This essay considers the political efficacy of hip-hop, as genre and as lifestyle, three decades after it emerged from the South Bronx and as its artists and cultural critics variously mourn, endure, and embrace its institutionalization. I look at three recent critical works on hip-hop: Paul Gilroy's 2011 Darker than Blue, which sees in the genre empty posturing and codes of conspicuous consumption; the 2012 edition of Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal's anthology That's the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, which with a wide array of essays and interviews seeks to establish the contours of a discipline that's lost its novelty but continues to evolve; and Nitasha Tamar Sharma's 2010 ethnography Hip Hop Desis, which explores hip-hop culture among South Asian American youths who found in connoisseurship, collaboration, and performance a language for negotiating race and asserting identity. In particular, this essay takes up a charge issued by Gilroy in several works, that reductive racial politics are promoted by black Atlantic popular culture and by members of the academy. I argue on the contrary that the proliferation of hip-hop's technologies, language, and ethic of collaboration remains a viable political tool and meaningful artistic gesture—one that in overlooked contexts endorses Gilroy's views and engages in a rigorous critique of race.

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