The Identity of Hip Hop: Reality, Image and a State of Mind
Adam de Paor-Evans [+]
University of Central Lancashire
The penultimate chapter centres on themes of identity, which by drawing on many of the arguments previously presented, asks: what is the identity of provincial British hip hop, and how does it differ from the conceived, perceived, and lived hip hop identity of the British city? I tackle this question through a detailed examination of hip hop’s imagery and material expression and explore the embedded and suggested meanings within both non-urban and city-centric British hip hop music sonically and lyrically. In an attempt to unravel the story of britcore and its wider impact in Europe, the theme of reality is tackled within this broader context and by revisiting the notions of cultural diaspora discussed previously. The discussion of reality also draws on Hebdige’s discourse about forbidden identity and sources of value vis-à-vis a further examination of lesser known, lo-fi non-urban britcore recordings from this period. Taking issue with the commercialism of hip hop as rap music was a common theme in britcore, and the more hardcore the sound became, the more it was perceived as being real or staying true to British hip hop. To ‘keep it real’ one of the keenest tropes in hip hop globally, and here I further the investigation of reality, image and identity under the theme of ‘keeping it real’ and attempt to solidify the hip hop state of mind in terms of critical, non-urban British regionalism. This regionalist approach takes issue with the global realness continually referred to within mainstream hip hop culture, whilst concurrently presenting a theory of mind state which is rooted in hip hop’s origins. Rakim’s epitomic lyric in ‘I Know You Got Soul’ (1987) “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at”, is pivotal to the critique I offer of the ‘hip hop state of mind’ and ‘keeping it real’, which is presented in the final section of this chapter.