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Can the Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?

A Content Analysis of the Hip-Hop Identities Constructed by White-Passing Artists

Fatima (Toomi) Al-Dhahi

SOC 4309:253 Qualitative Research Methods

Dr. Rachel Romero


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Introduction

What does it mean to be a real hip-hop artist? The research paper aims to examine the

hip-hop identities white-passing artists construct and embody. This topic focuses on of a

major aspect of the United States today: socialization and racialization in popular culture.

Hip-hop is genre of music that originated from disadvantaged African-American

communities in Bronx, New York and cultivated as a form of political activismhelping

artists shed light on their experiences growing up and advocate for a better future. Although

there hip-hop has been dominated by the African-American community that created it, more

and more white hip-hop artists have come to fame in the past 8 years. This has been met with

mixed reactions from African-American communities because of the hip-hop identities the

white artists create. While some white artists have like-minded hip-hop identities that speak

on their disadvantages, giving credit to the culture that made them, and try to push our

society forward, other white artists do the opposite by perpetuating racial stereotypes through

their hip-hop identities. This has been raised as a incredibly important aspect in the

socialization of youth consuming this music and furthering our racialized society.

Historically, the United States has dealt with racial tension that has shown waves of

visibility on political forefronts. Whether it is a lack of visibility because of the biased news

industries or focus on international affairs that are deemed more important at the time, the

United States has had a steady rate of racial inequality but not a steady rate of social progress.

This study uses hip-hop as a perspective in understanding the racial tension in the United

States, both the actions that perpetuate stereotypes as well as those standing up against the

social inequality. By understanding the identities white hip-hop artists embody in their music,

there can be a greater understanding in the roles artists play in the consumption of ideas that

could provide either a negative or positive impact on society.


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With the current wave of social activism including the rise of the Black Lives Matter

movement, there is such a heavy pressure to be politically involved, as well as an increased

awareness to be politically correct. Specifically, there is a spotlight on hip-hop artists to take

our society in the right direction through their music and personal activism. Most recently,

the effort to be stand up against social issues has seen riffs be created between a variety of

groups because what has been said to be cultural appropriation in music. While the presence

of white hip-hop artists could already be considered as cultural appropriation of the genre, the

content of the music is more point of discussion in understanding the identity and purpose of

the artists music. By examining the hip-hop identities depicted by white artists, we can gain

a better understanding of the role artists play in the socialization of consumers and

furthermore, aide in social progress.

Literature Review

Popular culture is consumed by the masses, often spreading various messages on

society and ways to live. The power that artists have at such a high platform gives the

opportunity to for a call for social change. Noted as the symbol for change, hip-hop music

has brought to light the important connection of music and politics (Alridge and J.B 2005).

Hip-hop is genre of music that originated from the Bronx in the 1960s as a way for poor

youth to keep busy. It soon became a powerful outlet for racially marginalized groups in the

1970s. It grew to be a symbol of opposition against the status quo and a call for

transformation among youth (Alridge and Stewart 2005). Increased visibility of the music has

heavily engrained it into popular culture, opening it up to populations extending from

African-American communities. This form of political art spread across the world, giving

youth something to connect to and spread their word through.


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Although it became a well known way of protest against inequality across the world,

there has been an increasing amount of tension around the hip-hop community in the United

States when it comes to white individuals consuming the music. The disagreement around the

use of African-American culture is a result of the historical racial inequality within the

United States (Eberhardt and Freeman 2015). With hip-hop music focusing in on the lifestyle

and struggles of marginalized groups, there is conflict behind the consumption of this music

by youth.

There is a common concern is consumer capitalism as a means of creating

oppositional political power (Hutnyk and Sharma 2000). Youth culture is noted for their

inevitable connection to the other and the popular, increasing the power of music and its

words on society. Cultural tourism, the understanding of another group or culture through

media, is a key factor in understanding the consumption of hip-hop music and the ways in

which this could further divide racial groups during a time of political unrest (Jacobson

2015). With the rise of various genres of hip-hop music, a political focus on inequality has

not always been evident in the music. Rather, themes of materialism, violence, drug use have

concerned many as youth consume the music with no background knowledge on the artist

(Jacobson 2015). Inequality has always been a systemic, underlying understanding in the

African American community that experience it firsthand. That being said, there is a focus on

how the consumption of hip-hop music works as a practice of racial formation theory as a

way for individuals to understand groups that they are not familiar with or are not commonly

social with (Young 2015). The consumption of hip-hop music by white youth bring concern

of systemic racism as result of violent and materialistic ideas.

