Throughout the course of hip-hop culture anti-anti-essentialism has always played an essential element in conveying subliminal messages to their listeners. Anti-anti-essentialism is a technique that is used in many art forms, especially in visual and musical art. For instance, when an artist uses futuristic and transformative images, symbols, production style, and/or word play to deconstruct the embedded perceptions and implicit biases towards African American hip-hop culture. The first few artists that came to mind are George Clinton and the Parliament, Fela Kuti, OutKast, Missy Elliot, MIA and Nicki Minaj.
Although, I am aware of that hip-hop artist often use “trippy” or futuristic imagery to convey a deeper messages to their listeners. However, I did not have a deeper understanding and analysis of how hip-hop artist use anti-anti-essentialism to convey subconscious messages. It was not until last semester when I took Hip-Hop Music in Urban America course at Sacramento State that I began to look more in depth into the concept of anti-anti-essentialism through a hip-hop culture lens.
As I gained more insight into concept of anti-anti-essentialism I realized that anti-anti-essentialism is not merely about futuristic and trippy images, yet instead comparing and contrasting two different identities that are unrelated. The purpose of anti-anti- essentialism is to reveal and highlight an additional demission to pan-Africanism that is a not always showcased in mainstream media. Anti-anti-essentialism illustrates an undertone of complex thought and progression in black culture. In my hip-hop class I was required to chose and rap write a song that is good example of using anti-anti-essentialism. The first hip-hop song that came to me was “Oh my God” by Sticky Fingaz.
Kirk Jones aka Sticky Fingaz is an American hip-hop rapper, actor, film director, and record producer. He is a member of the multi-platinum record selling rap group called Onyx. His name comes from the slang term “sticky fingers” given to someone who is a thief. In the introduction of the song “Oh My God” Sticky Fingaz is crying out to “God” or ancestral being after Sticky finds out his friend has been murdered. There are two voices in this song, there is Sticky Fingaz voice and there is “God” or a deity’s voice. God’s voice has a very clear, deep, calming, and masculine tone. However, Sticky Fingaz voice has a high pitched and frantic tone. The conversation between God and Sticky Fingaz adds a subconscious element of signifying because the pitch of voices illustrates a deeper insight of spirituality in the black community.
Throughout the song Sticky Fingaz is bombarding God with series of questions regarding the philosophy of spirituality, the purpose of life and living. Although God is answering all of Sticky’s questions, yet Sticky is not satisfied with the answers that he is getting from God because Sticky’s character cannot comprehend what God is explaining to him. His understanding of a higher spirituality is limited to pre-conditioned ideologies that are ingrained in American culture. Sticky cannot accept the fact that life is less complex than humans make it out to be. Sticky’s character represents the broader identity of American culture, comprehension, and perception of death. In some ways the Westernized conception of the purpose of life and death can be deemed as primitive because Sticky and like many other human beings, will only accept what is tangible to them, and information that backed with Westernized technology and scientific research.
After God answers Sticky’s last question the closing hook is Sticky singing, “If you could talk to God, exactly what would you say? (2x), if you could talk to God”. I thought this closing line was interesting because the way Sticky is singing the lyrics. The closing lines are a conversation between God and Sticky and turns into the chores of the song. His words are dragged out and it lingers an ominous feeling. There is also a blues influence in the chorus.
I think this song is a great example of anti-anti-essentialism because there are multiple-juxtaposing identities illustrated. One of the first examples demonstrated this “hood” or “thug” man is having a profound spiritual conversation with a ancestral higher being. Not only is Sticky open to having this conversation with this spiritual being, but he is also asking “God” profound and thought provoking questions. Revealing this image of a black man illuminates the conception of that black men do have complex thoughts and experiences surrounding the philosophy of religion and spirituality.
This image is not traditionally promoted to represent black men. By Sticky Fingaz exposing this alternative dimension of him reflects and while deconstructing the single-story complex of the black man in America. The dominant stereotype of black men from the hood predominantly illustrates violence, disparity, and hopelessness, this is why this song is a great example of anti-anti-essentialism because this “hood” or “thuggish” man is having insightful and profound conversation with higher spiritual being illustrates the multidimensional aspects in black culture.
Stay funky and keep it juicy,
DJ AfroDust a radio DJ at KSSU