Regional Rap in Post-devolution Britain

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Arts


Hip-hop music and culture, now more than thirty years on record, is both a site of intense political and social critique and an aesthetic that has influenced music, speech, visual art, fashion and cinema. The first phase of hip-hop studies in the 1990s-2000s produced a number of canonical articles and books that set the stage for what has become a thriving interdisciplinary field (Rose 1994; Walser 1995; Krims 2000; Schloss 2004). With hip-hop scholarship entering its second generation, there are still wide gaps in the attention given to the hip-hop diaspora, and the influence of hip-hop culture on communities worldwide. While studies of hip-hop in non-Anglophone countries do exist (Mitchell 2001, Durand 2002, Rollefson 2015), books and articles on hip-hop in non-US English speaking countries are even more scarce (Bennett 1999, Bramwell 2015) and tend to focus on one region or scene without necessarily comparing the intersection between the regional and wider national trends. In the case of the United Kingdom, there is very little academia on UK rap beyond the scene in London, giving an inaccurate snapshot of the UK's regional scenes.

This project involves a study of hip-hop music and culture in the UK, focusing on three substantial music scenes: Bristol (and South West), Birmingham (and West Midlands) and Edinburgh (and Scotland). I wish to study the relationship between the character of cities and their music and cultural outputs, a study of language and regional dialects, and the complex ways in which these groups and artists both adhere to and rebel against notions of Britishness. The port city of Bristol, with its range of Caribbean influences, has helped produce a vibrant scene (K*Ners, The Scribes, Buggsy, Reel Me Records). In Birmingham, the rap scene is thriving, creating a niche with jazz-rap hybrid artists (Soweto Kinch), labels (EATGOOD records) and those who perform 'locality' to an international audience (The Streets, Lady Leshurr). In Scotland, artists such as Stanley Odd and Loki are creating political protest songs that widen the discourse and debate topics such as Scottish identity and independence. In addition to accent, I will analyse gendered language in the UK rap battle scene (e.g. Don't Flop), as freestyle rap and gender have received scant attention in the field.

The project fuses musicology with geography, linguistics, postcolonial theory and gender studies. I will also discuss the role of resistance vernaculars, and the influence and debates around the use of Caribbean ethnolect in Multicultural Youth English, as well as humour, accent and other dialects in rap music (by rappers of all ethnic backgrounds). The hybrid accents of postcoloniality reflect Britain's Imperial past, engaging with a politics of belonging when stereotyped notions of nation do not always include such voices. It will be the first study to look at regional hip-hop in the UK, and the first to combine post-colonial theory, musicology and linguistic methods.

The fellowship will allow me to lead and manage a ground-breaking research project, and enhance my status as a research leader in the field of hip-hop studies. I will create an international network of hip-hop scholars through a 2-day workshop and larger conference. I will develop my experience with digital tools in constructing a website, as well as an article from the research alongside a research assistant. I will collaborate and crowdsource with global users of the website, and will collaborate with artistic communities on engagement events in Bristol and in Birmingham. In particular, I will work with project partner Rise music on two events and with schools (collaborating with our School of Education). The wider impact of the project will be to increase our understanding of the distinctive regional variants of rap, as a political site of localism and postcolonialism that challenges stereotypes of British identity and mainstream US hip-hop culture.

Planned Impact

The project aims to deepen understanding of UK hip-hop in various regions as an important yet often neglected voice of multi-ethnic identity, politics and aesthetics. The societal impact will include increased social cohesion as the research provides the opportunity for multiple communities to hear and understand one another in new ways. The research and activities will increase public awareness of hip-hop culture and its varieties in different UK regions, and challenge negative stereotypes of the genre. The research will also have an economic impact, as it has the potential to impact wealth creation for the featured local artists through public exposure and exposure on the website.

The beneficiaries of non-academic impact would include:
1) Fans of hip-hop music and culture, who will attend public engagement events and use and contribute to the analysis website. The hip-hop fan community comprise of often educated non-academics who engage closely with the culture (and read academic books on hip-hop). The website, being accessible throughout the world, should have the widest global impact.

2) Hip-hop artists will benefit from novel perspectives on their work from academics. The events will give them a platform to discuss their artistic work, and to engage with academic analysis of their work in productive dialogue. The artists may also have input into the website, and be able to comment and shape the examples and features. Record labels (like Reel me Records in Bristol and EATGOOD records in Birmingham), artists and record stores (such as Rise Music) will also have the potential for further income from exposure through the project and will benefit from an economic impact.

3) Educators of secondary schools in particular will benefit from the educational resources on the website. Teachers will be able to discuss and co-create resources (e.g. lesson plans) on the website, and use ones that already exist. This applies to a variety of subjects, including English, music, history, geography and politics. It will be open to educational resources at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, the use of hip-hop in early education will create a societal impact, by providing education through cultural enrichment.

4) Venues in Bristol and Birmingham. Regular patrons at these venues will gain wider awareness on the cultural practices of UK hip-hop artists. For this reason, I will be organizing events that combine research and hip-hop performance, with groups The Scribes, Buggsy, K*Ners, Afridance, Broken Dialect, and Stanley Odd. There will be one group for each Rise event, 3 for Victoria Rooms and 2 for Birmingham. This provides an already-existing platform and support network for the knowledge exchange and public engagement events. Rise Music is a project partner but we will also explore appropriate venues in Birmingham such as The Institute, Oobleck, The Jam House, Town Hall, and the Flyover Show.

5) Producers of education websites or digital media may be interested in similar models for their projects.

The website, events and monograph will be advertised through: the University's press office; faculty, departmental and personal social media outlets; society organisations (hip-hop society), Ujimaa Radio, bcfm, Bristol Radical History Group, partners (Rise Music), public-facing University sponsored endeavors such as the Inside Arts festival, and publication materials associated with Black History Month, advertised by Bristol City Council. As an educational resource, the website will be advertised through relevant University PGCE courses and the Bristol Music Hub network. I will monitor statistics related to the website, and will devise a section on the website for feedback to help enable the impact, and make changes where needed.


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