Some critics say it is cultural appropriation to consume or produce hip-hop music if

the individual is not a part of the African-American culture that created it, while others see it

as a powerful form of cultural transfer. The debate has been on-going for years, but the
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increasing racial tension in the United States has brought forth the question of how

individuals can consume hip-hop and be a part of social change even outside of the African-

American communities.

Cultural appropriation is the unwelcomed adoption of subjects, content, or objects

from one culture by another culture (Young 2005). For example, the use of African-American

English (AAE), is something that is rooted in African-American communities across the

United States. The increased consumption of hip-hop music in mass media brought upon the

use of AAE among white populations, including white hip-hop artists. Its marketable form

brings upon the implication of identity when it comes to standing against social inequality. It

is seen as linguistic appropriation can be taken as figurative form of blackface as lyrics and

other aspects of performance can perpetuate and symbolize racist attitudes (Eberhardt and

Freeman 2015). There is very limited research on whether or not it is acceptable for

individuals outside of African-American communities to produce the music in a manner that

gives credit to the group and does right by them in a political manner aligned with the call

from their music.

Two artists that have been analyzed are newly famous white Australian artist Iggy

Azalea, as well as one of the most well known white artists in the hip-hop world, Eminem.

Iggy Azalea has been noted as an adamant user of AAE, while Eminem has made it a point to

stay away from using AAE (Eberhardt and Freeman 2015). Eminem has been analyzed as a

key player in understanding the position of a white artist in hip-hop. Eminem has been

supported in his understanding of white privilege as someone who has been through their

own struggles growing up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood (University of Illinois Press

2014). This differs from the middle-class experience of Australian artist, Iggy Azalea, who

gained a large following thanks to African-American hip-hop moguls (Eberhardt and

Freeman 2015). She has been looked down upon for her silence during the rise of racial
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political unrest in the United States. Contrary to this, Eminems work from the 90s onward

allowed him to build his rapport, express his own experiences and give credit where its due in

order to gain support in the black hip-hop community (University of Illinois Press 2014). On

the other hand, he has been noted to not do enough against the racial tension in the United

States as a white person in the hip-hop community. There is no specific line that has been

made as to what is appropriate and what is not as white artist in an environment ruled by

racial minorities. The comparison of these two artists have brought to light the ambiguity of

cultural appropriation versus cultural transfer as each individual had a different journey in

receiving support from the hip-hop community.

Cultural transfer is the give and take of items and ideas from one group to another.

Culture involves meaning, context, and political framework that all come together in order to

solidify the power behind the item or idea (Kim 2015). Hip-hop is commonly said to focus in

on keeping it real, an idea that focuses in on the common experience of inequality that

African American communities face. This creates the idea of racial authenticity: what is seen

as objectively true to one race. There has been a call to counter the racial authenticity in

music (Hutnyk and Sharma 2000). The concept racial sincerity has been coined by John L.

Jackson as an alternative way of understanding black identity. Instead of phenotypic

boundaries, this theory allows employs a interpersonal perspective of cultural identity

(University of Illinois Press 2014). It focuses on the personal experience of an artist and the

overall story they are telling in order to better recognize their position in the power. Although

culture is commonly understood as a cookie-cutter way of being for a population or group of

people, the identification of culture has become more and more mixed and has allowed for

the creation of a third space (Kim 2015). Cultural transfer with the third space between

point a and b of giving and taking, allows for the dialogue between groups. This space creates
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a better understanding of background, ideas, and opens opportunities for adjustment to power

relations in society (Kim 2015).

With the rise of hip-hop in mass media over years, some artists have steered away

from explicitly speaking on social issues of marginalized groups. As a result, of the mass

consumption of hip-hop has brought the practice of racial formation theory among and the

perpetuation of stereotypes based off of assumed racial authenticity. There has not been

enough analysis on political focus of hip-hop artists. Eminem has been the token white artist

analyzed on this topic, but has not been the only white artist to want to create change. Along

with this, the work analyzed is more so focused in his identification with the black

community than the use of his power against social inequality. Analysis on the different

white hip-hop identities present by other white artist needs to be done in order to have a well-

rounded understanding of the political discussion occurring. Along with this, there is work to

be done in understanding the impact of music on youth perception of politics and political

ideas. This all ties together in understanding the way in which artists play a role in

socialization of consumers.

Methodology

This study uses content analysis to examine the different hip-hop identities presented

by white-passing artists. Content analysis is an unobtrusive method of qualitative research

which involves material already produced as the data to analyze. In order to answer the

research question of what white hip-hop identities are present, conducting content analysis on

music lyrics is the best method of analysis. This research analyzes hip-hop music produced

by white-passing artists between 2010 and 2016 to ensure the research is timely to the social

and political environment of the country. This ties back into the purpose of gaining greater
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knowledge on the kinds of ideas individuals are consuming from those who are in powerful

positions when it comes to progressing society.

