McKenzie Wark on Sun, 5 Jan 2003 12:19:11 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> FUCK HIP HOP: A Eulogy to Hip Hop

While i agree with Pierre Bennu and Paul D Miller about the state of
hip hop, i would like to say a word for why rap music is not without
interest. It has drifted a long way from its hip hop roots. But perhaps
it has become something else in the process, that can be read in
quite another way.

The complete *lack* of social awareness in rap is not the least of its
charms. It completely rejects any call to order. It is -- almost -- nihilism
perfected. Particularly encouraging is is complete refusal of the value
of work. Family and school also receive very little regard. All of the
bourgeois values disappear.

Except one. The one thing that holds rap back from being the perfect
antithesis of bourgois values is that while it refuses the subjectivity
of commodified life, it cannot resist its objectivity. In running from the
responsibilities of the subject it runs smack into the lures of the

And it does so to no avail. Rap is not the celebration of sensuous
life that might result from its shunning of authority in all its forms. For
it ends up in the thrall, not of use value, but of exchange value. It is
not the taste of champagne that Jay Z rhapsodises, but merely the

But here rap is illuminating, in a desultory way, in its very failure. It
catalogues all of the follies of commodified life in the vectoral age.
It is a genre that needs no parody, for it is already a parody of life.

In a world where the brand takes the place of the thing, where
commodification is removed from, and falsifies, its own falisifcation,
all that remains is a relentless egoism that claims more and more
for itself even as it sells more and more of its self to attain the very
same status of doubly devalued commodification from which it
rag-picks its themes.

Just as having replaces being, so appearing replaces having. The
whoring and thugging of Nelly, Nori or Missy Elliot is more than a
mere metaphor, or picaresque detail. It is an accurate formal
transposition of the relations that hold in a world in which the
zero-sum game of attention to the image has replaced the
productivity of material life.

of course, I can say this from a position of relative privilege. (To
be a white Australian in America is to be a spy in the house of
race, but that's a subject for another time...). Exploitation is not
merely material any more, not merely a question of the extraction
of surplus value from labor. A surplus value is also to be extracted
from non-labor -- from leisure. In the vectoral world, the image of
the other acquires a value detached from its collective producers.

Identity emerges at the nexus where image is extracted from its
becoming, and its properties are assigned in a binary logic of
ownership and nonownership. Identity, the new commodity logic
of the image, is the logic of a zero-sum game -- of thugging and
whoring -- all too clearly exposed in the language of rap.

Rap is the cultural logic of post capitalism, the vectoral realm
where information and property meet. To the extent that there is
life in hip hop as a cultural movement, it works to deepen the
exploration of the double burden of racism and commodification
in the vectoral era.

McKenzie Wark

                   ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

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