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. 3

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!

Kendrick Lamar is incredibly dynamic onstage — the way his body becomes the beat makes for a high energy live performance, and his use of the mic stand as a tool to focus and ground him in the space is worth noting.

Yelawolf has command of his stage, whether he’s walking around the stage during a break or spitting raps at the mic:

Bruno Mars might not be the first artist that comes to mind when you think of Hype Man, but the high energy, the sense of joy, and the use of levels and specific movement to punctuate beats in this performance are all things worth exploring:

This clip of Rezz provides a few different examples of how a DJ might be present onstage — the video is super long, so skip through a bit, but note the way her movements and vibe respond to the changes in the beat:

Friday Playlist – Vol. 2

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!

GoldLink, Brent Faiyaz, and Shy Glizzy all have really different styles of delivery and presence here — it’s interesting to see how those styles contrast and compliment each other as we play with different approaches for Pinnacle, Verb, and Peep One:

Run the Jewels bring a lot of energy to their performance on this DJ Shadow track, and their connection feels genuine and fun:

Noting the way Macklemore and Offset use the stage space in this performance on Jimmy Kimmel is useful as we explore the onstage movement for the Hype Man performance moments.

Post-Malone’s performance on Late Night relies on a lot of lighting and fog effects to create mood and interest, but there’s minimal physical action onstage. Like Pinnacle’s focus on “the grind,” Post Malone’s lyrics here highlight the hard work he’s put in to reach success:

Yelawolf on Race

Yelawolf, a white rapper from Alabama, shares his perspective on race, police violence, and the confederate flag in this radio interview with Hot 97:

The interview is about half an hour — most of the conversation about race and politics is in the first 10 minute of the video (although the interviewers bring it up again toward the end at about 23 mins.)

We’ve been talking a bit in rehearsals about Pinnacle’s relationship to the police and how growing up as a white person around black people influenced his views on race. In this interview, Yelawolf talks about his own experience growing up white in small town Alabama, but he seems uninterested in discussing the privileges his race has afforded him, like why rock radio is more likely to play him over other rappers, and doesn’t want to grapple with the racial dynamics that will come into play for his kids, who are half black.
Later in the video, around the 18 min mark, there’s also some discussion about the way Yelawolf has evolved as an artist — Pinnacle’s growth as an artist and his understanding of his “brand” and the way it’s shifting are interesting to think about in this context. For Yelawolf, it seems his race affords him some genre crossover that might be unavailable to artists of color. How might Pinnacle’s career trajectory as a white artist be different from the other POC artists trying to come up at the same time?

 

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: