Dialogues between suburbs: the globalization of the hip-hop movement

Angela Maria de Souza, PhD
Research Group in Visual Anthropology and Studies of Image Federal Univ. of Santa Catarina
The hip-hop movement takes shape in a context of globalization in the urban spaces of middle and big cities. Even though it started in the United States, this movement was born from an encounter of cultures, of aesthetic-musical practices of black and Latino communities in suburban spaces. Given that it is more than art or a manifestation of youth, the hip-hop movement has become an important arena of socio- political debate on the lives and experiences of black young men and women, immigrants of many different countries, who question the social problems that surround them. Having at its core the purpose of discussing social inequalities among black and immigrant populations in the United States, rap becomes, in a global level, the music to be associated with the lifestyle of marginalized populations, such as the Mexican and Asian immigrants (USA), the Arabs and berberes (France), Cape-verdians and Angolans (Portugal), youths of Turkish origin (Germany), dwellers of the banlieues in Paris, Marseille and Lyon (France), young dwellers of the Brazilian suburbs, etc. Even in such diverse sociocultural contexts, the hip-hop movement has become an important way of expression, directing networks and “flows” (Hannerz, 1994)2 which reconfigure social practices in a “time-space compression” (Harvey, 1994)3 context.
Those are cultural-socio-political experiences that take an aesthetic form in the debate of ordinary problems, such as the ones encountered in the suburbs of Great Lisbon, for instance Cova da Moura (Amadora) and Arrentela (Seixal) and in the Great Florianopolis Area (Brazil), in the neighbourhoods of Monte Cristo, Chico Mendes and Jardim Atlântico (São José)4. In these urban spaces, young men and women, mostly black, reconsider their social practices and elaborate other means of expression. What characterizes them are the flows that take shape between national suburbs which, in their turn, become transnational flows. These are musical partnerships that are established between countries and overcome linguistic barriers towards the establishment of rap groups communication networks. Those networks rely chiefly on technology use.
DJ using the pick-ups
Songs circulate intensely through channels which would be considered unconventional some time ago. Blogs, social networks such as My Space and Orkut, as well as virtual radio stations, considerably amplify the reach of rap musical production, allowing for new and original musical partnerships. This was the case for Grupo Reverso, a rap band from Florianopolis, in Southern Brazil, which has a page on My Space. Through this webpage, a rap group from Romenia accessed one of Reverso ́s songs, produced a totally new version and resent it to the original band. The dialogue between bands was very peculiar. As Reverso ́s band members did not speak any English, nor did the Romenian group speak any Portuguese, the Brazilian band members asked for the help of a friend who “spoke some English”.
With the help of a dictionary, communication was established. One of the criteria adopted by Reverso to accept the partnership was that the Romanian band could not include in the new version of the lyrics either any form of offense to God nor any swearwords, as Reverso does gospel rap. Conditions accepted, the virtual musical partnership ensued. I had the opportunity of witnessing this partnership in one of the BRC (Brazilian for “Christian Rap Panel”) rap meetings in Florianopolis. This musical production speaks out or, rather, experiences the “adventure” (Simmel, 2004)5 through town in order to be able to circulate in it. However, it doesn ́t limit itself to the city; rather, transcends it, as Reverso and many other rap bands are showing.
Graffiti in the Cova da Moura neighbourhood.
Technological advances, in the case of rap, not only create new circulation channels for this musical production, but also allow for reduced costs, easier and faster musical recording. With a computer and appropriate software, a rapper can record his or her songs at home. Besides that, the possibility of creation or implementation of musical channels is increased, even though it does not always include financial rewards. Even so, access to technology is something that still generates significant distancing in terms of a digital divide in the hip-hop movement, given that many rappers, in Brazil, do not have home computers. In many cases, virtual communication is established via cybercafés.

Rappers walking in Chico Mendes neighbourhood.
