Hip Hop History, Bible Deep Cuts, and Naming

After being out last term with injuries and candidacy exams, I’m getting back into moving this semester and taking Hip-Hop class once again with my friend and colleague Quilan ‘Cue’ Arnold who’s in the MFA program here. I’m playing along in one of his beginner classes because it worked in my schedule, I’m super rusty, and hey–everyone needs to work on Foundation.

Tonight he did a free-writing activity before we got moving to contextualize the dancing in a larger Hip Hop culture. The students volunteered a lot of great stuff, talking about the need to express oneself, the idea of sharing art and creation socially, and even talking a little about the economic desires that sometimes drive Hip-Hop (and other) creators.

One dude even knew about DJ Kool Herc, (one of the founders of Hip-Hop culture as we know it) which I was surprised and pleased by. To round things out, Cue mentioned the five elements of Hip-Hop (Breaking, MCing, DJing, Graffitti, and Knowledge). In explaining how they came together, he said (roughly)

“another guy, Afrika Bambaataa, was really the one who codified those together and named them–he was kind of the Adam of Hip-Hop.”

I think that pretty much went over their heads, but I loved it. Later, I said it was like Bible Deep Cuts–like a reference to an album not everyone’s listened to carefully.

If that reference went over your head, too, here’s the context. In the Old Testament creation story, God doesn’t want Adam to be lonely. So, first the animals are created, and when none of them are suitable companions, only then Eve enters the scene. In between, Adam has the task of giving names to all the animals.

19 Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:19-20)

This idea of the power of the word–of naming–is brought up by philosophers and critical theorists as a starting point for their investigation of language and its role in our experience of the world. The example is usually either the gospel of John:

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

or the idea of Nommo. Nommo is central to afrocentric theorizations; it is “the generative and productive power of the spoken word,”(Asante 17).* In other terms, it is the naming of a thing which makes it itself.

So, when Bam and others gave name to Hip-Hop, and called out its constituent parts, it solidified as a culture, as a thing with a name that could be recognized, circled around, and even pushed back against. And that tent is held up by the five pillars, the five elements of Hip-Hop**.

I’ve always found the Eden story fascinating, and the naming in particular. Before I came to grad school and read Derrida or Asante, I wrote the poem below, “Pantoum for the End of Eden” which features the Adam-naming-things scene. A pantoum is a poetic form defined by a constant repetition of lines from previous stanzas. It’s not quite MCing, but let’s say I hit three of the five pillars today–dancing, lyric, and dropping science. Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.

Pantoum for the End of Eden

For awhile, Adam sat around naming
Things to entertain himself,
Starting with the animals: dog,
Kangaroo, puffer fish, viper.

Just to entertain himself.
But after a while he ran out of things to name;
Fruitless kangaroo, puffer fish, viper.
He wandered until Eve cracked his ribs.

After awhile he ran out of things to name. Fruitless,
He peeled his skin
And wandered, until Eve cracked his ribs
And made apple pie.

Eve peeled his skin;
Took the first train out of Eden and headed west.
Before she left she made apple pie,
Now knowing she was naked.

Eve took the first train out of Eden and headed west
To Paris for a suit that befitted a first lady,
Now knowing she was naked.
But there was no steam engine, and no one to mine the coal.

To Paris for a suit that befitted a first lady; she went alone—
Adam was too weak, what with his unprotected lung,
And there was no steam engine, no one to mine the coal;
There was no one else around.

Adam was too weak, what with his unprotected lung;
There was no one to take her ticket—if she had had any money to buy it—
And there was no one else around.
When no train came, she picked up her snake skin valise.


[She took an apple out of her snake skin luggage and took the third bite. It was juicy, crispy, and sour, like she liked it—a bright green Granny Smith. In fact, she liked green apples more then the majority of other foods in Eden; she had been eating them from the moment she woke up for the first time and she had been hungry, lying at the side of a strange man massaging his side in pain. She found the apples one day walking in the garden, but she hadn’t said anything about the tree to Adam or to the serpent.]

