“What each of the groups of people that we have discussed thus far share, is being treated with suspicion due to their societal treatment as somehow not fully belonging (here, I am talking about the Chinese in Honolulu, Koreans in Befu, and Okinawans on the battlefront). We have also seen how these people fought back at times, and at others, simply tried to carve out other socialities to survive and to live out their own ideas of abundance. We have not yet discussed place-making in terms of the creation of art, of music, of literature, etc. What place do you think that these things, which we might put together as “cultural productions,” has in analyses of the eruption of political struggle? Your observations do not have to be based on research, per se. Think about how art, music, literature, and other cultural productions have shifted your own understanding of belonging, of community, and of the kind of world you want to bring into being, in meaningful ways.”
The start of 2020 brought social issues such as the BLM movement close to home which personally urged me to find a better understanding of where else a similar vocalization of societal struggles is seen. This led me to take the MUS17 hip-hop course at UCSD (I recommend this course if you are also interested in learning the history of hip-hop). This course’s content on sound scaping in Jamaica brought me back to similar patters within hip-hop and draw parallels between arts and culture and geographies. The following content is an application of sound scaping through hip-hop in America.
The development of reggae music in Jamaica was very reminiscent of the earliest origins of hip-hop, from 1950–1980s Jamaica, during which people used turntables to form an outdoors DJ type party culture. Jamaican turntablism would be introduced through young Jamaican immigrants/refugees in New York who used music that challenged the oppressive government “system” and impoverished communities. Jamaican and Manhattan turntablism was a means of different groups to come together and socialize, and music that expressed frustrations over unstable, criminalized communities allowed easier, casual discussion on political struggles. The Bronx, for instance, was well known for being a dangerous neighborhood within New York where gang violence was a common occurrence until the1971 truce which marked the beginnings of underground hip-hop and disco dance parties. Hip-hop became an alternative solution to express rebellious attitudes that was even more pronounced with the vibrant images of graffiti art plastered all over Bronx and, in particular, the trains. Often the graffiti was stock phrases used in Bronx and quickly became associated with hip-hop which exposed more listeners to this new genre. Today, we might associate the Bronx as the region where hip-hop was born because of this. Perhaps the earliest most renowned work since hip-hop’s rising popularity is Grandmaster Flash and his single “The Message” which embodied the theme of discomfort between impoverished Bronx and the authorities (often referring to the police) commonly seen in hip-hop lyrics.
The Bronx being labeled as the birthplace of hip-hop we know today is one instance of placemaking of many in hip-hop alone. One thing I draw from this though is that hip-hop was partially the product of gang culture. It is such an admirable transformation where a more passive solution was utilized to unite shared ideas and challenge a system in hopes of change as a response. For this reason, art and culture has a powerful impact especially when it comes to influencing younger audiences, and may even encourage socializing over violence to resolve conflict.