Heartbeats from the Streets: Exploring the Relationship between Youth and Rap Music in Chicago


By Maureen van de Water

“In reality a black man dies everyday//in Chitown you can times that by trey” – Johnny B, rapper killed January 2013 due to gun violence in Chicago


I moved to Chicago the summer of 2012 after I graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelors degree in Psychology. I knew little about the extreme violence there but had heard that some neighborhoods were dangerous and no-go zones. Sleeping on a blow up mattress at a friend’s apartment I searched for my next step in life. I knew I wanted to work with teenagers but wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump right into the field after college. An opportunity arose through AmeriCorps, a yearlong volunteer based program designed to help young people enter the work force. The position I took was the Academic Success Coordinator at an organization called Boys Hope Girls Hope.

The BHGH mission statement is “to help academically capable and motivated children-in-need to meet their full potential and become men and women for others by providing value-centered, family-like homes, opportunities and education through college.” To put it simply, I lived in a house in a nice suburb north of Chicago with three other staff members and eight teenage boys, a majority African American. They received scholarships to go to Loyola Academy, a prestigious private catholic school, where tuition is about $15,000 a year. Many of these youth came from these no-go neighborhoods in Chicago that I had heard about. Some experienced gang violence and drug dealings and many came from single-parent homes, low-income families, and/or multiple generations living in one home. They often called it Chiraq because it’s been said that more people are killed in Chicago than at war in Iraq. Continue reading


AFROPUNK! Exploring the “Other Black Experience”


By Alexis Boyd

Big colorful hair, numerous piercings, daring fashion, bold spirits, and brown skin characterize many Afropunks, a subcultural collective that I was unaware existed before a month ago. For some inexplicable reason, I had never imagined the existence of a community of young black people uniting around an appreciation of their nonconformity. After stumbling upon a flyer for the AFROPUNK PARIS festival during one of the rare times I perused Tumblr, I was thrown into a stimulating and provocative virtual world inhabited by free-spirited, alternative-minded individuals completely unapologetic of their simultaneous championing of black issues and love for hardcore/alternative lifestyles and music. Browsing through articles discussing black identity and hyper-masculinity alongside posts of black participation in cosplay, instructions to check out musical artists of all genres, all of which were accented by bold images of black youth, I could not help but feel welcomed in a way that I had never experienced with any other subcultural group. Leaning forward in my seat, the thought reverberated through my mind that I had found my people, and the more I saw, the more I wanted to know and understand. I became more than slightly preoccupied with discovering who the Afropunks are and what drives them. What pushes Afropunks toward alternative music? Afropunk has broadened far past its original musical genre, so what ties together the artists and fans, of varied and diverse genres, who support and are promoted by Afropunk? What characterizes this movement’s spirit? How does race complicate or support traditional ideas of hardcore or alternative lifestyles? Continue reading

Pride or Prejudice? Contradictions of the Gay Scenes in Los Angeles, Berlin, and Amsterdam


By Sam Sciarra

Within the context of western democratic nations, unprecedented human rights advances have characterized the past fifty years for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Of course, we cannot deny that there is still a very long way to go—LGBT citizens of certain nations like the United States still face much discrimination and lack crucial freedoms (such as the right to get married, among others). However, it is still important to recognize that this increased societal acceptance of LGBT people has resulted in the creation of distinct yet similar gay youth subcultures throughout the cosmopolitan west. These gay ‘scenes,’ which primarily revolve around the nightclubs and various nighttime happenings of large urban centers, have become the preeminent space in which homosexual youth form their identities and engage in a decision making process concerning the type of gay person they want to become. This is most likely because, as Cattan and Vanolo (2013: 1166) suggest in their research on the emotional geographies of gay nightlife, “clubbing entails seeking people, places, relationships, and ways of being which provide physical and emotional security, which are often denied in the heterosexist world.” Continue reading

The Soundtrack to My Life: A Deep, Funky, and Uber Geil Odyssey into the Dance Music Scenes of Amsterdam and Berlin


By Krabin

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

Day 7,348 of existence. Vinyl spinning. Bass thumping. Snare and kick drums pounding. Cymbals sounding tsssss tsssss tssssss. Body swaying. Sweat dripping. Whooooosh. A train passes by, horns blaring. “9-1-1, I think I’m having an overdose…okay, an overdose of what…of marijuana.” Oh relax, that’s just the vocals kicking in. Where’d the DJ go? Wait, the fuck is going on? Why are the visuals now the Pac-Man game? Ohhhh, I see now. The DJ has casually thrown on a Pac-Man suit. Continue reading

‘Original’ hip-hop and ‘formularized’ K-pop: Authenticity and the good/bad music paradigm


By Ida Bulölö

Rhymin’ astronomical, original, shit is phenomenal
– Nine, Whutcha Want

In this essay I explore the value of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ music, and look into the ways that ideas surrounding the quality of music are constructed. It seems that the verdict of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is largely based on the authenticity of the music. Yet authenticity is a very difficult concept, as ideas on authenticity widely differ, not only between music genres but also personally. I thought it would be interesting to compare two opposites in the spectrum, to see how they are constructed within the ‘good’/’bad’ music paradigm in connection with the music being seen as authentic or not. These two genres are hip-hop and K-pop (Korean pop music). To me, they represent one of the biggest dichotomies when it comes to the notion of ‘authentic music’, despite the fact that I regularly listen to both. In hip-hop, especially the ‘oldskool’ genre, there is a huge emphasis on originality and creativity. Being a ‘real’ rapper—not a sell-out, commercial, in-it-for-the-money-MC—is one of the most important conditions for having the hip-hop audience take you seriously. Rappers cannot admit to being ‘produced’ instead of being ‘authentic’, for this will damage their reputation seriously. MCs should not be merely a product of their record label, but have their own voice. In K-pop—which many people see as the epitome of formularized, ‘bad’ music—we see total recognition for the fact that these musicians are made by companies and are not much different from being a consumer good instead of an artist. The audiences, as well as the musicians, are fully aware of this fact and nobody tries to pretend otherwise. By comparing these two music genres I hope to gain more insight into the way authenticity in relation to music is constructed. Continue reading

Two cities, one genre, countless vibes: Exploring the hip-hop community in Amsterdam and Los Angeles


By Ariella Abrams and Andrew Frantela

Growing up in Los Angeles has provided us with the ideal environment to be avid consumers of hip-hop music. Prior to exploring Amsterdam, we had never been exposed to anything but the American version of the genre. Conducting this research while on exchange in Amsterdam, it was intriguing to see a starkly different perspective of the hip-hop genre—the Dutch perspective, or ‘Nederhop’. Furthermore, we were particularly interested in the opposing concepts of ‘underground’ hip-hop and ‘mainstream’ hip-hop. The underground scene seemed more authentic to us, not to mention the fact that underground hip-hop is just cool. We delved into research that would enlighten us about what causes the differentiation and how the players in the scene interact with the genre. Since we both have our own experiences with the underground hip-hop scene in Los Angeles, we decided to compare underground hip-hop scenes in Los Angeles and Amsterdam. While approaching our research, we were mindful not to employ any prior biased opinions on hip-hop or particular artists. We allowed for our interviewees to come to their own conclusions about the purposes of the genre and the way they feel when listening to hip-hop. This resulted in many of them having very different opinions on the subject, and not hesitating to voice them passionately. Continue reading

‘You let me know like no one else, that it’s okay to be myself’: Youth and the emo scene


By Michelle Neleman

Inspired by the letters received over the years, the Canadian band Simple Plan decided to write a song based on the experiences of their fans. On Twitter, they posed the question: ‘Can you tell me how our music has made you feel through the years?’, which launched the responses that ultimately would make up the lyrics of This Song Saved My Life:

I want to start by letting you know this
Because of you, my life has a purpose
You helped be who I am today
I see myself in every word you say
Sometimes it feels like nobody gets me
Trapped in a world, where everyone hates me
There’s so much that I’m going through
I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you

I was broken
I was choking
I was lost
This song saved my life
I was bleeding, stopped believing
Could have died
This song saved my life
I was down
I was drowning
But it came on just in time
This song saved my life

Sometimes I feel like you’ve known me forever
You always know how to make me feel better
Because of you my dad and me
Are so much closer than we used to be
You’re my escape when I’m stuck in a small town
I turn you up, whenever I feel down
You let me know like no one else
That it’s okay to be myself


You’ll never know what it means to me
That I’m not alone
That I’ll never have to be

I decided to open this paper with these lyrics, because many of the lines describe the responses of my interviewees spot on. Furthermore, the method of creating the song resembles the aim of my paper. Based on ethnographic research, this paper reveals the meaning of the emo scene as given by those who are part of it. Specifically, it will show how the scene contributes to the identity formation of the young participants, by examining the values the emo culture represents, the common features the emo youth share, and the meanings they attribute to the scene’s distinctive (music and fashion) style. Continue reading