The politics of the cipher: hip-hop, antiphony, and multiculturalism
Keywordship-hop, race, ethnicity, and multiculturalism, ethics, politics, music and sound studies, African-American studies
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AbstractThis project explores the incipient forms of multiculture present in the musical publics assembled by hip-hop music and culture based on ethnography of a university student group, S4HH (Students for Hip-hop). I position the cipher (a circle of people rapping together) as the diagram of the ethics and politics of hip-hop listening. The primary aesthetic feature of the cipher is antiphony or call-and-response musicality. However, affect in hip-hop musical publics goes beyond aesthetics; it catalyses ethical and political responses. My methods add detail on the varied socialites of listening to the literature on hip-hop studies. I develop antiphony as a unique event that shatters identity and cultivates ethical subjectivities that are constituted in cycles of affect and response between self and other. This argument is based on writings on antiphony from Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Paul Gilroy. This work helps operationalise the concepts ‘event’, ‘self’, ‘other’, ‘body’, and ‘community’ in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-Luc Nancy for mapping the ethics and politics of antiphony in hip-hop listening. My study of antiphonal relations illuminates the ethics and politics of bodily response to the material distribution and circulation of affect in hip-hop spaces. I engage in a genealogical analysis of antiphonal aesthetics and the word ‘cipher’ to argue that the bodily capacities of response entrained in shared sites of listening help us consider multiculture in creolised and transnational modes. I argue that sharing hip-hop and our presence in the cipher cultivates a comportment and a passivity to difference grounded in an open-ended ethics that allows the other to transform the self. This study develops this antiphonal ethos, maps its material circuits and its imagined geographies, and speculates on the possibilities of an antiphonal multiculturalism.