In Paul Kroskrity’s chapter, “Language Ideologies in the Expression and Representation of Arizona Tewa Identity”, he emphasizes the myriad roles language can play in distinguishing and maintaining identity. Through his ethnographic fieldwork with the Arizona Tewa, Kroskrity puts forth a more complicated understanding of Edward Dozier’s initial work regarding language and multicultural identity. By reserving their own language for specific ritualistic practices, only using English and Hopi in other multicultural contexts, Kroskrity demonstrates the ways in which the Arizona Tewa used language to construct particular sociocultural identities, rigidly tied to individual contexts.
For the Arizona Tewa, it is crucial to be able to simultaneously signal their relationship to other native groups (the Hopi), while also preserving a sacred space solely for their own use. As a result, they constantly shift between English, Hopi, and their own traditional ethnic language, switching practices in order to convey a particular sociocultural identity; they were either performing as generally indigenous people (whereby they would employ Hopi), or they signaled their more specific Tewa self (during their highly ritualized ceremonies). This type of ‘linguistic indexing of identity’ directly parallels the regionalized language of hip-hop; depending on context, hip-hop participants will employ certain linguistic features in order to either signal their hip-hop identity, or more specifically, their region of origin.
As we have discussed throughout the course of the semester, there are a number of stereotypes surrounding AAVE and ‘hip-hop language’ that get applied to non-linguistic features like race, ethnicity, culture, etc. In order to more specifically communicate these complex identities, hip-hop participants have developed varying practices, to be put into use depending on situational contexts. At times, an artist or fan may simply wish to signal his/her authenticity as a member of the larger community. In these more general examples, a basic knowledge of AAVE would be a good starting point. This is similar to Cecelia Cutler’s discussion of Mike, the affluent, white teenager, who first employed AAVE to signal his alliance with hip-hop culture. However, there exist times within the hip-hop community in which individuals wish to further define their specific individualized identities. It is in these spaces where other symbiotic practices are enacted.
Oftentimes, hip-hop language is derived from regionalized slang or speech acts. One particular example of this is the hip-hop subculture, hyphy. Based in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay area, hyphy rap is comprised almost entirely of a slang lexicon specific to the bay region. Hyphy is more than just a regionalized way of speaking, though, incorporating a whole variety of cultural components, including dance, clothing, drugs, cars, etc. In order to preserve hyphy’s sacred relationship to the bay, the subgenre’s pioneers have foregone various record deals and opportunities to make the music a national sensation. As a result, much like the Arizona Tewa and their religious rituals, hyphy language is preserved for the culture of the bay region. Although some of the artists have inevitably reached the national scene (most notably E-40), hyphy remains a distinctly bay phenomenon. Instead of pushing their local work on the nation, hyphy artists have teamed up with other regional stars to spread their work. Similar to the Tewa’s relationship with the neighboring Hopi, E-40 and others have collaborated with comparable movements like Lil’ Jon’s crunk music, based in Atlanta. These popular collaborations allow hyphy artists to be recognized as vital members of the hip-hop community at-large, while also preserving a space in which they can perform their sacred linguistic acts in their home region.
In the Ghostride the Whip documentary trailer (above), you are able to get a basic sense of the unique cultural components that hyphy incorporates. By linking a profoundly unique language to cultural practices like ghostriding the whip or gas, break, dippin’, hyphy creates a distinct regional identity that is separate from the whole of hip-hop. As you watch the trailer, you see the ways in which these speech acts signal more than just hip-hop community; hyphy participants view their cultural practices as vital to their specific regional identities; just as the video articulates, “Hyphy is the bay area culture, it’s a movement”. Through creating this complex regional identity, hyphy has provided people with a way to signal their individuality in the greater hip-hop world, while preserving a sense of community.
This sense of identity has become a surprisingly important factor in bay area politics, as hyphy artists and fans alike have banded together to combat social issues that have, at one time or another, plagued the region. Numerous songs have been crafted to publicly criticize the area’s complex relationship with the Oakland police department, especially following the 2009 New Year’s day shooting of Oscar Grant. This specific event prompted a number of hyphy artist-led protests, including Mistah F.A.B. and Zumbi (of Zion I).
(For a sample of Hyphy language: Mistah F.A.B.- Ghost Ride It)
By looking closely at the relationship between hyphy language and regional identity, we are able to better understand the ways that language plays an undeniable role in signaling identity. Further, we see the ways in which language allows us to shift identities depending on our situational contexts. With Kroskrity’s analysis of the linguistic shifting of the Arizona Tewa, it becomes clear that it is essential for people to maintain a certain linguistic flexibility with respect to identity. Similarly, the many regionalized hip-hop subcultures provide opportunities for community members to simultaneously identify with the larger hip-hop community as a whole, while also preserving a more nuanced, authentic regional identity.