The Territories of Hip Hop: Appropriation, Occupation and Space
Adam de Paor-Evans [+]
University of Central Lancashire
The territories of Hip Hop are crucially linked to ideas of location and relocation, and in spatial terms, Hip Hop culture’s presence appears most obvious in graffiti. Here, the introductory section ‘On Territory’ refines and extends the concept of territorial ownership through graffiti by building on my previous work ‘On the Origins of Hip Hop: appropriation and territorial control of urban space’ (Evans, 2014), and furthers the context of the urban versus rural debate. This section draws largely on Bhabha’s third space theory, Lefebvre’s spatial production and Soja’s thirdspace theories to ground graffiti’s spatial and geographic territories. The section then directs attention to music and through a similar exploration discusses the territories of music representation, and by embracing the same theories as graffiti, demonstrates the emergence of a nonmaterial territory of Hip Hop. ‘Appropriation’ furthers the discussion of re-use and alternate-use of existing material culture, and offers examples of each that are particularly regional such as a place known as ‘Barclays’ in Exeter, Devon, where a small, external entrance foyer to a high street bank was appropriated in the mid-1980s on Saturday afternoons for breakdance battles and jams. The Barclays experience was a socio-spatial construct of appropriated architecture, where for a short period of time each week the polished stone entrance communicated Hip Hop rather than capital and finance. As pioneering Devon DJ, HERBIE recollects: Barclays was it, kids from all over Devon came down, some battled, some just watched, but there was a mad vibe and that place in the High Street was just so buzzing, normal people watched, some complained about the noise and we often got moved on, but when we were there we were really there! HERBIE further attests: I definitely think some of us knew what we were doing, like, we knew it wasn’t permitted but we were so sick of being told we needed to get jobs but there wasn’t any jobs, continually told to respect this authority that didn’t even know us, and this danger, doing this, in Hip Hop, in a bank…it was incredible even for a moment. HERBIE’s account begins to describe a remarkable shift in spatio-cultural power through appropriation and occupation of the bank’s foyer from a representation of capital pride, confidence and stability to a dynamic new language of Hip Hop. This spatio-cultural shift also operated in different patterns of time from the immediate and urgent to the weekly rhythm of occupation, and the complexities of this are discussed in detail here, again drawing on Lefebvre, Soja and Bhabha particularly. The following section ‘Occupation’ extends further into the other pillars of Hip Hop and critically examines the acts of occupation from the temporal to the permanent, and continuing with narratives such as the Barclays experience, unpacks the perception of ownership and begins to suggest the nonmaterial culture of British Hip Hop was already evolving at this early stage, and furthermore this nonmaterial culture was, in fact, a hybrid nonmaterial culture as core values placed on certain places. This value system progressed from what the pioneers of British Hip Hop had learned from New York and reflections on their own experiences. The final section ‘Space’ deepens the inquiry into the spatial, but is not limited to the geographic or the macro scale, but rather extends into the medium spaces of the bedroom and the home, and the micro spaces of the turntable and vinyl record as instrument, and by doing so uncovers the acute level of exploration and experimentation carried out by Hip Hop pioneers to enrich their practice. Supported by personal accounts this section explores the parallel relationships between pioneering DJs in New York and non-urban Britain, and suggests the cultural practice embedded within differ according to equipment, vinyl pressing quality and availability, and as such spatial and material qualities and experiences diverge from origin, and produce a new cultural condition.