“Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”Oxford Dictionary
Hip-hop, or rap, culture originated in the South Bronx of New York City in the 1970s. Hip-hop music developed as part of the culture. It is is defined by four key stylistic elements: rapping, DJing/scratching, sampling and beatboxing (RapWorld, 2019). Hip hop is heavily influenced by African music, specifically the griots of West Africa, and today is typically associated with African American culture.
With the genre’s roots so heavily influenced by black cultures, hip hop has been a way for black people to be able to express themselves and create music about issues affecting their community such as racism and police brutality. A perfect example of this is N.W.A, a popular rap group in the 1980s and 1990s who used their platform to speak out about issues facing the black people of America, particularly in Compton, a city in Los Angeles, California.
The Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop and Black Culture
“I argue that colourblind ideology provides whites with the discursive resources to justify their presence in the scene, and more important, to appropriate hip-hop by removing the racially coded meanings embedded in the music and replacing themJason Rodriquez, Color-Blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop
with colour-blind ones.”
It is evident through the appropriation by non-black people of themes typically associated with hip-hop culture and music that there is an element, conscious or subconscious, of a colour-blind ideology and approach to implementing these themes in their music.
In recent years, performers like Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus have come under scrutiny for cultural appropriation. Azalea is an Australian rapper who is accused of using a ‘blaccent’ and has been heavily criticised for “profiting from a culture that is not her own” (SBS, 2016). After Cyrus’ 2013 MTV VMA’s performance featuring twerking, a dance move which originated in hip-hop culture, she was called out for cultural appropriation by hip-hop artists, Jay-Z and Azaelia Banks.
In the past decade, hip-hop has become more mainstream within the Japanese music scene. However, it seems as though popular Japanese hip-hop artists are not just appreciating the genre of hip-hop, but are borrowing from other cultures without acknowledging the history and heritage behind them (Tai, 2018).
“What most people do is excavate a musical genre or a fashion trend from very diversified people of distinct cultures … It’s an act that collapses the complexity the people, their history and cultures.”Emily Chow, African studies postdoctoral fellow at Hong Kong University.
In Japan, hip-hop artists and fans are taking their “appreciation” of black culture to the next level. Black skin, hairstyles and clothing have all been fetishised and become desirable and attractive “trends” for young Japanese people (Cornyetz, 1994). This style is known as ‘b-style’, which in most other countries, would be seen as blackface.
This is further encouraged by the appearance of popular Japanese artists, such as Skull, a reggae artist, who seems to “conduct himself like a caricature of how he thought black artists performed” (Tai, 2018).
Without educating yourself on cultural appropriation and how much it can impact on an individual and their community, you could be completely oblivious to cultural appropriation. Many people believe that cultural appropriation is actually a form of cultural appreciation, however, there are way less offensive ways to show your appreciation for a culture that is not your own.
As a society, we have become more sensitive to cultural appropriation and how and where it appears. The music industry appears to be a place where cultural appropriation is rampant, and has been for many years. However, by calling artists out when something they put out is a bit off or offensive, we can help educate others and put an end to the offensive practise of cultural appropriation.
Cornyetz, N. (1994). Fetishized Blackness: Hip Hop and Racial Desire in Contemporary Japan. Available at: https://www-jstor-org.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/stable/pdf/466835.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A4109289ed251b83bd7696626c47ccf40
Tai, C. (2018). Asian hip hop: racism, cultural appropriation or harmless fun?. South China Morning Post. Available at: https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-beauty/article/2148143/asian-hip-hop-homage-genre-or-cultural-appropriation-driven
Rodriquez, J. (2006). Color-Blind Ideology and the Cultural Appropriation of Hip-Hop. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. Available at: https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1177/0891241606286997
The History of Rap and HipHop. Available at: https://rapworld.com/history/
Dwyer, G. (2016). 12 TIMES CELEBRITIES LANDED IN HOT WATER FOR CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. Available at: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/12-times-celebrities-landed-in-hot-water-for-cultural-appropriation