There was no one to take her ticket, if she had had any money to buy it,
So she went home to her king, determined.
Yes, when no train came she picked up her snake skin valise;
To get out of Eden she would become her own midwife.

She went home to her king, determined;
Nursed, weaned, and waited.
To get out of Eden she became her own midwife, and
Thousands of years later she packed a spare set of grape leaves.

She nursed, weaned, and waited, and
Closed on the estate and gardens.
Thousands of years later she packed a spare set of grape leaves,
And walked to the station.

She closed on the estate and gardens,
Starting with the animals: dog,
And walked to the station.
For awhile, Adam sat around naming.

*Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1998

**The five elements of Hip-Hop mirror the Five Pillars of Islam, an important religion in the foundation of Hip-Hop culture and philosophy. Read more about this connection here.

Presumptuous(?) Prospectus(!)

I’m turning in my dissertation prospectus (a lengthy and specific proposal that demonstrates you are indeed prepared to go off and research/write) later tonight. One of the things you have to do is state what the intervention(s) you think your work makes in your field–in other words, Why Is This Important?

While I’ve tried to answered this elsewhere, I started from scratch this afternoon with pencil and paper and came up with a new list/set of articulations. Need to type them up anyway so I thought I’d do it here. Titled Presumptuous(?) Prospectus(!) because it feels preposterous to claim my own importance in the field/in the world, but also really exciting to position myself. This is a long road, happy for any thoughts, comments, recommendations, congratulations or criticisms.

My Contributions

Performance Analysis of (global) Popular Dance Practices
  • I want to help describe, catalog, and record the range of popular dance practices happening globally and practiced in the US, hopefully in a manner that eschews prescriptivism, essentialism, and the colonial history of projects of categorization. Instead, I view description and attribution as a principled act in a society that holds on to Enlightenment values which position the mind as separate from the body, in a political environment that polices bodies and their movement at many levels, and an economy which devalues the laboring body. In continuing the important work of Popular Dance and music scholars who have brought popular practices in to the discipline of Dance Studies and related disciplines, I want to introduce details, concepts, and analyses that are useful for treating these practices and their practitioners with the care given to canonical forms and figures, and which can be used for an expanded geographic and historical field of study.
Popular Dance on/with Social Media
  • While many scholars within Dance Studies are working on the Popular Screen in general, there is a significant hole in the literature looking at dance on YouTube. Essential work has been done by Dr. Harmony Bench [my advisor] and a few others, which I would like to build up/on. I hope to bring Internet and digital culture scholarship and cultural studies analyses together with the work being done with dance on the popular screen in order to talk about the particularities of popular dance on and with YouTube.
Economic Analysis and the Exigencies of the Popular
  • I want to utilize discussions of cultural infrastructure historically in dance and other popular forms (record companies, film studios, television networks, radio stations, etc.) to articulate the ways economics and media influence current cultural production and the contestation of agency on YouTube and social media broadly. This is especially important given the historical marginalization of communities of origin and the ongoing limited compensation for dancing bodies across time, genre, and identity.
Processual Genre and the Discursive Generation and Policing of Practice
  • To engage with New Genre Theory (my nomenclature) in its various disciplines and versions to think about the coherence of popular dance practices as processual, discursive, recursive, economic, political, and communal. In particular I argue that genre theory provides a useful framework for discussing the processes of innovation, transmission, and learning and the attending shifts in meanings and uses as popular forms are practiced across bodies, communities, and medias.
Critical Digital Ethnography
  • Following the turn to the ethnographic in scholarship on performance, I will continue to work to bring practitioner logic, knowledge, and concerns into scholarship by attending with a critical eye to the circulation of discourse on authenticity, origin, genre, pedagogy, use of media, and competency in communities of origin and broader communities of practice.