"Doin" Damage in My Native Language: Resistance Vernaculars in Hip Hop in France, Italy and Aotearoa/New Zealand

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Journal Article
Popular Music and Society, 2002, 24 (3), pp. 41 - 54
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In Spectacular Vernaculars, Russell A. Potter applies Deleuze and Guattari's comparison of Kafka's use of Prague German as a "minor language" with the use of English by African-Americans to what he regards as the heteroglossaic, marginal vernacular forms of African-American rap, which he sees as a de-territorialization of "standard" forms of English (66-68; cf. Deleuze and Guattari 16-17). Potter sees African-American rap as a form of "resistance vernacular" which takes the minor language's variation and re-definition of the major language a step further and "deform[s] and reposition[s] the rules of `intelligibility" set up by the dominant language." He concludes that African-American rappers "have looked more towards the language and consciousness of the ghetto in search of a more authentically black identity" (69). But it is arguable that the ghetto vernacular practiced by many African-American rappers has become so atrophied and ossified in its relentless repetition of a severely limited range of expletives that any claims for "resistance" have long passed their use-by date. As Paul Gilroy noted in 1994: "Hip hop's marginality is as official, as routinized, as its overblown defiance; yet it is still represented as an outlaw form." He goes on to identify a need to interrogate "the revolutionary conservatism that constitutes [rap's] routine political focus but which is over-simplified or more usually ignored by its academic celebrants" (51). In this essay I examine the use of indigenous languages other than English in rap music in Zimbabwe, Switzerland, France, Italy, and Aotearoa/New Zealand as more appropriate examples of "resistance vernaculars" which re-territorialize not only major Anglophone rules of intelligibility but also those of other "standard" languages such as French and Italian.
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