To conduct this analysis, I collected a sample of thirty songs produced by white-

passing hip-hop artists between 2010 and 2016. It is key to note that the artists could be a

racially diverse background, but are phenotypically white-passing. The artists selected

include Logic, Iggy Azalea, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Action Bronson, Eminem, Brother

Ali, Mac Miller, Lil Dicky, G-Eazy, and Post Malone. Three songs from ten different artists

were selected in this process. After trying to find popular music charts, such as the Billboard

Charts, that highlight white-passing hip-hop artists, I found that not many white-passing

artists are on hip-hop charts. That being said, the artists analyzed were chosen through

personal knowledge. After selected the artists, I collected the lyrics of each song from

Genius, a website dedicated to the collection and annotation of music lyrics from a variety of

genres. As a community-based production, Genius identifies itself as a miniature version of

Wikipedia that allows the continuous editing of songs by community members with the

supervision of community leaders.

The collection of the sample brings up two of the three limitations of this study. The

three main limitations of this study includes the lack of music popularity, accuracy of the

lyrics, and genuine connection to the music produced. First, because there were not a

significant amount of white-passing hip-hop artists on major music charts, some of the artists

or songs chosen may not be the most popular or consumed. Although this does not change the

hip-hop identity presented by the white-passing artist, this should be mentioned as part of the

larger idea connected to socialization through mass media consumption. Secondly, many

artists either have part of all of their lyrics written by other individuals in the industry.

Another aspect of this limitation is the chance that the artist is actually speaking about

another individuals experience. Both parts of this limitation tend to the chance of the lyrics
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not being genuine to the artist, but rather be a part of the business of being a musical artist

and aiming to attract a large numbers of consumers. Finally, the third limitation is simply the

accuracy of Genius as the provider of song lyrics. Although they are looked over closely by

hundreds of contributors, there is always a chance of error in mishearing the song lyrics.

Although it is important to note these limitations, I do not believe they completely skew the

research at hand.

After finding my sample and doing the initial analysis of reading through the lyrics of

each song, I began my coding process to create order in the common themes found. With my

initial analysis, I was able to find descriptive and literal codes that gave me a general idea of

key concepts within the data. Then, I coded my main findings into three analytical themes in

order to group my data. Each analytical code created had three sub-codes that helped

identified qualities that attributed to that code. With that, I was able to look for cues and in

order to best understand my material. The meaning of certain colloquial phrases as well as

the mention of specific individuals or experiences commonly related to cultures such as hip-

hop were also considered in the coding as incredibly important aspects of overall purpose of

the music. By coding and grouping my data, I was able to easily define larger ideas that are

portrayed and described in a variety of ways throughout the material.

Data Analysis

The purpose of this study was to examine the hip-hop identities white-passing artists

present in their music. With the increasing number of white-passing hip-hop artists in the

music industry along with the growth of political activism against the racial tension in the

United States, this analysis dives in to understand the identities of the new wave of white-

passing artists in a historically African-American subculture. This research ties into a greater

understanding of socialization through ideas presented in mass media. Through analysis of


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thirty hip-hop songs produced by ten artists between 2010 and 2016, I was able to answer my

question of what hip-hop identities are presented by white-passing artists.

After collecting and analyzing the data, I was able to find three main identities

presented by white-passing hip-hop artists. (1) The Fighter: White-passing artists who hold

onto the original form of hip-hop as a method of self-empowerment and self-healing; (2) The

Activist: White-passing artists who recognize their role in progressing society forward; (3)

The Money Maker: White-passing artists who portray a lavish, worry-free lifestyle as all they

know. Although some songs have two or even three of the identities portrayed in some

manner, most artists embody the characteristics of one identity most often. In more depth, I

analyze the ways in which each of these identities were depicted and bring to life the ideas

they choose to present to their audience.

Theme #1

The Fighter: White-passing artists who hold onto the original form

of hip-hop as a method of self-empowerment and self-healing

With the origin of hip-hop being an outlet of frustration and a way of pushing either

the self or communities forward, the identity of the fighter by white-passing hip hop artists

shows a continuation of the traditional purpose of the genre, regardless of the moves many

artists have made towards a more happily consumed form of hip-hop that speaks on idealistic

lavish lifestyles.

