Friday, September 10, 2004

Pop Music and Racial Identity

From this Sunday's Book World:

Can black musicians rock? Should white kids like rap?

They seem like foolish, indeed racist, questions, but they still get asked. Popular music is a tool millions of young people use to construct personal and tribal identities, and, for better or worse, rock is identified as white kids' music, hip-hop as black. It's not primarily a question of the musicians' competence but of cultural capital and ownership.


Neate wanders the planet, hoping to find places where hip-hop means more than sneaker brands and bling bling. In Tokyo he encounters crowds of gangsta-wannabes and cornrowed, skin-darkened fly girls, whose embrace of hip-hop at first strikes him as entirely superficial. "Hip-hop here? It's like they read it from a book," a black American expat scoffs. Probing further, though, Neate concludes that hip-hop fashion is one way for Japanese youth to assert some individuality in a maniacally conformist society.

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