In this urban spaces of cities which are part of a context of globalization, the hip- hop movement – and rap, its musical style – emerge as narrative constructions of people ́s experiences and trajectories in the urban spaces of such cities. For instance, in Lisbon I came across rap criollo, which is performed predominantly by Angolan and Cape- verdian immigrants in suburban neighbourhoods; in Florianopolis, by its turn, I came across, also in a suburb, with rap de quebrada. The word quebrada refers to the urban space where these populations live; as such, rap de quebrada is an important form of expression for the population, mostly black, who inhabits this urban space. These two different rap styles have their own specificities; however, it is possible to notice the elaboration of a aesthetic visibility as a form of expression. Such visibility is derived from a “subjectivation of the world” (Ferry, 1994)6 which is shaped in the tension between the individual and the collective, the global and the local. Such rap styles establish relations of consumption, mainly based on the songs composed by the rappers.
These songs point out to specifities and localities such as the relationship these rappers build with their neighbourhood and the cities; however, wider contexts related to globalization and transnationalization movements are also taken into account. Departing from this production-consumption relationship these young men and women elaborate and implementate networks for the circulation of this musical production. By doing so, they create a kind of alternative globalization between the suburbs of cities and nations. In the hip-hop movement, music circulates through cultures and is reshaped by each cultural context.
This music is part of a larger movement and also implicates various “responsibilities”, which can be expressed in the form of a commitment that rappers impose upon themselves: they are supposed to report a reality that they live locally, which by its turn takes the form of denouncement and protest against the social problems experienced by many of these young adults. In the denouncement of discrimination, of inequality, of violence, and of exploration, these young people express themselves and take a stand, thus giving visibility to these experiences through the hip-hop movement. They protest and draw attention to such experiences and their implications and, through this attitude, redefine and reorganize their social standing. Drawing from this debate, “flows” (Hannerz, 1994) of communication are established, common aspects of life in this cities emerge and opinions about those relations are described in their songs. The hip-hop movement enhances its reach based on a context of globalization, time-space compression and increasingly fast technological advances which allow for the circulation of objects, songs, and ideas that interconnect these spaces and redefine globalization itself.
Most of these young people, in different countries, whether in Brazil or in Portugal, or in any other nation, reveal important dislocations. If in Brazil these dislocations can be considered taking the condition of “diaspora” (Hall, 2006)7 into account, which by its turn was generated by a process of slavery which lasted for over 300 years, in Portugal these dislocations are present in the processes of immigration of a significant part of the black population, in the case of the hip-hop movement, mainly from former Portuguese colonies such as Cape Verde and Angola. In both cases these dislocations determine musical practices, whether by signaling the consequences of slavery or by highlighting the importance and, at the same time, the devaluing of immigrants in the European continent.
In these space-temporal dislocations, the hip-hop movement recreates itself and moves through spaces that ressignify frontiers and nationalities. And with that, it grows larger and flows through transnational spaces, becoming the Movement that gives itself a name and which is in the hands of the DJ, on the graffiti on the walls of neighbourhoods in Florianopolis and in Lisbon, in the clothes and in the bodies of rappers.
1 Research funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Education for PhD dissertation (Souza, 2009). 2 HANNERZ, U. Cosmopolitas e locais na cultura global [Cosmopolitans and locals in global culture]. In: FEATHERSTONE, M. (org.) Cultura Global [Global Culture]: nacionalismo, globalização e modernidade [nationalism, globalization and modernity]. Rio de Janeiro: Vozes, 2004. 3 HARVEY, D. A condição pós-moderna [The post-modern condition]. São Paulo: Loyola, 1994. 4 SOUZA, A M. “It is a long walk… and the floor is slippery”: the hip-hop movement in Florianopolis and Lisbon. Florianopolis: PhD dissertation in Anthropology, Federal University of Santa Catarina, 2009. 5 SIMMEL, G. A aventura [The adventure]. In: _____ Fidelidade e gratidão e outros textos [Fidelity and gratitude and other texts]. Lisboa: Relógio D’água, 2004. 6 FERRY, L. Homo Aestheticus: a invenção do gosto na era democrática [The invention of taste in democratic era]. São Paulo: Ensaio, 1994. 7 Hall, S. Da diáspora: identidades e mediações culturais. [On diáspora: identities and cultural mediations]. Belo Horizonte: Ed. UFMG, 2006.