19th October, 2021 -
8th March, 2017
The notion of ‘keepin’ it real’ is a well-known trope in hip hop and is usually linked to self-expression and individual experience.
In this paper, Dr Hettie Malcomson examines how this trope plays out in an extremely violent context where hip hop artists compose tracks for others. Specifically I draw from empirical research in Mexico to analyse the emotion work involved in creating commissioned hip hop tracks for drug traffickers (in the subgenre known as narco rap). Commissioned narco rap composers must appear to be someone else; they must assume another’s subjectivity, another’s ontology. The most common songs commissioned are dedications and ‘rest in peace’ songs; the subjective position of both the living and the recently dead must be assumed. Potential notoriety and financial reward attracts rappers to writing narco rap, yet many rappers describe this output as irrelevant to their own self-expression, to their ‘real’ work. I explore how narco rappers deal with the ethical issues they face, and consider how we might analyse their involvement in promoting, representing and critiquing violence often contemporaneously.
Dr Hettie Malcomson is Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Southampton. Her research concerns Mexican popular music, especially danzón and hip hop, and focuses on what music tells us about race, age, knowledge production, ambivalence and violence. Her articles have appeared in Ethnomusicology, Popular Music and twentieth-century music, as well as in edited collections. She was co-editor, with David Horn et al of The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 9, Genres: Caribbean and Latin America (2014). She received the honourable mention for the Society for Ethnomusicology’s Bruno Nettl Prize for ‘Aficionados, Academics, and Danzón Expertise’ in 2015.