Critique of In Defense of Hip Hop by Cathleen Rountree

A Research-Based Critique

Regardless of its all-embracing popularity, hip hop has been labeled as racial, socio-political and gender discriminating phenomenon since the time of its conceptualization as a culture. Although this notion is rather complex, the greatest abusive power has been attributed to the verbal hip hop dimension embodied in the music style. For years of its existence, this art movement has been stereotypically perceived as black and Latino male dominated culture. Moreover, politicians have widely used this misbelief to incur their prejudiced attitudes towards the genre on the masses. These critical points with relation to hip hop have been eloquently and succinctly highlighted by Cathleen Rountree in her article “In Defense of Hip Hop.” Therefore, the paper offers a critique of the work in light the relevance of the scholar’s arguments derived from the context of current academic research. Apart from the multifaceted evaluation of the author’s arguments, I provide my personal opinion on the issue. Thus, the essay attempts to evidence that Rountree’s positioning of the question is valid, though it requires broadening of the discussion focus based on the more up-to-date findings.


The Author’s Main Idea

The centerpiece of Rountree’s analysis is explicitly highlighted in the title of the work, but a more complicated argument derives from the context of the article as a whole. Indeed, the author defenses hip hop. However, the defense strategy is developed on the grounds of the justified opposing views and author’s reflections over the findings of her precursors in the field. In contrast to the generally promoted perception of hip hop as a source of violence and abuse, Rountree ascertains that it is “in addition to artistic, both political and spiritual, and makes people think”. The claim is very important in terms of outlining significance of this genre in culture and general social values. Even without diving deeply into the roots of controversies surrounding hip hop, any individual knowledgeable in this culture will be capable to identify artistic, political, spiritual and think-provoking constituents in the movement. Given the article’s content, all these components of hip hop can be easily detected as well. For instance, the author’s reference to such films as Tupac Resurrection and Hip Hop Project is one of the vivid examples. In this respect, the author has offered an insight into the problem through real-life illustrations as a means of connectedness with ordinary readers. As a result, the scholar has explicated hip hop as an embodiment of living circumstances of its creators revealing their internal strengths and fight with external pressures. This aspect defines the artistic and spiritual paradigms of the movement. Despite the political factor could be more explicitly defined in this context as well, the author has mostly linked such a perspective to politicians’ bold misbelief and misleading statements that this culture should be blamed in all evils. The assumptions of this kind appear due to their lack of knowledge in the field. Of course, this issue is an important element of a political aspect of hip hop. Nevertheless, the above factor draws a little incompleteness of this perspective in the article. While validity of Rountree’s complex rationale of hip hop’s defense will be further verified or refuted, its relevance from the common sense perspective seems more than evident.

Investigation of the Topic

The concerns raised by the author are not new, and a number of researchers have also addressed the prejudices related to hip hop in their studies. To illustrate, a clear distinction of political, spiritual, and sophisticated notes in the movement have been identified by a recent exploration by Súle. Studying the white-dominance within the social domain of college encounter, the researcher has discovered that “hip hop culture reproduces and reimagines black urban life by capturing the trauma of racism, the hypocrisy of liberalism, the angst of poverty, and the ingenuity created through struggle”. Similarly, Jacobson has explained hip hop is “the site for racial formation”. The respondents recruited in this research presented their perception of the genre “from a color-blind perspective and white racial frame” showing the elements of “systemic racism theory” in this respect. Finally, Lindsey has collected empirical evidence clearly demonstrating that hip hop culture has greatly contributed to feminism in the context of social justice theory. A specific emphasis has been put on hip hop feminism and such hip hop realities as confronting violence by “black and brown women,” “transgender” and “queer people”. Hence, again spirituality, political stereotypes imposed to the general public by the dominant race, and attempts to articulate inner pain through the art has become core features of hip hop in regard to academic research.

The Topic versus Research

Drawing upon a brief literature review, the findings are consistent with the assumptions made by Rountree. First, the topic is extremely acute whereas the genre is equally popular among different ethnicities. Second, white framing of understanding the music style is a common theme of presenting hip hop to the general audience. Therefore, such a politicized positioning of this cultural movement by the officials like Don Imus clearly determines the fact that the public opinion is framed in light of racial and gender stereotypes. While the author of “In Defense of Hip Hop” has based these conclusions on individual reflections, the paper supplemented them with empirical evidence from the scholarship on the topic. Third, due to that the studies analyzed in the paper are the most up-to-date, it is evident that the issue is highly topical in the today’s academic context.

Evaluation of the Claim

Undoubtedly, Rountree’s position aimed at “defense of hip hop” is both valid and justified given the supplementary evidence collected in the recent academic research articles. At the same time, it must be admitted that although Rountree has identified a set of main sources of hip-hop-related misconceptions, her view seems rather narrowed and limited, to a certain degree. From the other scholars’ perspectives, whose opinions were investigated in the scope of the paper, hip hop has even more paradigms with relation to social order. In particular, while Jacobson has confirmed the connection of the analyzed concept with gender, race, sexism, and Black culture, the researcher has also considered the movement from a broader standpoint. Specifically, the scholar has paid attention to hip hop as an overlapping power emerging from different contexts, such as “race, race relations, gender, sexuality, authenticity, representation, performance, identity, color blindness, commodification/ culture industries, space and political statements and resistance”. Hence, the researcher has also discovered connectedness of hip hop with such phenomena as intersectionality, racial formation theory, white racial frame, and systemic racism.

Nevertheless, the fact that Roundtree has considered the issue form a rather narrowed perspective does not minimize the significance of her reflective observations. The author has managed to clearly distinguish the flaws existing in modern misleading perception of the phenomena as they imply to the life of ordinary individuals. People tend to judge hip hop through the prism of media and politics as primary sources of framing their opinions. As a result, the author has distinctly evidenced that only in-depth awareness on the issue will allow one to be knowledgeable in the field and make well-reasoned rather than stereotyped conclusions. Hence, her hypothesis regarding artistic, political, spiritual and think-provoking role of hip hop is verified.

My Position

As a representative of hip hop generation, I am a fan of this cultural trend as well. At the same time, both the article and additional research on the topic allowed me clearer understanding of how complex the issue is. However, I tend to agree with the author’s arguments supported in the article. Hip hop is inevitably multifaceted. Moreover, prejudices, especially racial and gender ones, comprise the central paradigms of distorted comprehension of reality proposed to the audience. I have no doubts that sufficient clarifications are necessary to demonstrate and explain a great potential of the genre and minimize its misinterpretation on the grounds of little awareness in the field. For this reason, the lively discussion of the problem is open given the evidence collected in the most up-to-date studies. Therefore, Rountree’s message seems more than justified enticing for more careful studying of hip hop and understanding its artistic, spiritual, and thought-provoking constituents rather than fixation on politicized perception of the movement.

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Summarizing the discussion, the arguments “In Defense of Hip Hop” as a multidimensional art were verified as weighty and valid, though they should have been expanded, to a certain extent. The author has justifiably emphasized a complex nature of this culture as a whole which can be regarded a preventive mechanism for one-sided judging of the movement frequently applied by politicians and further expanded on ordinary people. The academic studies also evidenced this trend. Namely, due to white framing of the genre, hip hop is stereotypically positioned as black culture with solely racial and gender-related prejudices ruling the minds of millions. Therefore, this art style should be valued on the grounds of in-depth awareness about its multiple elements and their significance from different perspectives but not blindly stigmatized as its initial developers.

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