Blog Post

On "Race as Technology"

"Race as Technology"

"Racism… stems from faulty media representations, and thus the best way to combat racism is to offer more realistic portrayals of 'raced others' and to produce media critiques that expose the fallacies of racial thinking."

- Wendy Chun page 42, Race After the Internet

 

In a song entitled "Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism"on his mixtape ReturnOf4Eva, hip-hop emcee Big K.R.I.T.(King-Remembered-In-Time) invokes this extended title as an acronym elucidating his principle stance against narrowly formulated portrayals of "black" masculinity represented in contemporary mainstream media. More than just a parody of the word "nigger", often assumed along lines of conventional wisdom to be a racially charged insult formerly directed toward African slaves, the song challenges static understandings of minstrelsy and "Black" performance in American culture. The song begins with a blues sample, originally performed by Billy Cobham in 1974, which serves as a primary texture for the songs aesthetic and also functions in accord with some arguments for the “blues as technology” set forth in The Last Angel of History, a 1996 documentary on Afrofuturism. A brief monologue borrowed from Spike Lee's Bamboozled provides an introduction over the sample, voicing a concerned call to action, which exclaims "I want you all to go to your windows and yell out, scream with all the life that you can muster up inside your bruised, assaulted, and battered bodies: 'I am sick and tired of being a nigger !'". K.R.I.T's voice cuts in at "of being" to declare, "I don't wanna be another nigga". Here the song both critically and productively engages with race while utilizing the space as a medium to reflect on and challenge racially defined media representations and social outcomes.

"I don't wanna be another nigga

Tell the government

I don't wanna be another nigga

Tell them white folk

I don't wanna be another nigga

Tell them black folk

I don't wanna be another nigga

Tell the world

I don't wanna be another nigga"

K.R.I.T. aptly repeats his own sentiment, "I don't wanna be another nigga" five times over the progression of the song's chorus, redirecting his declaration after each to a different substrate of his overall frustration with racial categorization as a dichotomy that produces ignorance. As a self-produced piece of art, K.R.I.T.'s work performs a cultural response to the inherited legacies of race in social order and media representation, and I will argue invokes "Race as technology" similar in execution to what Wendy Chun describes in her contribution to Race After the Internet. Chun writes, “Understood as something that is repeatedly performed, race, like gender, opens up the space of parody and agency" and that, “To see race as technology, thus, is always to see double: to see possibilities (reworkings) and domination (eugenics) together” (Race After the Internet). In multiple interviews K.R.I.T. himself has maintained that he never explicitly determined the race of the characters he doesn't want to be, and simply plays on a historical understanding of the 'N' word, as one which implies ignorance and stupidity to question where the ignorance lies. He also goes on to suggest that calling another by the ‘N’ word, intent upon the negative connotation, inwardly reflects the ignorance it hopes to outwardly attribute.

In reality, the connotation of the "N" word is extremely dependent upon the epidermal make-up of the individual using it because it does originate as a racial insult, but it is also continually dependent upon, and redefined within, different cultural frameworks. Moreover, in siuations where an overall minority group becomes the majority, i.e. urban schools today, the 'N' word is at times used to signify a level of acceptance, for instance those when a 'black' individual may direct the statement towards an epidermally 'white' individual, not as an insult, but simply to call their attention. The 'N' word, has become a perpetually convoluted and recodified term, yet in the process has become one which seems to transcend the racism of which it was born, used at times to describe a 'friend' or to imply 'someone like me' on a level deeper than the surface.

Borrowing from Bamboozled brings this piece within a powerful register, by citing a critique regarding the legacy of “black face” make-up in Hollywood from the year 2000, in which Spike Lee imagines the staging of a modern minstrel show which is nationally broadcast as a television series. Lee’s film serves as a critique of modern television programming like "The Maury Show "which poorly represent minorities and financially support and encourage the performance of a dysfunctional reality. The film also contains a parody of  “submissive” African-American acceptance speeches for awards received in Hollywood as well as an overall willingness to 'fit the mold' so to speak, if the moeny is right. K.R.I.T. employs this prior work not to endorse the same critique, but to build and expound upon a site of cultural knowledge.

