Music Appropriation: White Rappers Respond

The stylistic appropriation of black music by white artists, like Pinnacle, is one of the main thematic threads that weaves throughout Hype Man. Appropriation, as defined by Cambridge English Dictionary, is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” In the play,  Verb directly challenges Pinnacle on his responsibility to black culture as someone who benefits from their cultural innovations. Rappers in the commercial hip hop scene have wrestled with these same concerns and many have spoken publicly about how they approach the issue as artists. Here’s a selection of some of those comments:

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Mackelmore in Concert

“You need to know your place in the culture. Are you contributing or are you taking? Are you using it for your own advantage or are you contributing? I saw a tweet that said, “Hip hop was birthed out of the civil rights movement.” This is a culture that came from pain and oppression. It was the byproduct [of white oppression]. We can say we’ve come a long way since the late Seventies and early Eighties, but we haven’t. Just because there’s been more successful white rappers, you cannot disregard where this culture came from and our place in it as white people. This is not my culture to begin with. As much as I have honed my craft…I do believe that I need to know my place.” – Macklemore,  Rolling Stone Magazine 

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Yelawolf (Left) and Eminem (Right)

“Eminem: We make jokes about it, but I don’t think we talk about it in depth. As I was listening to his music, I am not even thinking about any of that shit. It’s just the music. That’s one of the things that’s great about it. I’m not even thinking about it when I hear the music.
Yelawolf: We do poke fun of it because it’s funny. Like, he calls me White Dog.
Mikey Fresh:
Oh, you called him that on the BET Awards Cypher. I didn’t realize it was an ongoing joke?
EM: Yeah, or Beige Sheep. [Laughs]
YW: Cracker Nuts. Whatever, I think it’s kinda unspoken.
EM: We deal with it enough as it is. So now, let’s make music.
YW: Let’s make great records. At the end of the day, that’s all there is to do.”

-Eminem and Yelawolf, VIBE interview

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G-Eazy

“At the end of the day, I fell in love with making music at an early age, I’ve been doing this for 10 years and it comes from a genuine place. I didn’t grow up around all white people, I never wanted to gentrify hip-hop, I’ve never wanted to speak to an all-white audience. I’m just making music and I’m paying my bills.”

– G Eazy, The Guardian 

 

 

 

When considering these rappers’ points of view, and Pinnacle’s own point of view throughout the play, it’s clear that white hip hop artists have varying levels of understanding and complicity in the way they handle questions about musical appropriation. Is there a way to borrow from another culture while also respecting the folks who created it? As Pinnacle and Verb grapple with this question in Hype Man, it’s clear that real world rappers also have a lot to consider regarding their place in the industry.

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The World of Hype Man: Costume Inspiration

As the team explores the musical influences and contemporaries for the characters in Hype Man, we’ve also looked at the way these influences might manifest in the costume design for the characters. Below are some of the images and cultural inspiration we’ve been referencing when thinking about Verb, Peep One, and Pinnacle’s personal style.

Kdot, Bryson Tiller, and Chance the Rapper have served as useful reference points for the casual, layered look we’re exploring for Verb.

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Some possible style influences for Peep One include Amandla Stenberg, Venus X, Slim Woods, Willow Smith, and Princess Nokia — people who feel effortlessly fashion forward, or who blur the sartorial lines between masculine and feminine.

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A leading style inspiration for Pinnacle is G-Eazy, whose look is refined and put together, but still relaxed and based on simple pieces and muted colors.

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Friday Playlist – Vol. 1

During our rehearsal process, we’ve been checking out a variety of music videos and clips of live performances as we develop ideas about what Pinnacle, Verb, and Peep One’s performance styles and stage presence might be like. Each week we’ll compile a few selections here on the blog — here are this week’s links!

Local rapper Joyner Lucas’ song “I’m Not Racist” has been going viral this week, in large part because of the provocative music video — it’s a timely example of how an artist can use their platform to address contemporary issues:

We’ve been watching a lot of G-Eazy — his lyric “that’s not on my brand” especially jumps out here, as we’ve been considering what kind of “brand” Pinnacle is trying to establish.

Rachelle Fuego is an artist mentioned by Pinnacle in a conversation with Peep One — Rachelle is “global” and someone Peep deeply admires. As we discussed what her music and audience might be like, local rapper Dutch Rebelle came up as a possible inspiration for her sound and look:

Yo Gotti’s performance with Nicki Minaj on the Tonight Show features some solid hype man interjections:

21 Rappers Explain What Hip-Hop Means to Them

As we dive into table work this week, we’re exploring each character’s relationship to hip hop and asking questions about how they all fell in love with music, what made them want to work and perform in the industry, and what motivates each of them to keep pursuing success (however they may define it). This XXL Magazine piece featuring 21 rappers responding to the question “What does hip-hop mean to you?” is an interesting snap shot of how some current artists think about their own relationship to the genre.

We’ve excerpted a few of the XXL interview responses below — how do these answers align with the way Verb, Pinnacle, and Peep One might answer the question?

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Hip-hop, to me, is definitely a lifestyle. It’s definitely more than just a genre of music. I think every genre of music has a lifestyle, but it’s more. It’s really a culture, man. It’s more than a lifestyle, it’s culture. It gives people a way of life. I think why a lot of conscious artists are cherished these days is because it’s so much commercial. It’s not even what it’s about, it’s just because there’s so much of it. You know when you see a video, you know it’s gonna have cars and hoes in it. You know somebody is gonna be talking about the same ol’ shit, but it’s about balance. It’s not bad to talk about it, it’s about the balance. I’m not always in the club and I’m not always hanging out with model bitches in front of a car. But I do it. I’m also into other shit as well. I kind of give the people the best of both worlds.  — B.o.B

 

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Like anything else, it grows and evolves and changes. Any art form never stays in one place. To me, it started out as a way to express myself, a way to turn ideas into something tangible. And as a vehicle; a vehicle to make something out of nothing. I never knew what the fuck I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t wanna go to school, I just wanted to stay in Oakland and just figure it out. And when I got a scholarship to go to school in New Orleans and my mom pushed me to go, I got down there and was even more convinced that I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted to do with my life. I definitely knew I didn’t want to work a regular-ass job and I didn’t want to be miserable forever. Music became the vehicle to, like I said, make something out of nothing and make a living doing something I loved to do so much. And to talk to people and tell my story and to watch that impact people, and just connect to people through music. This is the best fuckin’ job in the world.  — G-Eazy

 

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Hip-hop means progression to me. Life—everything for me. It’s a way I support my family. It’s the way I escape reality when shit gets too rough. It’s a way for me instead of going and getting mad or doing something dumb, I can just go write a song about it. It’s a way of refuge. It’s brought on a bigger meaning these last couple of years just because of the impact it has on my life and how I can affect others. I loved that. I loved the fact that I can make somebody who is having a bad day listen to one of my jams and now they not tripping no more. That’s a lot on it, dog.  — Problem

 

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It means everything in a sense. It means the outlet, the voice. It means the voice, especially coming from the environment that I come from. It’s almost like our guidance. It’s our school. It’s our news channel. It’s our everything. So for me, hip-hop is basically a way of life.  — Young Buck

Read the full list of responses on XXL’s website.