“The Tanning of America”: Entrepreneurship and Hip-Hop

My researching and brainstorming of my final project has taken me into an informal investigation of the nature of commerce and of racial inclusiveness in hip-hop culture. I have recently been looking at two books, “Beyond Resistance”!, (http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Resistance-Activism-Community-Change/dp/041…) an anthology of different urban youth development and civic engagement projects, edited by Shawn Ginwright, Pedro Noguera, and Julio Cammarota, and “The Tanning of America” (http://tanningofamerica.com/), which is a consumer brand marketer’s account of how hip hop has reached such a broad mainstream audience and is a powerful commercial and branding tool.

While I have by no means done the kind of exhaustive research to confirm that these two texts are definitive, canonical pieces on youth engagement through hip-hop, I believe they will be productive to my project going forth because they embody two distinct perspectives on hip-hop that I am hoping to bridge. The first perspective, I believe, is interested in hip-hop as a cultural expression that allows urban youth to speak up and engage civically in ways that are inaccessible in more mainstream public spheres. The second perspective is interested in how hip-hop can have capital in more mainstream public spheres and in how hip-hop can work as a cultural industry. I’m interested in DollarBoyz because it unabashedly embraces commercial, materialistic aspects of hip-hop culture in a way that still seems compatible with positive youth development and civic engagement. Many teachers interested in media literacy would love to see the kind of enthusiasm and engagement that the kids of DollarBoyz seem to have. I posit that one key to the DollarBoyz model is its framing of entrepreneurship as a noble profession that students can learn about and excel in.

The model of social change that my group came up with was a web of a number of ideas related to participatory media’s role in society. We seemed to be most interested in the dynamic between “cultural/attitude change” and “policy change”, somewhat like the dynamic between Marx’s base and superstructure, except that the base we are referring to is the resource of cultural capital, if that can be considered a resource. In the context of my project, the commercialization of hip-hop is very explicitly about how marginalized communities can use the industrial and commercial aspects of culture to create capital. This dynamic has exciting new possibilities with the advent of participatory media. Whether or not this affects social change is more difficult to say.