K.R.I.T. has made his name as a self-produced emcee and has released multiple albums of entirely free content made available and widely downloaded online, which often sample popular media representations in order to challenge or reframe the notions put forth. For example, the ‘mixtape’ which featured “Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed & Encouraging Racism” also featured the titles “King’s Blues” which sampled Erykah Badu singing “Don’t you waste your time” while discussing a social structure which leaves very little time for family in a world full of financial burdens and material glamorization and another entitled “Free My Soul” which criticizes the emptiness of material success alongside individualism that does nothing for the body of those suffering, even when capable.

Discussing music, social justice, and market manipulations on her website Tricia Rose says, “Hip hop's initial spirit was about affirmation of collective self in the face of a society that despised the black and brown poor. The excesses in commercialized hip-hop have limited what we can say, how we imagine ourselves in that space and these limits are designed to normalize and celebrate our dehumanization” going on to say that the “underground” market of hip-hop must respond to the “Mainstream” in order to hope for any real changes in the music. Appropriately then, K.R.I.T’s first studio release in 2012 which followed the ‘mixtape’ I have been discussing to this point, is entitled Live From The Underground. In an interview discussing the free release of ReturnOf4Eva prior to the studio crossover K.R.I.T. said, “I also have to focus on the mainstream album, too. It's a tug-and-pull kind of thing, but... [the free release] is not just a mixtape…it's a concept project”. In this manner K.R.I.T. along with a few other mainstream Hip-Hop artists, has recently maintained the ability to respond to the mainstream from within by releasing free content offering various methods of media critique and has even diversified the content on the studio album, most likely due the expectation and relationship fostered with listeners by the "free release" marketing strategy.

To quote The Last Angel of History, mentioned earlier, "cyberculture and the advent of the post-human might not be either a terrifying or novel proposition for black people". This point is made by Greg Tate in considering that the survival of African-American people has almost always in a sense been about adapting, understanding, and finding alternative uses for the technology and ideology which formerly facilitated their oppression. As a documentary on Afrofuturism, which regards the blues, funk, techno and hip-hop as technological developments, K.R.I.T.’s music fits well in this context. Afrofuturism often regards the preservation of a former way of life by translating the method to a new medium of expression where some of the prior moral and/or ethical standards of living survive. K.R.I.T.’s music repeatedly credits his grandmother as the source of his moral outlook and the guiding force behind his message, representing a lifeline for the culture of Hip-Hop and reviving it as an outlet for cultural response to the conditions we witness and problems we see in the world.

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1 comment

Joshua,

Your suggestion of race being used as technology in rap is incredibly interesting and new to me, which is surprising seeing as though after reading your post I could connect your points to many artists and instances that I now see as using race as performance/technology. On top of that, your explanation of K.R.I.T. recognizing this tool and turning it on its head, using it as a parody to bring attention to the issue, adds a lot of power to the lyrics and connotations about race that we overlook in rap today.

To extend on your discussion on the 'N' word, your post sparked some thoughts for me on how the 'N' word might not be an all-encompassing tool that can be used in many different ways, but rather a tool that, in its nature, can morph to be repurposed. To me, the word still carries a core meaning in whatever context it is used. Especially when you wrote:

"Afrofuturism often regards the preservation of a former way of life by translating the method to a new medium of expression where some of the prior moral and/or ethical standards of living survive."

I think about how rappers' use of the word may not be transcending racism, but rather carrying the word, with all its original meaning, into a new environment that is free of the negative connotation but strong on its community.

 

Sidenote: I especially loved this part of your post: 

"going on to say that the “underground” market of hip-hop must respond to the “Mainstream” in order to hope for any real changes in the music."

 

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