WORD forWORD (boogie based body talk basics)

‘[t]he engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself’. (bell hooks 1994:11)

H. Samy Alim has produced scholarship focused on what is professed in the opening pages of his book, Roc the Mic Right: The Language of Hip Hop Culture, to be “the most pervasive yet least examined aspect of Hip Hop Culture”--- it’s language. His work springs forth from a solid foundation of past linguistic surveys by William Labov, Roger Abrahams, Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, Geneva Smitherman, and Marcyliena Morgan, to name a few, that emerged during the 60’s and following decades. I am particularly drawn to Alim’s unapologetic approach toward presenting the “Nation Language” of the glocal Hip Hop community as a valuable subject for investigation. Hip Hop Nation Language (HHNL), as described by Alim, “can be seen as the submerged area of Black Language that is used within the HHN.” (74); a language indebted to it’s cultural creators that primarily include members of the broader African American community. This sentiment could be equally transferable to the relationship between Black Vernacular dance and Hip Hop dance. Thusly, I find Alim’s assertion that the language of Hip Hop Culture is pervasive material ripe for scrutiny to be on point. Is it the least examined aspect of Hip Hop culture? Nope! I don’t think so.

To forefront mc’ing/rapping, the verbal practice/art of Hip Hop in a discussion about Hip Hop Culture is a common occurrence. These discussions might not entail the type of examination Alim might be alluding to but they do include some sort of analysis and/or examination. Alim’s book might possibly be directing this assertion toward the academy. Nonetheless, in either case, I have found the language practices produced by dancing bodies to be the ‘least examined.’ Fortunately, the work of afore mentioned linguistic scholars provide a potential outline for examining the language of Hip Hop dance.

In relationship to Alim’s work I aim to explore more than the lexicon of Streetdance, including the important issues surrounding it’s use. For example, as Hip Hop through a portal like YouTube mediates the adoption of Black Vernacular movement vocabulary by non-Black youth. It is through this process that the moves, movement vocabulary, complimentary movement phrases and all of the signs, codes, and signifiers therein become transformed. Nonetheless, it has been observed by linguistic anthropologist studying African American Vernacular English (AAVE) that in spite of the adoption, appropriation, borrowing and/or theft of African American English speech there is a great portion that remains secured within the immaterial domain of “private black vernacular lexicon.” The previous statement is not to declare that black dancers use the movement vocabulary exclusively because eventually certain physical expressions “filter into” mainstream/white lexicon of movement through a variety of cultural intermediaries. As a result numerous corporeal expressions are substituted or redefined, and in some cases abandoned, by black dancers while others carry on as common currency in both cultures.

Recently, I have found myself mapping out a schema to travel through the linguistic landscape of Hip Hop/Street/Black vernacular dance practices. What is frequently omitted from discussions about black dance trends is an analysis of the corporeal language and language use of this diverse group of movement practices and its practitioners. In particular, an examination of corporeal language use within the Black community especially in the socio-cultural context of the [neighbor]Hood or The Streets. This approach assumes the possibility of viewing and describing dance as a means of corporeal communication similar to oral language discourse.

In doing so I have chosen to use the work of Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, who’s research directly addresses the function, meaning and uses of black vernacular and social dance(s); and Susan L. Foster, who’s exhaustive scholarship approaches dancing, like writing, as a system of signs as a compliment to what I’m keying in on in Alim’s work. In addition, the work of academicians such as Brenda Dixon Gottschild, Jane C. Desmond, Thomas DeFrantz, coupled with the contemplated and practiced theoretical discoveries and developments conveyed to me by a vast list of practitioners in the local and global Hip Hop Streetdance communities. And, lastly, given my lifelong enrollment at Sidewalk University, I am inclined to draw upon my own experiences in a variety of social, cultural, geographical, and performance contexts as a dancer/choreographer/mc/producer/etc. in an enduring quest to be an effective Street Scholar.