Like any other music culture, hip hop is largely represented by a select few icons. Unfortunately for the genre, it has come to be associated with shallow, commercial acts that are more about the image than the music. In North America, loose pants and flashy jewelry tend to dominate people’s opinion of hip hop. Elsewhere, however, hip hop hasn’t strayed too far from its cultural and political roots, and in fact has grown closer to them.
These “other” hip hop cultures are the subject of Global Noise, a collection of essays edited by Professor Tony Mitchell at the University of Technology Sydney. The book offers a peek into the hip-hop cultures in Asia, Europe, Canada, and Australia, showing us how the genre has fit into the political issues, social concerns, and languages of different communities. Experts have called it a “benchmark collection,” hailing it as an important contribution to pop cultural studies.
The book follows the development and spread of hip hop in the most unlikely of places. Essays touch on Islamic rap in France and England, the struggle of white Australians to form their own hip hop community, the profound poetry of Italian hip hop writers, the geopolitical rants of one Chinese rapper, the unique blend of traditional Maori music with New Zealand hip hop, and Germans rapping about the life of second-generation immigrants. Its spans vast geographic areas, but the roots of the culture are remarkably similar.
Dr. Mitchell encourages readers to recognize how hip hop around the world has been used for various social and political ends. For example, it has proven to be especially powerful in expressing resistance and opposition, and helping minorities feel a sense of identity and belonging. And while in the U.S. the genre has lost much of its depth and become associated with a decadent lifestyle, around the world it appeals to people of all races, ages, and social classes.
One does not have to be fan of the music itself, or even to know much about it, to appreciate how a seemingly superficial genre can be closely tied to so many cultures. If anything, it takes us back to the beginning of the genre itself, which took place in oppressed Hispanic and African communities in the Bronx in the 1970s. Whether you’re an aficionado or an onlooker wanting to gain a better appreciation of the music, this book is certainly worth a read.