The Consumption of Hip Hop: Distinction, Commercialization and the Subaltern
Adam de Paor-Evans [+]
University of Central Lancashire
British Hip Hop was consumed initially through products and artefacts which adorned the recurring themes, tropes and signs that had become established and accepted forms of Hip Hop culture in New York. The products consisted mainly of records, but also books, apparel and VHS tapes, and although the paramount artefacts seen as bringing Hip Hop to Britain were discussed in chapter 1, this chapter draws on a broader range of more commercial examples and explores consumption, cultural value, and acceptance. Furthermore, it examines how their failure to communicate to the Hip Hop audience led in-part to an underground retort and resistance which was executed through the first recordings of lo-fi, non-urban rap music. The opening section of this chapter, ‘On Consumption’, discusses these commercialized products within the theory of regionalism between both sides of the Atlantic, before the focus shifts to British city and public space, but also the rural spaces of village bus stops, barns, fields and the mechanics of agricultural machinery and power supply. The discourse here is framed within a theory of assemblage as presented by DeLanda, and proposes a hybrid social network between Hip Hop culture and rural life. In the major cities of London, Birmingham and Manchester, pirate radio stations were beginning to host their own Hip Hop shows, and independent record shops were importing high quality rap music from The States, but neither of these methods of exposure to new music was accessible to heads in the semi-rural areas, and alternative tactics were required. One such common tactic was recording John Peel’s show on BBC Radio One. Devon rap artist SHAR attests: I and many of my peers would stay up until 1am on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning, without our parents’ knowledge, with a cassette-radio player waiting for Peel to play one Hip Hop record among his varied array of indie obscurities. We would hover our finger over the pause button, sometimes for an hour or more desperate to record something fresh. We would compare the recordings the next day at school or in the (bus) shelter. As a fifteen year old living in the sticks, this really was the only access we had to new Hip Hop. The social network of Hip Hop begins to become apparent here, a network that relates rural timber bus shelter with the hard, underground sounds of New York, which this section explores thoroughly, as its impact on the first creations of lo-fi non-urban British Hip Hop is crucial. Delving deeper into this social network, ‘Distinction’ brings the question of taste to the discussion, and drawing from Bourdieu’s theories of habitat, taste and classification, starts to unpack the story of class in semi-rural Hip Hop, and in particular links the distinction of commercial products from artefacts and appropriated objects, and their regional value. The next section, ‘Commercialization’, expands on these distinctions and explores how consumer capitalism exploited the artefacts discussed in the opening section specifically for the British audience and the variable ramifications of these in terms of cultural development. At this point, the chapter starts to weave the threads of acquired cultural hybridity together, and anchors the formative cultural values that were specifically semi-rural British, and argues that these early, seemingly unconsidered decisions formed a belief system that underpinned Hip Hop’s development and informed the next two decades. This leads well into the following section, where ‘the Subaltern’ is discussed and the desire to dig deeper into underground Hip Hop. The idea to ‘dig’ is critical to engage heads and central to this idea is the seeking and furthering of one’s own position in Hip Hop through knowledge; this knowledge manifests itself primarily in music.