept of "flipping something out of nothing" as the creative resourcefulness at the roots of hip-hop cultures (i.e., hip-hop genius). The "nothing" in this case refers to conditions associated with a lack of economic wealth and "flipping something" is the process of creating within these conditions. Seidel is telling the story of genius and just for the record: I'm not beefing with him.
That said, when some folks run with that concept of starting with "nothing," I wonder how it contributes to deficit and pathological narratives. Is starting with, "Here were poor folks making the best of a bad situation," comparable to constructing a narrative of Black history that starts with American slavery, jumps to the Civil War, then the Civil Rights movement, and excludes basically everything else? Black history is often defined in schools only by oppression and struggle as opposed to resilience; empowerment; social, political, economic, and cultural contributions; etc.
The birth of hip-hop within a context of marginalization and oppression is undeniable and hip-hop's evolving response to these forces is perhaps its most palpable strength. However, when we define hip-hop's roots only by what the people didn't have (e.g., economic capital) as opposed to what they did have (e.g., a diverse community, resilience, technological ingenuity, artistic creativity) I wonder how we contribute to the deficit narrative of people of color in urban environments.
The struggle is real. The struggle matters. But hip-hop’s power against that struggle is an equally (if not more) important part of the story. This is hip-hop’s refrain: the incontrovertibly dope hook between recurring verses of oppression. As teachers and students work to contextualize hip-hop’s past, present, and future we should be mindful of the struggle and actively work against it, but we cannot omit the wealth of genius present in hip-hop’s roots, trunks, and branches. Black history doesn't start with slavery; hip-hop didn’t start with nothing.
Seidel, S. S. (2011). Hip hop genius: Remixing high school education. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Sam Seidel's Hip Hop Genius: