│Silke Gwendolin Järvenpää is a professor of Business English and Cultural Studies at the University of Applied Science in Munich. Apart from contributing courses on theory, as well as on India to the Master’s programme in Intercultural Communication and Compentence, she teaches applied cultural studies for undergraduates (with a focus on English-speaking Asia) and surveillance studies. Silke Järvenpää has lived and worked in the USA and several Asian countries. Her academic background is British and American Cultural Studies.
Rap vs Big Brother: the conscious and the comical
The intimate and abusive relationship between the surveillance state and rap has repeatedly been a focus in both popular and scholarly discussion. Rap is the genre with the largest number of songs dealing with a sense of being watched, being followed and with visions of an Orwellian future. This is not surprising given that the hip hop scene has been monitored closely by the authorities from the start. The “hip hop police” proved to be very real: a law enforcement unit operating under the premise that the black body always is a potential threat to the body politic and that that holds true particularly for the (black) masculinity in rap. The result of this has been an internalisation of the Panoptic gaze by the actors in the hip hop scene, which in turn has helped to shape the identity of its preferred musical genre. In other words: rap would not be what it is without surveillance and, ultimately, the surveillance state.
In recent years, it has been a trend among intellectuals to employ the genre for – broadly speaking – educational purposes, not least for education about surveillance. My presentation will concentrate on contributions by two rappers cum academics: Shahid Buttar, MC, human rights lawyer, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (USA); and Giordano Nanni, creative head of Juice Rap News, historian at the University of Melbourne (AUS).
I will explore the ways in which the two above-mentioned artists offer their critique of the surveillance state, and the tensions that arise when rap is relocated and reduced to its ‘usability by association’ for pop-scholarly counter-discourse.