Dapper Dan with models wearing his Gucci collection on the stoop of his atelier, Harlem, New York City, NY, 2018, photographer Janette Beckman.

 

HOW HIP HOP CULTURE BECAME WORLD CULTURE

The title of this fascinating book says it all: How hip hop made the world. If Boomer culture was rock and roll starting in the 1950’s, today’s world culture - and not only American culture - has been transformed and taken over by hip hop, in a span of 40 years. Hip hop is more than about music. It’s about politics, about fashion, about sports, about films, about food, about literature, about language, about being cool, about every aspect of our lives, whether we live in L.A., London, Addis-Ababa, Riyadh or Sao Paolo. Michael Jordan or Jay Z, Beyoncé or Angela Davis are cultural icons supremes. The man at the head of the biggest luxury brand in the world is Pharrell Williams. The biggest basketball player on the planet is Lebron James. When Tiffany, the temple of WASP culture, wants to be cool, it hires Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In the words of Drake, “Started at the bottom, now we’re here.” It did start at the bottom, exactly at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, in the Bronx in the 1970’s and now it rules. As Muhammad Ali once famously said: “Words are more powerful than fists.” It’s through words and rhythm that hip hop became the uncontested cultural champion of the world.

Rapper’s Deluxe, written by Dr. Todd Boyd,  Price Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies at USC, traces the history of this culture - of this movement - from its beginnings - black men in fur coat going to a Muhammad Ali fight, the sexy Pam Greer in blaxploitation films, the Black is Beautiful slogan, Black Power, Eddy Murphy, Run-D.M.C., the first rap superstars - to now, with Spike Lee, Ye, all the way to Barack Obama - another cool dude - in the White House, Basquiat, and Dapper Dan finally recognized as the great innovator he was.

LL Cool J at the School of Visual Arts, New York City, NY, 1984, photographer Josh Cheuse.

Pharrell Williams at the Louis Vuitton headquarters, photographed for the cover of New York Times, Paris, June 18, 2023, photographer Sam Hellman

The book is also about the relationship of hip hop with what Boyd calls “the luxury culture”. For a long time, Blacks could not buy what was considered the most prestigious car in the U.S., Cadillacs. They had to go through middlemen to buy them. The relationship between black culture and luxury comes from there: “What is the concept of prestige if not another form of respect?” write Todd Boyd. “And respect has always been an elusive commodity relative to race, in the U.S. Being able to buy respect is a shortcut to earning it.” He calls it The Cadillac Effect. Rappers have been accused of flaunting their cars, jewelry, watches, clothes, among other things, and it’s been considered bad taste by those whose views are based on WASP notions of “good taste”. “But what these rappers are really saying,” explains Todd Boyd, “is ‘This was once denied to me, but now that I have the means, I am not only going to buy it, but I will also openly celebrate my purchase’. This, as much an act of defiance as it is of consumption. And this sentiment, the acquisition of luxury as an act of racial defiance, is one that sits at the root of hip hop culture.”

Dr. Todd Boyd’s book is a fascinating encyclopedia of this culture which started, like every great movement, on the fringes, to finally find its place in every aspect of American life. Black is indeed beautiful. 

Rapper’s Deluxe: How Hip Hop Made the World, by Dr. Todd Boyd. Phaidon. 298p., 69,95€

 

March 27, 2024 — Sonam Khetan