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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Musical Crossings: Identity Formations of Second-Generation South Asian American Hip Hop Artists


This paper stems from a dissertation project on second-generation South Asian American hip hop artists based on twenty-two months of fieldwork conducted primarily in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. Through interviews, participant observation, and an analysis of their lyrics, this paper examines how South Asian American (desi) hip hop artists develop a racial consciousness and identities that both challenge narrow identity politics strictly drawn around ethnic lines and provide alternative ways of “being desi in America” by creating interracial alliances and racialized identities based on a politics of identification. By identifying as both South Asians and as people of color, the young adults in this study simultaneously articulate ethnic and racialized second-generation identities in ways that challenge assimilation theories that predict the downward assimilation of immigrants who adopt Black culture. This paper explores the political potential of hip hop—a medium rooted in an explicit discussion of power, history and inequality—for forging multiracial alliances in ways that unite Blacks and South Asians.

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