Paul Fermin looks at an artist monograph that engages with hip hop in Chinese diasporic communities


Image: Cover of <i>Cao Fei: Hip Hop</i>.
Image: Cover of Cao Fei: Hip Hop.

When understood as not simply a musical genre, but also a cultural and political intervention, hip hop—at its best1—has a way of short-circuiting established or otherwise stale narratives.

Image: Scanned pages from <i>Cao Fei: Hip Hop</i>.
Image: Scanned pages from Cao Fei: Hip Hop.

The literature on creative industries, for example, argues that local governmental support is crucial for creating successful arts clusters. Yet hip hop emerges in 1970s/1980s NYC—among marginalised black, Latino/a, and Afro-Caribbean youth—in a borough (The Bronx) that saw not only massive disinvestment of governmental support, but also urban planning policies actively designed to destabilise and evict these largely migrant communities.2 Indeed, hip hop’s vulnerable origins may be surprising to some, given its current manifestation as a popular and bonafide world-historical music genre—one that even finds resonance with distant political resistance movements and youth around the world.3

Image: Scanned pages from <i>Cao Fei: Hip Hop</i>.
Image: Scanned pages from Cao Fei: Hip Hop.

The artist monograph Cao Fei: Hip Hop in the AAA Collection speaks to this complex geography under globalisation, unsettling lazy dichotomies like "the West vs. the East" (whatever those topoi are intended to signify). Cao Fei travelled around the world, documenting construction workers and crossing guards gyrating to appropriated hip hop beats in Guangzhou; Chinese immigrants in Fukuoka stepping to hybridised forms of Japanese hip hop; and people of all ages in NYC’s Chinatown interpreting "proletarian hip hop" (her phrase) through their bodies on the vibrant city streets.

What emerges is the insufficiency of the language used to frame, categorise, or otherwise delimit something like hip hop, but also the impetus for seeking new forms and songs and words and movements that more artfully speak to our shared human condition. Hip hop has a way of getting you "stuck off the realness."4


Paul Fermin is AAA English Editor.

Follow @AAA_Ideas on Twitter.



1. Less admirable are hip hop’s misogynistic and homophobic currents, or periods like its "Bling Era" or, say, today’s Mumble Rap.
2. See Tricia Rose, Black Noise.
3. The charge of American cultural imperialism/hegemony, then, is also complicated when it comes to something like hip hop, which, as mentioned, grew from communities under constant threat and surveillance—both then and now—and had to find alternative routes outside major media conglomerates (which initially dismissed hip hop as a passing fad) to survive.
4. A line by the late rapper Prodigy (a.k.a. Albert Johnson) from Mobb Deep’s "Shook Ones Part II."





Collection Spotlight
Mon, 17 Jul 2017
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Paul FERMIN, Item of the Week | Cao Fei: Hip Hop, Mon, 17 Jul 2017

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