IASPM-US 2013 Conference Reflections: Amanda Sewell on Hip Hop

by justindburton on March 11, 2013


IASPM-US Popular Music Conference

In conversations with other popular music scholars, we often lament that (1) we’re poorly represented in national conferences, and (2) we’re always lumped in with other, usually completely unrelated, popular music topics into a generic “Perspectives on Popular Music” panel. Not so at IASPM-US. Plus, at most conferences, it’s a thrill to see a single hip-hop paper on the program—if you’re lucky, there might be an entire hip-hop panel. At this year’s IASPM-US, I had the opportunity to hear hip-hop papers in almost every time slot. In fact, I wasn’t even able to attend every hip-hop paper because multiple papers appeared simultaneously. (When was the last time that happened at a national AMS or SEM?) As a hip-hop scholar, my reflection here focuses on the hip-hop panels.

I had the opportunity to hear about hip-hop from a variety of local, regional, and global perspectives. Among papers on city identities, Langston Collin Wilkins addressed how New York-based rapper A$AP Rocky adopted a Houston sound and style, while Geoff Harkness examined the relationships between gangs and the microscenes of gangsta rap in Chicago. On the global level, Ali Colleen Neff described the transatlantic relationships between the “Dirty South” of the United States and the hip-hop music and culture of Senegal, and Stephanie Shonekan argued that hip-hop of the United States is overtaking the youth cultures of Nigeria, perhaps at the cost of negating young people’s Nigerian cultural identities. Justin Burton and Liz Przybylski each spoke on the integration of multiple local, national, and international styles of music within a single track: Burton on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin’,” which unites Jay-Z’s New York perspective, Timbaland’s Virginia-based production style, the Houston lyrical stylings of UGK’s Bun B and Pimp C, and samples of the Egyptian artist Hossam Ramzy, and Przybylski on Samian’s “Plan Nord,” which unites Inuit throat singing, music of peyote ceremonies, and intertribal powwow musics in Samian’s critique of Quebec’s energy policies.

I also heard talks by scholars who are attempting to pin down some of the more difficult stylistic and historical attributes of hip-hop. Edward Wright offered some perspectives for reading vocal poetics in the lyric deliveries of Lil Wayne. Alan Williams spoke on the various roles within recording studio practice and how those roles affect music production practices. Loren Kajikawa, drawing on archival recordings of Grandmaster Flash’s live performances, argued how the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” produced by Sylvia Robinson, both adhered to and deviated from live performance practice in the early days of hip-hop DJing.

One joy of IASPM-US is the bringing together of scholars from a variety of disciplines, a diversity which was reflected in the types of scholarly perspectives offered for the study of hip-hop. Geoff Harkness, Ali Colleen Neff, and I all presented studies grounded in ethnography. Loren Kajikawa studied musical artifacts. Anna Szemere, Taryn Kearns, and Ilana Winchester framed Tupac Shakur’s 2012 “reincarnation” at Coachella with theories of Baudrillard’s hyperreal, Berman’s hyperculture, and Debord’s spectacle. Fernando Orejuela contextualized six-year-old rapper Albert’s song “Booty Pop” and its accompanying music video within a framework of children establishing heteronormative musical and cultural roles. Travis Gosa spoke on hip-hop pedagogy. In his David Sanjek prize-winning paper, Elliott Powell read the role of South Asian American hip hop singer Raje Shwari in terms of gender, queerness, cross-cultural relationships, and her sonic presence as a “live sample.” We even had our own performers and performances: Austin DJ Orión graciously welcomed the Beat Professors (Ali Colleen Neff, Jessica Dilday, Mike D’Errico, and Oded Erez) to join him for a set at the Volstead Lounge on Saturday night.

It was exciting to see hip-hop papers integrated with other genres and types of popular music within individual panels. Liz Przybylski’s talk anchored a Sunday morning panel on Environmental Soundscapes and Ecomusical Consciousness. Travis Gosa’s paper on the possibilities of a textless hip-hop classroom appeared on the Saturday morning Methodologies and Pedagogies panel. My own talk on female hip-hop producers appeared on the Saturday morning Technologized Women panel—along with Rebekah Lobosco’s paper on the Fembots from Austin Powers and Aaron Liu-Rosenbaum’s paper on technologized representations of women in techno-pop—which, if I do say so myself, was perhaps one of the most eclectic panels of the conference.

My apologies to those presenters who I missed, either in person or in this brief essay.  It was a pleasure to bask in hour after hour of hip-hop scholarship at this year’s IASPM-US. After this conference, my own thought and scholarship are invigorated with new music and perspectives.

Amanda Sewell is a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University, and she currently teaches at the University of Redlands. She plans to defend her dissertation, “A Typology of Sampling in Hip-Hop,” this spring. Her dissertation research focuses on how hip-hop producers sample, emphasizing the specific types of samples producers use. Amanda has previously presented papers at IASPM-US, the Midwest chapter of the SEM, and graduate student conferences at UCLA and CCM. Her chapter on nerdcore hip-hop will appear in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Hip-Hop.

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