Modernity, Remixed: Music as Memory in Rap Galsen

Drawing on 14 months of ethnographic research in Dakar, Senegal as well as an 18-month focused case study with Senegalese rappers in Los Angeles, this dissertation explores Senegalese hip hop production as the performative negotiation of postcolonial urban space. Engaging tradition as a discursive strategy, it considers hip hop tracks as aural palimpsest memories that are constructed through practices of lyrical, discursive, linguistic, and musical intertextuality, practices that strategically layer invented traditions of local performance and U.S. hip hop. Although scholarly and popular media accounts of Senegalese hip hop privilege internationally successful rappers’ narratives of hip hop as stemming from local griot traditions, the “underground” majority of rappers rejects this narrative to instead ground their music in hip hop’s mythologized history of racialized socio-economic struggle. Through hip hop-mediated understandings of similitude between African American and Senegalese urban experience, they strategically and self-consciously position themselves within an alternative, globally articulating modernity and against a local, traditionally inflected one. In positing hip hop production as the (re)production of memory, I argue against hybridity as a potentially colonizing framework to insist instead on an analysis grounded in local narratives that erase hybridity’s prerequisite difference. Depending on their positionality vis-à-vis local and international markets, Senegalese rappers position hip hop either as always already indigenous, or as necessarily and definitely black American. In the processes and products of hip hop production, they draw on multiple mythologized pasts, creating interlocking, performative narratives of sameness and historicity through which they negotiate situated experiences of modernity.