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Pleading the Fifth Element: Disaesthetics and Hip Hop as Black Study

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This dissertation makes three main interventions into the fields of Hip Hop Studies and Hip Hop Theater to rescue and restore Hip Hop’s radical potentials from its cooptation by (neo)liberal multiculturalist agendas both inside and outside the academy and mainstream theater. The first is a metacritique of the limitations found in the literature of Hip Hop Studies due to its inability to interpret the ways in which Hip Hop’s expressive content is already engaged in a process of study. Since the field of Hip Hop Theater derives its theoretical archive from Hip Hop Studies, the second intervention extends into the ways Hip Hop is employed in contemporary theater. Here, I expose similar problematics, one of which is how the scholarship and dramatic work find their “coherence” and “legibility” by ignoring the anti-Blackness that animates Western humanism. In both fields, Blackness remains a problem for thought (pace W.E.B. Du Bois and Nahum Chandler) resulting in two main analytical limitations: 1) an inability to consider the specific ways Black people suffer under the hydraulics of global anti-Blackness and 2) an inability to recognize and incorporate the Black radical critiques offered by Hip Hop artists and dramatists. These limitations result in a theft of Hip Hop and a suppression of Black radical thought. Within the context of hegemonic multiculturalism, Blackness becomes a force that animates other people’s agendas while Black ethical demands are forcefully quarantined. These problematics lead me to my third intervention: a call for investigators and artists to consider Hip Hop as a radical method of study rather than solely as an object of study. Such a method joins Sylvia Wynters’ critique of Western Man with Tupac Shakurs’ lyrical-political call to “fuck the World.”

This dissertation disrupts the traditional tendency to freeze Hip Hop as an object, and reemploys it as a methodology: layering, sampling, and remixing theory and analysis into a meta-critical cypher, while never losing sight of what is truly at stake in a project that is attentive to Black ethical demands. In this pursuit, the dissertation’s introduction defines and elaborates on the intervention and its importance. Disc One brings the Hip Hop Studies and Hip Hop Theatre’s scholarship into a critical cypher, exposing their limitations, while defining the parameters of Hip Hop as a form of Black radical critique through the concept of the “dis”. Disc Two applies critical force to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and interrogates the ways the musical turns a (color)blind eye towards Black suffering, employing black bodies as refugees in a project that works against their political and liberatory interests. Disc Three analyzes the work of Rickerby Hinds, isolating moments in his dramaturgy where his use of Hip Hop theorizes on Black “social death” and structural violence. Disc Four brings the work of playwright Suzan-Lori Parks into the cypher, tracing her use of layering and sampling as a method of disrupting the traditional “grammar” used to make legible the “ghosts” of Black suffering. Disc Five, the concluding section—like a vinyl record spinning to a close, its critical needle producing an eerie, repetitious crackling sound as it maneuvers into the dead wax—returns to the spectral questions lingering with(in) the entire project.

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