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:
“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
“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
“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.