Decades after it emerged from New York’s Bronx and was dismissed as a fad, hip hop generally still gets a cold shoulder from the academic establishment. Nobody knows for sure whether this is because of its mainstream popularity or perhaps its African-American origins.
That uncertainty struck a chord with Juno-winning Carleton music professor Jesse Stewart, who wrote a pioneering paper in 2010 for the Black Music Research Journal. The paper was titled “DJ Spooky and the Politics of Afro-Postmodernism.”
Stewart says the tidal wave of academic writing on postmodernism has focused on European cultural forms, so his use of the term “Afro-postmodernism” was intended to encourage analysis of how work from African diasporic communities related to the “slippery rubric of postmodernism.”
Stewart wants his work to bring attention to music that’s often “ignored by elite-supported cultural institutions—including universities.”
“I would be hard pressed to think of any work that exemplifies my conception of Afro-postmodernism better than that of DJ Spooky,” Stewart says, adding that Fishbone, Meshell Ndegeocello and the early ’90s theatre troupe Pomo Afro Homos also embody the concept.
Spooky’s use of hip-hop sampling and remixing in multimedia projects like his Klan film Rebirth of a Nation offers a politicized postmodernism unique to the African diaspora, Stewart says.
He is convinced that hip-hop pastiche techniques act as “strategies of identity formation that remember and honour the musical and cultural past, while at the same time working to construct visions of a better future.”