Soft Tension: Reimaginging urbanism and rurality through the spatio-cultural practices of hip hop

de Paor-Evans, Adam orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4797-7495 (2018) Soft Tension: Reimaginging urbanism and rurality through the spatio-cultural practices of hip hop. In: Rurality Re-imagined: Villagers, Farmers, Wanderers, Wild Things. Applied Research and Design, USA - San Francisco Bay Area. ISBN 9781940743349

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When considering the context of hip hop culture, one can be forgiven for immediately imagining the dense urban city. The cultural practices of hip hop evolved during the 1970s in New York City’s dilapidated neighbourhoods, and is almost exclusively represented and understood as a purely urban culture. Growing from economic, political, socio-spatial, and socio-tectonic oppression largely as a consequence of Robert Moses’s mass build program initiated during the 1930s, the origins of hip hop culture are firmly rooted in the ground of urbanism. However, over the past 40 years hip hop has developed, expanded, consolidated, and advanced to a point where there are a multitude of regional agendas and attitudes to the core elements of hip hop culture: graffiti writing, DJing, Bboying and emceeing.
The pioneering productions of hip hop were a corollary of spatial engagement and territorial identity, but also of cultural diaspora and repositioning. As the culture became established and travelled across the globe, new hybrid forms of hip hop evolved through dialogue between the primary, recognizable languages of hip hop and the immediate context of its new practitioners. The spatiality of these crossbreed forms of hip hop is no less visible within rural and non-urban hip hop. This chapter focuses on the unexplored terrain of non-urban hip hop in Devon, UK, and evaluates the emergence of a transatlantic hybrid culture that was counter to the traditional non-urban vernacular of everyday Devonian life. Despite the incredible breadth, depth and density of contemporary hip hop culture worldwide, one idea remains constant, that through its relatively short history it has been continually discussed, represented and documented as exclusively urban, and is widely accepted as such. This raises a series of important questions: Is hip hop wholly urban, and is each of its incarnations also urban? What is it that attempts to affirm hip hop as solely urban, and is the ruralizing of hip hop a threat to the culture? Furthermore, can the actions of a rural form of hip hop culture engender new urban-rural network through its spatial and material representations? Could this network be translated to forms of spatial practice?
This chapter interrogates the above questions through a mixed methodology of literature review, photographic and artefact analysis within an overarching ethnographic and autoethnographic framework.
This chapter has as its main concern the emergence of hip hop as a vehicle for interrogating the urban-rural dialectic, and by doing so positions hip hop practice in a new arena. Whilst Devon is the geographical location for this exploration, the conclusions of the study reimagine hip hop culture’s territoriality, practices and representations with broader social significance and application across other discipline areas.

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