This article explores the use of sound, lyrics, and performance as tools for spatial reorientation and reimagining, identity formation and affirmation, and counternarrative or counterarchive in a rapidly gentrifying contemporary Detroit, Michigan. Two discrete, yet discursively linked case studies are presented—performances by the same artist in two different spaces—that exhibit various modes of “flipping,” slang that can refer to multiple transformative practices in contemporary Detroit. These practices include the use of overdetermined spaces, or spaces that have been declared abandoned or vacant, for something other than their original intent—i.e. using a decommissioned automobile plant as a music video set; sampling, which can be understood as using sonic components from previously recorded songs in the creation of new hip-hop beats; buying homes in a state of disrepair, fixing and reselling them at large profits; and inverting meaning itself, via slang or coded language. Additionally Black techniques of sounding and performance are illuminated, with a focus on echo as a mode of co-creation. These various practices are all responses to the growing wave of gentrification that gains momentum in the city daily. The analysis draws primarily from ethnographic research conducted from 2016 to 2018, culling data from participant observation, recorded interviews, informal conversations, field notes, lyrical and video analysis, and the analysis of mediated accounts, both print and online. As the analysis shows, the strategies utilized by artists in Detroit ensure that no matter how much the spaces in Detroit continue to change, and no matter how much an attempt is made to provide racially curated space through various forms of violence, you’re only ever a block from the ‘hood.
“You're Only Ever A Block From The ‘Hood”: Hip-Hop and Spatial Reorientation in Detroit, Michigan
Alex Blue V is an assistant professor in the Department of Music at William & Mary. Previously, he was the Thurgood Marshall Postdoctoral Fellow in African and African American Studies at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on the intersections of race, sound, and space. His dissertation (and upcoming monograph) is a “necrographic” study of how musicians in Detroit’s hip-hop scene respond to various narratives of death and dying about Detroit and in Detroit, how they might use a supposedly dead city as inspiration, how they create from seemingly dead spaces, and how all of these things are colored by both race and place.
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Alex Blue V; “You're Only Ever A Block From The ‘Hood”: Hip-Hop and Spatial Reorientation in Detroit, Michigan. Journal of Popular Music Studies 1 December 2021; 33 (4): 152–170. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jpms.2021.33.4.152
Download citation file: