Hip Hop Desis

South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness

Hip Hop Desis

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: 26 illustrations Published: August 2010

Asian American Studies, Cultural Studies, Music

Hip Hop Desis explores the aesthetics and politics of South Asian American (desi) hip hop artists. Nitasha Tamar Sharma argues that through their lives and lyrics, young “hip hop desis” express a global race consciousness that reflects both their sense of connection with Blacks as racialized minorities in the United States and their diasporic sensibility as part of a global community of South Asians. She emphasizes the role of appropriation and sampling in the ways that hip hop desis craft their identities, create art, and pursue social activism. Some desi artists produce what she calls “ethnic hip hop,” incorporating South Asian languages, instruments, and immigrant themes. Through ethnic hip hop, artists, including KB, Sammy, and Deejay Bella, express “alternative desiness,” challenging assumptions about their identities as South Asians, children of immigrants, minorities, and Americans. Hip hop desis also contest and seek to bridge perceived divisions between Blacks and South Asian Americans. By taking up themes considered irrelevant to many Asian Americans, desi performers, such as D’Lo, Chee Malabar of Himalayan Project, and Rawj of Feenom Circle, create a multiracial form of Black popular culture to fight racism and enact social change.


“An illuminating read into the cultural politics of South Asian American hip hop performance and music making with a critical eye towards identity practice. . . . Sharma’s study provides ethnographic insight into hip hop music vis-á-vis the politics and practice of subaltern identity formation.” — Marc D. Perry, Journal of Anthropological Research

“Focusing on one-and-a-half and second generation Asian Americans, Nitasha Sharma dismantles the model minority myth by demonstrating that individuals ‘sample' identities in the same way that hip hop artists sample songs. Drawing extensively from the literature base of cultural studies, Hip Hop Desis will also be of interest to those studying social relationships, popular media, identity, and the sociology of education.” — Contemporary Sociology

“The book encourages strong points of dialogue around the politics of race and cultural formation among South Asians and in hip hopmore generally. As such, Hip Hop Desis is a contribution to analyses that focus on race, political activity, and global practices of hip hop. The book presents an interesting case in regard to how racial consciousness is deliberately constructed through a historical understanding of the marginalization of people of African descent and a subsequent application of this legacy to frame the experiences of South Asians in hip hop.” — Raymond Codrington, American Ethnologist

“This book is an important contribution towards understanding the landscape of diasporic cultural politics. Nitasha Tamar Sharma provides a rich and textured introduction to the world of South Asian artists in hip hop culture. Integrating quick-paced descriptive writing with insightful theoretical engagements, Sharma’s fieldwork provides a window into a much broader discussion about transnational identifications, racial politics and cultural citizenship.” — Radha S. Hegde, Pacific Affairs

Hip Hop Desis is an exceptional book . . . Eschewing traditional analyses of relations between Asian and African Americans, Sharma convincingly shows how desis’ embrace of hip hop disrupts existing social divisions, and generates new possibilities for envisioning a ‘global race consciousness.’” — Justin Scarimbolo, Notes

“As the first ethnography of South Asian American hip hop artists, this book is a welcome contribution to the study of hip hop, cultural ownership, and South Asian and black relations. The perspectives of Sharma and the desi hip hop artists at the centre of this study help to move the discussion beyond insular views of South Asian American youth culture to consider alternate subcultural identities and cross-racial alliances. . . . Sharma’s insightful and well-researched book has broadened the dialog regarding the role of musical communities in the forging of black and brown diasporic alliances.” — Carl Clements, Journal of Intercultural Studies

“If anyone doubts that the hip hop desis have become a cultural phenomenon, reading Sharma's Hip Hop Desis . . . could challenge the notion.” — Arthur Pais, India Abroad

“This book will be of interest to critical race scholars, cultural sociologists, and interdisciplinary scholars of hip-hop as well as South Asian Americanists. It is an important contribution to the general literature on immigration and immigrants and the scholarship on racism.” — Bandana Purkayastha, American Journal of Sociology

“This is a powerhouse of a contribution to the study of hip-hop culture. . . . Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty.” — A. C. Shahriari, Choice

Hip Hop Desis is peopled with young, innovative characters who want to break out of the restraints that surround them: restraints of community and of stereotype. They are a joy to read about, and Nitasha Tamar Sharma takes us along with her generous analysis. We learn a lot about the magnificence of hip hop culture, how it draws people in and draws them to grow outwards. All of this makes Hip Hop Desis first-rate.” — Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World

“Investigating the meaning of hip hop for a dedicated group of South Asian American producers, DJs, rappers, and enthusiasts, Nitasha Tamar Sharma does important work illuminating the complexities of the racial order in the United States. She shows how identities formed through consumption and creative expression shape and reflect civic and political identities.” — George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music

“This bold, innovative critique of an under-explored area of hip hop culture significantly expands the field of hip hop scholarship. With this book, Nitasha Tamar Sharma makes an important contribution to our understanding of the complex ways that youth from various racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds are absorbing hip hop culture, respecting its cultural origins, and reshaping it in their own image.” — Bakari Kitwana, author of The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nitasha Tamar Sharma is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Claiming Space, Making Race 1

1. Alternative Ethnics: Rotten Coconuts and Ethnic Hip Hop 37

2. Making Race: Desi Racial Identities, South Asian and Black Relations, and Racialized Hip Hop 88

3. Flipping the Gender Script: Gender and Sexuality in South Asian and Hip Hop America 138

4. The Appeal of Hip Hop, Ownership, and the Politics of Location 190

5. Sampling South Asians: Dual Flows of Appropriation and the Possibilities of Authenticity 234

Conclusion: Turning Thoughts into Action through the Politics of Identification 283

Notes 301

References 315

Index 335
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4760-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4741-5
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