Books and Beats: The Cultural Kinship of Street Lit and Hip Hop
Books and Beats: The Cultural Kinship of Street Lit and Hip Hop is a literary culture project that considers how Street Lit and Hip Hop are cultural cousins that symbiotically catapulted black expressive youth culture into America’s consciousness at the turn of the twenty-first century. I contend that Street Lit is the missing pillar of Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip Hop culture definition and has played a critical role in Hip Hop’s global ascension. As such, Books and Beats illustrates how contemporary African American urban fiction translated Hip Hop’s most intrinsic stories from wax to print. My book chapters consider how Street Lit and Hip Hop music production have mirrored each other through self-publishing and independent music labels, sampling previous black literary and musical forms, rebuffing censorship in music and literature, and serializing novels and remixing hit records. In my exploration of understudied linkages in contemporary popular culture, I purposefully elevate how and where women of color are situated by interrogating their depictions and portrayals in music and print, as well as their positions in Street Lit publishing and the Hip Hop music industry. My focus on Street Lit, Hip Hop, and the socio-historical conditions that created both moves Books and Beats beyond a series of close readings and textual analyses to an interdisciplinary examination of an expressive culture that has forever changed the American cultural landscape. While most African American literature at the turn of century was invested in reclaiming an Afrocentric past or envisioning new Afro-futures, Street Lit focused on politically rearticulating blackness in the present for a Hip Hop audience.
Published in the Metropolitan Universities Journal, Article Available Here
Technological innovation and new economic terrain of the twenty-first century has called for higher education to re-examine how interdisciplinary ethnic studies and minority serving programs are positioned in the twenty-first century. This essay considers the utility of spaces like Black Studies departments and programs like the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship within the structure of Liberal Arts education today from the vantage a recent graduate. In the wake increasing hostility towards minority students and unfavorable media coverage of incidents on campus, colleges and universities must consider how rolling back minority focused academic and programmatic offerings alongside dramatic increases in contingent faculty and administrative staff hiring has left cultural voids. As Liberal Arts educators grapple with narrowing budget constraints and changing campus climates, the call for higher education employees who understand why disciplinary and programmatic offerings are tied to campus climate and how to use such resources grows louder. Scholar Administrators, in their ability to straddle the historically divisive line between faculty and staff, can help usher in a type of diversity that allows each student, faculty, and staff person to bear witness to the humanity in others, which ultimately is the heavy lifting of diversity.
“Literature Brave Enough to Fuck with the Grays: Hip-Hop, Black Feminism, and Street Lit”
Forthcoming in Words Beats & Life
Many Street Lit novels balance a precarious line of telling cautionary tales and glamorizing street culture, which is full of prostitutes, pimps, gangsters, drug dealers, and abusers. The Street Lit’s investment in narratives of hyper-masculinity and difficult depictions of black womanhood complicate how scholars have deconstructed and discussed the genre. The streets in Street Lit are symbolic contested grounds where people of color interrogate issues of education, class, gender, and race. The street has become a real, yet imagined, surface for writers to explore the rich textures, vivacious contours, and jagged edges of human experience. Street Lit novels like Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree and G-Spot by Noire grapple with navigating coming-of-age while contending with the competing the ideals of Hip Hop culture and black feminism. These stories create avenues to explore how urbanity impacts black girlhood and womanhood.
Street Lit, as a genre, is compelling because of its ability to pair Hip Hop culture and black feminist principles together despite their obvious points of contention. Hip Hop at the turn of the twenty-first century was seemingly synonymous with misogyny, sexism, and moral ineptitude while black feminist theorists like Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Kimberlé Crenshaw called for the empowerment, sexual liberation, and pluralistic re-visioning of black women. Nevertheless, black women, especially in the United States, found themselves attracted and connected to Hip Hop. Black feminism, by its own design, needed to find a language compelling enough to reject inducements to make reductive choices between Hip Hop culture and feminist power. In short, Hip Hop, per Joan Morgan, needed “a feminism brave enough to fuck with the grays.” And, what both Hip Hop and black feminism received was a genre that could tell vivacious narratives using literary grayscale.
“Stories Not to Pass On: Collective Material Cultural Memory in 21st Century Urban Literature”
Revised and resubmitted article
At the turn of the twenty-first century African American popular urban literature, or street lit, employed materiality and the collective memories of its readership to create political messages and social commentaries on contemporary black lives and culture. Collective material cultural memories are group remembrances of lived experiences, specific to a space and time that are elicited by the use and/or recognition of a material object. Street lit uses collective material cultural memories as conduits for telling difficult coming-of-age or coming-to-awareness stories. These stories have the potential to change lives. In the likeness of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, collective material cultural memory allows street lit authors to tell the stories not to pass on.
Street lit novels