Abstract: This presentation explores how the politics of globalized blackness can be used to understand Nairobi underground hip hop. The music occupies and creates a marginalized status for a number of reasons. First, most rappers emerge out of lower class neighborhoods and create music that represents these urban areas. Second, the artists lack production resources and thus rely on lyrical craft, which means the music often “sounds” underground. Third, it responds to the anxieties generated by postcolonial discourse about what Kenyan music should be, as well as the imported anti-blackness that people use to make sense of hip hop. My research ties these characteristics of rap music culture into the politics of a racialized social bottom, utilizing Afropessimist approaches as well as observations from music scholars like Imani Perry and Richard Middleton. It is true that many times Nairobi rap is attached to representations of American commercialism and ideas of cultural imperialism. However, this music’s association to the globally dominant American popular music does not negate the idea that the music continues to conjure the black positionality of racialized subjugation. Thus, this presentation will investigate both how the politics that surround rap draw from the U.S, as well as how hip hop adheres to the local sensibilities around race, culture, and music.
Bio: RaShelle R. Peck is currently a postdoctoral associate at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, where she is revising her first book project, The Political and the Ludic: Embodied Performances in Nairobi Underground Hip Hop. Her research is interdisciplinary in that it combines ethnography, music and video analysis, and performance theory. Here she argues that artists combine the political urgency of lyrics and music with playful and defiant performances to produce socially relevant music that is situated in a Kenyan context while also positing a global politic. She has taught courses in American studies, the cultural study of music, performance studies, gender and sexuality theory, and global studies. Her next project examines how black artists and musicians produce Afrofuturist performances of posthumanism.