The Production of Hip Hop: Process, Empowerment and Cultural Repositioning
Adam de Paor-Evans [+]
University of Central Lancashire
The same year Hip Hop arrived in Britain, experimentation with elements of the culture began, and these were predominantly breakdancing and graffiti writing. The aim of this chapter is to chart the evolution of non-urban British Hip Hop music through its embryonic and undocumented processes of experimentation, first attempts at engaging in Hip Hop performance and recording, to self-releasing records on private press and negotiating with record labels. The opening section ‘On Production’ discusses the operations of production under the conventions of social power structure and cultural positioning, and through key narratives and Foucault’s theory of heterotopia demonstrates clear and intentional spatial and material counter-narratives were at play through graffiti and breaking. This is explored particularly through public transport and transport hubs, shopping malls and school: We used to breakdance under the stairs in school at lunchtime. I didn’t like football, and it was a way to connect with other kids, but more than that, I loved the way we all tried to master some kind of move, ‘windmills’ were the ones…damn, I could not do them when I was 12. We talked about Hip Hop, we started using words like ‘def’ and ‘fresh’, we became something, it felt like almost overnight, and we were the breakers. (MR. ERAZE, MBC, SSA). From the spatial practice of breaking and taking ownership of a redundant non-space under the secondary modern school stairs, ‘Empowerment’ develops the proposition of the counter-narrative, and extends this into rapping and DJing, with particular reference to the lo-fi techniques employed in the late-1980s involving borrowed, inappropriate and often broken equipment, reminiscent of the jug and washboard bands of the 1920s, PROJECT CEE recounts a specific recording method: We couldn’t afford echo chambers, and when we were making our earliest recordings in about 1986 to ’87, we were in awe of Schoolly D’s P.S.K, and that dope murky reverb, and when I heard That’s Deep by Dr. J.R. Kool taking it one stage further, I really wanted to make something like that. I used two empty LP record boxes; one positioned half over my head, and the other I pressed the microphone and then my face into, to try to create an echo. It worked marginally, but those were the kinds of things we did when we didn’t have the knowledge or the equipment to make what was in our heads. It was the experience of many that this sense of empowerment was exaggerated by holding membership of a multi-faceted crew. Whilst crews that were rappers, graffiti writers or breakers were plentiful, there were fewer crews that practiced all the elements, particularly in semi-rural environments. Devon’s South Side Alliance (SSA) was one such crew, initiated in 1989 during a park bench conversation after several bottles of cider between KILO and SHAR. KILO had recognized that there were three crews operating in the Exeter area of Devon, and reaching out into the villages as far as Taunton and Okehampton, and eventually Southampton, further loose collectives of like-minded individuals existed. A recruitment process got underway and within a few weeks, there were in excess of thirty members of SSA donning a full Hip Hop skillset. Under the social structure of SSA, empowerment and a sense of strength in numbers became apparent, and so began for many the most major cultural repositioning of their lives. Whilst SSA was without manifesto, there was a common approach to Hip Hop, and the production following this cultural repositioning was the result of a core set of nonmaterial cultural values, translated into ideas and manifested into artefacts. This chapter concludes with a theoretical critique of the South Side Alliance social structure, and its political freedom exerted through music and graffiti during the ultimate months leading up to Operation Anderson, the UK’s largest graffiti bust which saw 72 arrests made on 20th March 1989 across the Westcountry several of which were members of SSA. In the aftermath of Operation Anderson, the political climate altered drastically, and a more considered yet politically charged approach to the counter-culture of Hip Hop began, discussed as part of the next chapter.