Artists spoke about their struggles which heavily related to family difficulties,

addiction, and violence. Along with this, there was a sense of personal cheerleading and

therapy that came with speaking those experiences and feelings into their music. Whether it

was growing up in a rough side of the city, having to deal drugs to leave, or struggling to

keep an important relationship going, the use of these experiences heavily tie the white-
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passing artists to their African-American counterpartsmaking them in some way more

legitimate to the subculture they are working to be a part of.

Often, artists have overlapping struggles they speak on and along with this, the use of

religion as a source of strength is prominent in the discussion of both success and struggle..

In Under Pressure, white-passing artist Logic speaks on both his broken relationship with

his father while also mentioning his struggle with addiction, I hate that man, If I see him I

swear I tell him that/No longer cooking crack in my kitchen, cutting, selling that/He broke

my heart, that relationship been to hell and back/I been working hard, I been searching for

God (2014).

Even when artists did not have a struggle to talk about, they spoke heavily on making

their way up to where they are now as a white-passing hip-hop artist. Artists G-Eazy and Iggy

Azalea had lyrics speaking on studying the game, referring to the hip-hop world, in order to

get to where they are now. In the same song by Iggy Azalea, she mentions, No money, no

family/16 in the middle of Miami (2014). Azalea sets herself apart in referring to her move

to the United States from Australia to follow her dream of being a part of the hip-hop culture.

There is a larger sense of racial recognition in the content analyzed, as the artists

highlight their hip-hop identity having to do with their hard work in making it into the hip-

hop circle. In his song What If, G-Eazy highlights the racial imbalance in the hip-hop

world by saying What if the game didnt care I was white/Would I still be selling out shows

every night/Would they all believe in all the hype/Regardless of image (2015). His

introspective recognition of his position in hip-hop speaks to a larger idea of a racialized

society. In itself, the passing race of the artist is portrayed as a struggle. By discussing their

experiences of struggle and success, the white-passing fighter is able to better connect with

the African-American communities that first created hip-hop.


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Theme #2

The Activist: White-passing artists who recognize their role in

progressing society forward

As a white-passing artist in a historically African-American dominated genre of

music, some stepped up in ensuring they did what they could to stand for their disadvantaged

counterparts. Two main aspects of this was giving credit to African-American artists who

paved the way for them as well as explicitly standing up against the racial inequality present

in the United States.

By giving credit to those who inspired these white-passing artists and paved the way

for many other hip-hop artists, there is recognition of the power the genre has had on society

as a whole. In Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hit single White Privilege II there is a very

clear recognition of the fact that there is history behind the hip-hop genre, Rap entrepreneur,

built his own business/If Im only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave

me a voice to begin with (2016). Artists Eminem and G-Eazy showed a different form of

activism by calling themselves a product of other famous African-American artists. In Rap

God, while Eminem speaks on his success he earned from years of hard work, he states,

Me? Im a product of Rakim, Lakim Shabazz, 2Pac/N.W.A, Cube (2013).

Furthermore, by giving credit to the creation and purpose of hip-hop, there is a greater

want to be a part of the culture. In his 2015 single, Professional Rapper, Lil Dicky touches

on that exactly by saying he wants to be a part of the hip-hop culture because of the freedom:

I can literally reinvent myself/I get a forum to project myself/ Its never boring, every

morning I wake up and try to best myself. By being in activist in this manner, white-passing

hip-hop artists bring to light the positive aspects of hip-hop and debunk hostility that often

revolves around the genre.


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Another form of the activist is seen as explicit narration of inequality in the United

States. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis along with Brother Ali make their position on the

political unrest in the United States very clear. From mentioning the terrorism led by the

United States abroad to discussing the failure of the education system, from gay rights to the

prison industry, a variety of social issues are discussed. The underlying theme in the explicit

activist identity, is the white-driven society. In Macklemore and Ryan Lewis White

Privilege II, the line Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury is repeated at the end

of the song as a reminder that privilege only goes so far. It highlights the activist position

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis take as white-passing artists in the hip-hop world. There is

recognition of identity and call for a more conscious and better led society.

Theme #3:

The Money Maker: White-passing artists who portray a lavish,

worry-free lifestyle as all they know

Many have seen as shift in the consumption of materialistic hip-hop that portrays the

wealthy, dream-like lifestyles of artists who became highly successful. Money, cars, sex, and

never ending fun is the key recipe to this identity. It stands for everything that is desired, but

misses the discussion of making it in the game of hip-hop. Rather, it holds itself above the

struggle by glamorizing drug use and exuberating power that is not granted, which leading to

racist and misogynistic remarks.

