Monday, December 18, 2017

J. Griffith Rollefson's "Flip the Script"

J. Griffith Rollefson is Associate Professor of Music at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. He has served on the faculties of music at the University of Cambridge and at UC Berkeley, where he served as UC Chancellor’s Public Scholar, implementing the community engaged scholarship initiative Hip Hop as Postcolonial Studies in the Bay Area.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality, and reported the following:
The page 99 test holds up for my new book Flip the Script: European Hip Hop and the Politics of Postcoloniality. It gets to a central—and somewhat controversial—thesis of the book, namely, that in European hip hop we can hear that African American “double consciousness” is the particularized US form of a global postcolonial condition. Instead of rehashing the played-out cultural appropriation vs. cultural imperialism debate, the argument flips the script on global hip hop studies, decentering US hip hop and suggesting that the black American experience encoded in hip hop resonates from global histories of colonial oppression.

The argument might seem self-evident, but this is where it gets a bit tricky. A central premise of the book is that migrants from the former colonies and peripheries of Europe are attracted to hip hop’s forms of cultural critique. Obvious, right? But, importantly, a lot of these postcolonial people aren’t black. Sure, the book centers migrant voices ranging from Senegal, Ghana, and Cameroon to Jamaica and Grenada, but it places them side by side with voices from Algeria, Libya, Turkey, and farther afield to Cambodia, Chile, Pakistan, and… Sri Lanka. This is the point I’m making here on page 99 [inset, left; click to enlarge]—that scholars, critics, and hip hop fans alike have had trouble with the hip hop influenced global mash-ups of the South Asian Londoner, M.I.A., generating a deeply suspicious authenticity and appropriation discourse… that is further complicated by gender.

As I stress on this page from a section titled “London’s ‘Other Blacks,’” M.I.A. is not “borrowing” hip hop culture to reinvent her “own” ethnicity. I love Paul Gilroy—he’s an inspiration to me and the major touchstone in my work—and I fully understand the power asymmetries and histories of cultural theft that permeate the history of Afrodiasporic musics. This is not an “all lives matter” argument. The point is that M.I.A. grew up in diverse communities in London’s immigrant “ends.” The music of her diverse, international, and polycultural community resonated with her. She made that music work for her (instead of sticking to her “own,” what?, traditional Sri Lankan music?). And while her music might make us uncomfortable, that’s precisely the point: it’s transgressive of ethnic, gender, and political orthodoxies. As I put it later in the chapter, “we can hear in this music the very thing we are afraid we might—the sound of the authentically inauthentic.” This is the sound of postcoloniality.
Learn more about Flip the Script at the University of Chicago Press website, and check out the book’s companion website, which has audio, video, chapter summaries, more excerpts, other resources, and information on buying the book.

--Marshal Zeringue