Jay Z hip hop and African American culture

1. What is your general impression of any 2 specific arguments Giddings makes in the essay (i.e, Jay-Z as cultural agents or “africanisms” in Jay-Z’s lyrics)?

First, I was impressed by Giddings assessment of the Africanist spiritual value of recognizing reality as a composite of both the tangible and the ethereal/illusive, (p. 11). The spiritual dimensions of hip-hop are not discussed much, and it is refreshing to encounter this perspective. Second, I appreciated Giddings interjection of gender issues into the assessment of Jay-Zs lyrics and their Africanisms, particularly with regards to the concept of machismo. It is interesting that Giddings connects female background vocals and the blending of male/female in African-American music with corresponding social realities.

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2. Of the 4 cultural africanisms/core values, introduced by Giddings and exhibited in Jay-Z’s lyrics, which 1 (or more, if any) is most convincing to you that African Americans have an African heritage; and how specifically does the essay illustrate this?

The communal core value is inherently political. Giddings tackles the complexities of communal values, first by showing how hip-hop artists like Jay-Z grapple with the dichotomies of dumbing-down to audiences for optimal profit, while remaining conscientious of the ironies inherent in this type of win-win pragmatism, (p. 7). Giddings also shows how Jay-Z assumes the role of political leader in the community, linking with other artists to uplift, inspire, and empower even in the midst of racism and oppression.

3. Thinking about Jay-Zs or any other MCs artistic work, how is Hip-hop a strength and/or a challenge/problem for African American culture?

As Giddings states in the introduction of the essay, hip-hop is misunderstood and because it is misunderstood, it is maligned. It is important to listen closely, deeply, and consciously, not just to the music and its rhythms and beats, or even only to the lyrics and their ironies. A listener must also encounter the entire gamut of the culture, understanding the historical context that gave birth to hip-hop, ascertaining issues related to race, class, and gender, and also postulating as to what the next step in the evolution of African-American cultural identity and icons might be to promote the same types of core values that Giddings discovers in the music of Jay-Z.


4. After reading Giddings’ essay, what are you left wondering about; what questions remain unanswered in your mind; what specific details in the essay sparked your wonderment/question?

Giddings claims: Africa is a conceptual invention, and thus subject to ongoing and dynamic innovation, (p. 2). At first, this statement seems outlandish and even reeks of Americas own ethnocentrism. Yet Giddings eventually does clarify the importance of externalizing the concept of Africa, particularly as it informs the evolution of African-American art. I agree with most of what Giddings has to say and understand why he views Africanisms as being constructed socially by diaspora Africans. Yet I cannot help but wonder how Giddings would also integrate earlier forms of African-American music that bore even more overt Africanisms, like the call-and-response songs in early Delta blues.




Works Cited


Giddings, G. Jahwara. Afrocentric Jay-Z.


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