From Mac Miller to Post Malone, Iggy Azalea to Action Bronson, many hip-hop

artists use drugs and alcohol as a key connection to success. This ties heavily into

conspicuous leisure, a theory coined by Veblen, which recognizes the connection between

consumption of recreation and social capital. With Action Bronson talking about tripping
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acid for ten days straight and Mac Miller speaking about drinking lean, a beverage with

prescription drugs mixed in, the power of the artist is amplified. There is a to show how not

only well off these artists are to be able to afford the consumption of theses drugs, but also

how powerful they must be to discuss these things in their music without talking about

addiction or problems struggling with the law. This marks a point of white privilege as whites

are less likely to have trouble with law enforcement as well as more likely to be able to afford

drug rehabilitation.

In two songs by Post Malone, he speaks on his success by mentioning women and

money in careless ways such as in White Iverson: Spendin, Im spendin all my fuckin

pay/I got me some braids and I got me some hoes (2015). In more explicit ways, he speaks

on his sexual encounters with women in a powerful and demanding manner after mentioning

how he was able to get rich quickly. Similarly, Action Bronson speaks on his success through

his relations with women. By calling himself the symbol for sex and reminds an ex-girlfriend

that her rage is understandable because he is shining brilliant with give Brazilians in his

2015 song Baby Blue, Action Bronson speaks on the high of his lifestyle as a successful

hip-hop artist. Another aspect of Action Bronsons misogynist remarks is the connection of

Brazilian women as a sexualized ethnicity.

The use of racism in the money maker identity further creates racial tension that

divides white individuals from the others who are marginalized. There is a sense of a cool

and prestigious standing with the use of racism within this hip-hop identity. Iggy Azalea, who

has been mentioned before in this study, shows a different side with her implied racism when

discussing her race to success, Tire marks, tire marks, finish line with the fire marks/When

the relay starts Im a runaway slave-master (D.R.U.G.S 2011). While Iggy Azalea uses

the history of slavery in the United States as a way of discussing her opposition and fight to

the top, Action Bronson uses the imagery of slavery as a form of power: The best of all, had
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a midget Puerto Rican at my beck and call (Easy Rider 2015). Racist remarks aid in

increasing the racial tension as white-passing artists hold a colorblind mindset towards the

phrases and connotations that are being made to marginalized groups.

Conclusions

By examining the identities white hip-hop artists present in their music, there is a

greater understanding of the kind of ideas that are being consumed by the masses. Not only

do white-passing artists add onto the number of hip-hop artists in the game, but white-passing

artists automatically act as either allies or assailants to the African-American community that

created hip-hop. With the current political unrest in the United States surrounding the historic

racial tension, it is important to recognize the ideas we are consuming in our everyday mass

media. Analyzing the work of ten white-passing artists brought to light three major identities

that are present in hip-hop music and gives way to understanding the role of white-passing

artists in music.

The fighter is identified as the white-passing artist who hold onto the original form of

hip-hop. This identity holds to the main purpose of hip-hop at its coreempowering and

healing the artist and their community. By embodying this identity, white-passing artists are

able to show the struggle of the disadvantaged, regardless of race or ethnicity. It allows for

connections that go beyond phenotypic standards.

The activist is the white-passing artists who recognize their role in progressing society

in a positive manner. By embodying this identity, the white-passing artist highlights the

power of hip-hop as something that truly reaches so many individuals over so many years.

Those who construct this hip-hop identity for themselves recognize their position in the

white-driven society and call for change.


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The money maker can be defined as the white-passing artists who disregard struggle

and live the lifestyle of fame and fortune, portraying a sense of power that perpetuates racism

and a desire for mass consumption of drugs. This identity sets others apart as they allow for

white privilege ideology to be understood as a key to success.

By understanding the three main hip-hop identities depicted by white-passing artists,

there is a fair amount of knowledge on the kind of ideas being portrayed in mass media. The

fighter and activist identities could be very beneficial in helping build a better understanding

of hip-hop, the African-American community, and push forward against the racial tension in

the United States. It is clear that the money maker identity is that which brings the struggle of

cultural appropriation and racial tension in a genre that always strived to do good, for the

African-American community especially. Although there is no way to alter the mindsets of

each and every hip-hop artist in having a more positive messages, it is good to recognize that

there are white-passing artists who are standing up for the purpose of keeping hip-hop on the

right track of political and social progress. To further the research on the intersection of hip-

hop and political engagement, it would be beneficial for further research to look into the hip-

hop identities constructed and embodied by other racial minorities as a point of comparison.

The power of hip-hop is something that is underestimated and the consumption of the ideas

spread through this music could change our world for the better.
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