Constructions of identity and community in hip-hop nationalism with specific reference to Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan
The re-emergence of Black Nationalist thought in black popular culture is most evident in the
music of such rap groups as Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan. Together with groups such as
Brand Nubian, and X-Clan, Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan have played a central role in
introducing the tenets of Black Nationalism to what Michael Eric Dyson has termed 'the hip-hop
Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan utilise highly selective 'sampling strategies' that draw upon a
wide variety of Black Nationalist ideologies. This thesis aims to examine the impact of these
groups' pluralistic 'sampling strategies' on various monolithic traditions of Black Nationalism and
to consider the effect of these strategies on the formation of nationalist communities in hip-hop
music and culture.
Chapter One provides a methodological context for understanding rap within the context of
African American cultural criticism. This chapter begins by providing an overview of the
assimilationist and separatist responses to and perspectives on black marginality in the United
States. Discussion then moves to an analysis of the founding principles of African American
Studies, before finishing with an examination of the way in which Black American critics have
Chapter Two provides a comparison of the different ways in which the key notions of
appropriation and authenticity as they pertain to black music and to hip-hop are addressed within
African American and Black British cultural criticism. This chapter argues that the Black British
approach, rooted as it is in `diaspora aesthetics' provides a more useful approach both for the
globalisation of rap and the globalisation of blackness than the essentialism of African American
Chapter Three offers a comparative analysis of the respective linguistic and discursive strategies
employed by hip-hop nationalists and their gangsta counterparts in their construction of
community and identity. These hip-hop communities are highly selective in the language they use
to describe themselves and others. The choices that these artists make, moreover, say a great deal
about their specific takes on notions of identity.
Chapters Four and Five provide detailed case studies of Public Enemy and Wu-Tang Clan's
distinctive takes on Black Nationalism. These chapters contrast Public Enemy's 'sixties-inspired
nationalism', which is steeped in well-established histories of black resistance, with the Wu-
Tang's playful postmodern approach to Post-Nationalism expressed most obviously in their use of
Hong Kong-made kung fu cinema of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Chapter Six provides a summary of the points outlined in previous chapters and considers the
potential futures for Black Nationalism(s) in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade
Center on September 11, 2001.