Remix Culture and Hip Hop

Hip Hop

Hip hop is this and hip hop is that. Hip hop is not a remix culture. Granted remixes have been issued as part of products that have been associated with hip hop but I’m not such a huge fan of Hip Hop either. Hip Hop is what they called Dance, Rap, Graffiti, DJing and all the other shit little urban dwellers were doing when there were no recreational programs or instruments or art classes or shit else to do but hang out all day or kill time in the lunch room till the next class when they didn’t want to call it art. Not art – because that would imply culture. How could hoodlums cultivate themselves.

Now that Lawrence Lessig has decided to weaken the stance on property through the Creative Commons (CC) paradigm (hey Larry, you either believe in fair use or you don’t), you have the resurgence of the “remix.” Hip Hop is a gestalt term used to relativise three things: 1. a culture that originated in a marginalized environment 2. the social conditions and paradigms that gave rise to the environment in the first place 3. the people who managed to express the beautiful despite being denied access to societies resources for the production of aesthetic value.

Let me see if I can make it plain. People say Hip Hop because they didn’t want to call DJing “Music.” They didn’t want to consider Graffiti “Art, “ they didn’t want to consider Breakin’ “Dance,” and they had no idea what to call Rap. In the evolution of semiotic chains the battle for the signified (Art in its hegemonic sense) was negotiated away from the sign (ART, MUSIC, DANCE) by the signifier (HIP HOP). Hip Hop now serves as a sign to indicate this negotiated settlement, it serves as the signifying appendage to all artistic expressions and signals (Not quite or les than). It is the cultural way of saying well its not really music, when what you mean is it will never be Mozart.

This same relativization is now happening under the concept of “remix culture” and its Frankenstein rationale of CC. Because certain companies have been granted monopoly of PUBLIC airwaves and means of transmitting communication there are certain things that now form a ubiquitous part of our every day sensorial environment. Just as chirping or wind blowing forms part of the common human experience (granted that all five senses are operable and the subject conscious) so now has snippets of (INSERT POP CULTURE PRODUCT HERE) become background noise to our daily lives. Standing at the bus stop (sorry no lollipop) I hear the Bass from one song mixed with the Chorus from another over the Hook of another with the Lyrics of yet another. That whole sound is the background of an urban environment. My expression of this perceptual mélange may find different media. If the medium is visual it may be Graffiti , one of the plastic or graphic arts or Video; if audio, DJing, Lyric Poetry (Rap for those of you who are wondering), or Music. Just because the elements have a certain degree of coherent identification doesn’t mean that the whole is identifiable under the same logic of identification. A collection of samples is not a sample. It is, instead, a separate and distinct whole that represents the vision of its producers. While the CC paradigm is good for a particular mode of production, one in which a confined community of participants agree to use elements of a limited universe of options to create products relative to that system, a gilded cage is still a cage; no matter how creative or how common. Just like the universal resources of man – land and water – have been stolen and monopolized by the tyranny of corporations and their minions (read Government), so to has air (Broadcast Spectrum) been monopolized: next stop – THOUGHT.