Citation

‘My FEMA People’: Hip Hop as Disaster Recovery in the Katrina Diaspora

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Abstract:

When Kanye West went off-script during a live Hurricane Katrina telethon September 2, 2005, to declare “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” he immediately became a hip hop mascot for those frustrated by the negligent rescue efforts that left many of the Gulf Coast’s poor and racialized residents vulnerable to the proliferating human disaster in the storm’s aftermath. Mainstream hip hop icons followed suite, including musical critiques of the hurricane response by the Legendary K.O., Public Enemy, OutKast, Mos Def and Jay-Z, briefly giving life to a virtual musical sub-genre of Katrina rap.

What was given much less attention in the mainstream media were the musical responses of less well-known New Orleans hip hop artists such as Fifth Ward Weebie, Mia X, DJ Chicken, Dizzy and DJ Raj Smoove. These rappers and DJs immediately began narrating their direct experiences of loss, displacement and anger, offering up critical oral and musical histories of the particularly devastating effects of the hurricane on the region’s African American community. Instead of soliciting a mass public audience, many of these musical productions assumed more intimate relations between diaspora performers and audiences who underwent similar experiences of being ‘refugees.’ This paper offers an ethnomusicological exploration of the fluorescence of hip hop expression that originated in the indigenous New Orleans hip hop community in the wake of Katrina.

African American history over the past century has repeatedly been marked by violent upheaval and mass migration as a result of natural disasters, and the social effects of these disasters have long been registered in musical form. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, for example, provoked a bevy of blues, gospel and country songs by artists such as Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters in which the musicians described the experience of being refugees in their own land. This study contextualizes the ways in which New Orleans rappers participate in this history by taking up themes of dispersal and homecoming in their post-deluge music.

The analysis looks at the music and lyrics of New Orleans rappers alongside an examination of how the music participates in community building among displaced populations in centers including Atlanta, Miami, Houston and Dallas. Music nights are important events in these satellite communities, organized to raise money, listen to homegrown hip hop, complain about FEMA shortcomings, and keep connected with each other. The music and the social contexts in which it circulates are significant for their critique of the recovery effort and mass media depictions of evacuees as victims as much as for their community-building among scattered ‘refugees’ of the storm. Exploring these relationships by attending some of these events, interviewing artists and audiences, and analyzing the music, my project looks at how hip hop of the Katrina diaspora interrogates and contests the category of ‘refugees’ and articulates alternative narratives of disaster recovery.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244868_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Kish, Zenia. "‘My FEMA People’: Hip Hop as Disaster Recovery in the Katrina Diaspora" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244868_index.html>

APA Citation:

Kish, Z. "‘My FEMA People’: Hip Hop as Disaster Recovery in the Katrina Diaspora" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244868_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: When Kanye West went off-script during a live Hurricane Katrina telethon September 2, 2005, to declare “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” he immediately became a hip hop mascot for those frustrated by the negligent rescue efforts that left many of the Gulf Coast’s poor and racialized residents vulnerable to the proliferating human disaster in the storm’s aftermath. Mainstream hip hop icons followed suite, including musical critiques of the hurricane response by the Legendary K.O., Public Enemy, OutKast, Mos Def and Jay-Z, briefly giving life to a virtual musical sub-genre of Katrina rap.

What was given much less attention in the mainstream media were the musical responses of less well-known New Orleans hip hop artists such as Fifth Ward Weebie, Mia X, DJ Chicken, Dizzy and DJ Raj Smoove. These rappers and DJs immediately began narrating their direct experiences of loss, displacement and anger, offering up critical oral and musical histories of the particularly devastating effects of the hurricane on the region’s African American community. Instead of soliciting a mass public audience, many of these musical productions assumed more intimate relations between diaspora performers and audiences who underwent similar experiences of being ‘refugees.’ This paper offers an ethnomusicological exploration of the fluorescence of hip hop expression that originated in the indigenous New Orleans hip hop community in the wake of Katrina.

African American history over the past century has repeatedly been marked by violent upheaval and mass migration as a result of natural disasters, and the social effects of these disasters have long been registered in musical form. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, for example, provoked a bevy of blues, gospel and country songs by artists such as Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters in which the musicians described the experience of being refugees in their own land. This study contextualizes the ways in which New Orleans rappers participate in this history by taking up themes of dispersal and homecoming in their post-deluge music.

The analysis looks at the music and lyrics of New Orleans rappers alongside an examination of how the music participates in community building among displaced populations in centers including Atlanta, Miami, Houston and Dallas. Music nights are important events in these satellite communities, organized to raise money, listen to homegrown hip hop, complain about FEMA shortcomings, and keep connected with each other. The music and the social contexts in which it circulates are significant for their critique of the recovery effort and mass media depictions of evacuees as victims as much as for their community-building among scattered ‘refugees’ of the storm. Exploring these relationships by attending some of these events, interviewing artists and audiences, and analyzing the music, my project looks at how hip hop of the Katrina diaspora interrogates and contests the category of ‘refugees’ and articulates alternative narratives of disaster recovery.


Similar Titles:
Reconstituting Community: Early Evidence from a Study of Disaster Recovery in Greater New Orleans Since Hurricane Katrina

Presidential Leadership and Disaster Management Policy: An Assessment from the Birth of FEMA to the Debacle of Katrina

Land Use Policy and Economic Cost Recovery in Disasters and the Policies of FEMA


 
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