Hip Hop, Hegel, and the Art of Emancipation: Let’s Get Free

Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan (2018)
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This book argues that Hip Hop’s early history in the South Bronx charts a course remarkably similar to the conceptual history of artistic creation presented in Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics. It contends that the resonances between Hegel’s account of the trajectory of art in general, and the historical shifts in the particular culture of Hip Hop, are both numerous and substantial enough to make us re-think not only the nature and import of Hegel’s philosophy of art, but the origin, essence and lesson of Hip Hop. As a result, the book articulates and defends a unique reading of Hegel’s Aesthetics, as well as providing a philosophical explanation of the Hip Hop community’s transition from total social abandonment to some limited form of social inclusion, via the specific mediation of an artistic culture grounded in novel forms of sensible expression. Thus, the fundamental thesis of this book is that Hegel and Hip Hop are mutually illuminating, and when considered in tandem each helps to clarify and reinforce the validity and power of the other.



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This chapter draws some consequences for future scholarship: It identifies the structural “whiteness” of the academic “we” generally invoked in Hegel studies, and demonstrates that the rap-centric approach in Hip Hop studies has meant that the voices and views of the Hip Hop’s pioneers are often und... see more

Knowledge, or From Art to Religion, Philosophy and Politics

This chapter treats two simultaneous responses to the social changes that accompanied the popularization of rap music: First, “reality rap” was born and gave voice to the newly repressive conditions faced by the marginalized youth who built and embraced Hip Hop culture; in Hegelian terms, this refle... see more

MCing, or the Romantic Stage of Art

This chapter demonstrates that, as the culture moved from the streets of the Bronx to clubs throughout New York, it was deprived of its community base, unifying ethics and symbiosis between its aesthetic elements, artists and audience. This move reflects the shift from Hegel’s classical Ideal to mod... see more

DJing and Breaking, or the Classical Stage of Art

This chapter demonstrates that, while the symbolic art of graffiti remains limited by its essentially indirect presentation of freedom, its immediately palpable presentation was created by Hip Hop’s DJs and breakers, whose revolutionary acts of self-governing bodily control and self-discovered feats... see more

Graffiti Writing, or the Symbolic Stage Art

This chapter examines the first of Hip Hop’s aesthetic “elements” to emerge—graffiti writing—as exemplary of Hegel’s account of the foundational, symbolic stage of an artistic culture’s development, which reflects a community’s groping search for adequate forms of sensation through which to express ... see more

The South Bronx, or the “State of Nature”

This chapter details the unique socio-economic conditions in the South Bronx, just prior to the birth of Hip Hop. The sudden roll-back of the political changes won by the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles induced a form of state abandonment so severe that the region effectively became an isolat... see more


This chapter introduces the book’s central thesis: that Hip Hop’s early history unfolds in a manner remarkably similar to the evolution of artistic creation in general in Hegel’s Aesthetics. It explicates art’s “highest vocation” as the most fundamental mechanism by which a people initially and coll... see more

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Jim Vernon
York University

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