(wip) AP 2020
This is a place for four narratives, to be ‘played’ in context with each other, to function as an archive and as a multiple. The piece now called “Player Hater Ruler Catcher” is a paper game; an interactive way of accessing the fantastic spaces of Hip-hop’s characters, narratives and artifacts.
I have made here four Hip-hop mythologies by listening to four albums that I found emblematic of four different types of rap. Each album was chosen and studied considering its geographical location, style of rap and flow, the content of the lyrics, the era produced and released, the bar and musical structure, the philosophy expressed or referenced, and the persona of the emcee.
The structure of 4 points is integral to the piece’s geometry (an origami “salt cellar”) and is also integral to the source material; that of hip hop music, which is typically organized in a four bar structure. I am also thinking of the piece as a compass; a tool with some decorative embellishment. These decorative elements are part of the printed architecture.
I am considering the game like an act and tool of translation: four corner “pieces” of a compass or (paper) ‘stone’ which allows me to create a full spectrum of this language, history, and place of Hip-hop which I participate in, craft and aim to represent.
The structure of the game is drawn from a European children’s game called a “Cootie Catcher.” I recall playing the game among girls and considered it to be an accurate prediction device of my success or failure in my romantic endeavors. This bit of desire, sexuality and socialization is present in the work and making.
(It is also present in my experience as an emcee & with other male emcees. My identity as a ‘bitch,’ my identity as a ‘female emcee,’ engaged in an often misogynistic cultural practice are pressing here in the prolonged making of a visual work from copper, paper and ink. I am the author, seeking a mode of representation which allows for choice, alternative, for satire and playful narrative: Knowing that the socialization of women occurring within Hip-hop’s cultural products, modes, and foundations has been a significant part of my life. I feel myself engaging this memory-space when I am in a mode of listening and drawing. Shame, foolish & hopeful lust, the rouse of chance and good fortune, the truth and fallacy of agency, and severe injustice are felt working within this structure. I do think these are relevant thematics for an audience or viewer, especially as they mirror some painful pitfalls of the American Dream as felt by other ‘users.’)
Each mythology is given a title. The user selects ‘Ruler,’ ‘Hater,’ ‘Catcher,’ or ‘Player’ and is given a narrative interaction including two moves, and two (tbd) fortunes or predictions. I’ve chosen “move words” for their recurrence and interpretative capacity, thinking that when a user played the game, some degree of narrative freestyling would be possible.
The moves are each polysemous words: homonyms or homophones drawn from the respective four albums. The importance of context as key to understanding meaning is stressed here; this is the essential cultural point: the historic, social and economic context of the content in Hip-hop is integral to understanding and valuing it as language – whether that be intonation of innocent wordplay or more aggressive (often inherited and reproduced) oppressions.
These moves I have written make best sense in the context of each other, and in the realm from which they operate and are drawn. (The moves might also make stark or satirical revelations when taken out of or changed context, slippery slopes here abound)
For an example: Catchers can “TRAP.” This is in reference to trap music (a form of contemporary rap), “trapping” (read: selling drugs) and to simple machines used to catch prey. Nicki Minaj criticizes “Rats” (unsavory women) for their habit of “trapping” (seducing) men for their “cheese” (money). The man down the block from me said whatup, he had a good day “you know, trappin’ – ain’t shit.” The overarching metaphor of this move and narrative is the story of a black man “trapped” in the system. One may wonder about the good of probability, what ‘fortune’ or destiny will the user “probably” receive? Does his power to choose beget true freedom, or are the options and their outcomes largely determined by powers that be (media, industry, capitalism, appropriation are relevant here) Myself being the actual power (artist and operator) in this instance, my quest has been of fairness; to represent reality without pessimism but also without false hope.
This project is an ongoing consideration; of language, of narrative, and of power — Hip-hop’s creative works come from real contexts and circumstances. To what degree can and should and must Hip-hop be fantastic, how long and hard can one play, and where are the borders and limits of our curiosities and playful spirits?
The work is still in progress but playable in its present state. I am the only one who knows how to operate the game but I will make a rule book in case/s of covid.
I used Gang Starr’s Moment of Truth, Eminem’s Eminem Show, 2 Chainz’ Based on a T.R.U. Story, and The Game’s The Documentary. These are particularly narrative or descriptive albums from New York, Detroit, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, respectively. Each was important in its time and marked shifting aesthetics.
Arendt’s On Violence, bell hooks’ Black Looks, Gramsci’s Prison notebooks: state and civil society, and Hermann Hakens’ Machine As Metaphor and Tool also guided my choices. Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is inspiring to the spirit of play and adventure in the work. A “Works Cited” notebook accompanies the game which includes some of this material, short philosophical writings mostly.
Each move, fortune, and title is on a separate plate – this allows me to swap places in printing – I am interested in referential content within the albums which recurs in another context or album. I think it paints a bigger narrative or world, also sometimes insisting on specificity and contextual realities. I can physically explore that through the printmaking!
Each emcee I used for source material is male. Women are noted & present, I have listed and drawn in script the women who are referenced and placed them explicitly in the margins of the plates. Hip-hop isn’t really ‘about women,’ (read “adequately curious and careful to consider the female psyche”) especially when its authors are pretty smart, narcissistic men selling and presenting their creative products. Some songs are made ‘about women,’ some ‘for the ladies,’ which indicates that most of the music is made of and about and for men.
This prompts me to consider my own audience as an emcee, and in this visual work, their complete absence would become too strong an undertone and theme, so a few women are here, “the Janets and the Jills,” as GangStarr says, doing something in the margins.