Cultural appropriation can be defined as the ‘adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture’ (Turnbull, 2019). It can often lead to racist generalisations or stereotypes. However, it can also be deemed as high fashion or ‘cool’ when the privileged use aspects of that culture for their own benefit (Turnbull, 2019). Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is unaware of the history and significance of the culture they are consuming.
Westernized rap music is an example of cultural appropriation. Article by Blanchard (2019) discusses the routes and significance of rap music in African American culture.
Rap was first used during the slave trade, so slaves could articulate their creative intellect as a form of entertainment (Blanchard, 2019). Years later, rap music was formally pioneered by Jamaican ‘Kool DJ Herc’ in New York’s South Bronx in 1973 (Blanchard, 2019). It was originated from African American forms of music, including jazz, soul, gospel and reggae (Blanchard, 2019). Rap music was viewed as giving African Americans a voice, when they were (and still are) so commonly misrepresented by the media (Blanchard, 2019).
Rap is now a global genre and has been appropriated in many Western Countries. However, many Westerners take aspects of African American culture which are seen as ‘cool’ without understanding its oppressive history and context. Article by Eberhardt and Freeman (2015) discusses to what extent non-African Americans use linguistic features of African American English (AAE) in aim to create a ‘hip-hop’ identity in their music. The article specifically focuses on how white Australian rapper, Iggy Azalea, uses AAE in her lyrics, but not her every day ‘normal’ public speech.
The study conducted on Iggy Azalea confirmed her use of AAE in her music is extremely high compared to other hip-hop artists, even African American rappers (Eberhardt & Freeman, 2015). Due to her excessive use of AAE in her music, it is evident she relies on the appropriation of African American language to create popular music. She uses aspects of black culture for her musical identity yet does not experience or understand the oppression as an African American. This is an example of white privilege. History shows that white people never suffered racism in the United Sates, but instead benefitted from its structure and racist culture (Eberhardt & Freeman, 2015). Iggy gains reaps the benefits of her ‘blackness’ in her music while maintaining a typical, attractive ‘white female body’ (Eberhardt & Freeman, 2015). She is accepted and celebrated in the world of Western music, however, uses elements of African American culture to be trendy and unique in the eyes of Westerners.
Overall, the significant history behind rap music is something that should be respected, not taken advantage of. As rap music is so appropriated in the Western world, it is crucial as listeners to be discerning of the intentions behind the music and the artists background.
Blanchard, B 2019, ‘The Social Significance of Rap & Hip Hop Culture’, Stanford University, viewed 20th of August 2019, https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/socialsignificance.htm
Eberhardt, M & Freeman, K 2015, ‘First things first, I’m the realest’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip-hop persona of Iggy Azalea’, Journal of Sociolinguistics, vol 19, issue 3, pp. 303-327
Turnbull, S 2019, ‘Global Music’, lecture, BCM111, University of Wollongong, delivered 19 August 2019.