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Balling, Hip-Hop, and Pop Culture

20 Oct 2017Other Essays

"The black community doesn't own oil, a natural resource that the world needs. So we don't command power from that standpoint, but we do own our talent and our creativity and our ability to transform popular culture. We've been doing it throughout ...This is our oil."
Professor Todd Boyd

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In his thought-provoking cultural analysis, University of Southern California Critical Studies Professor Todd Boyd traces the rise of black culture into mainstream America through the vehicles of hip-hop and the National Basketball Association. He argues that black culture, especially urban, has emerged from the underbelly of mass society with the newly socially and economically mobile creative and athletic class of young black professionals. This brief essay outlines how Boyd characterizes the re-definition of the American dream through his book, Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip-Hop Invasion and the Transformation of American Culture.

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The book opens with an account of NBA superstar Allen Iverson, Boyd's metaphor for the re-definition of the American dream. For Boyd, Iverson represents the new black cultural force that rose from the ghetto to become a leading icon in a changing sport. Iverson sports numerous tattoos and wears do-rags along with splashy platinum jewelry. He has had recurring insubordination fines and a few run-ins with the law throughout his illustrious career. In Boyd's reading, the fact that people ‘love to hate' Iverson is analogous to the way mainstream culture at large is still grappling with accepting black culture. Iverson is an outspoken and self-driven individual and he therefore plays the counterpart to the likes of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan that represent the ‘silent, upper-middle class negro' of the past.

At the same time, Iverson rakes in millions of dollars with his NBA contract and his various endorsement deals while also beating the odds on the court where he is vastly outsized physically and popularly. He has recorded his own hip-hop album and has gotten his team to the NBA Finals as the leagues scoring leader. In a 2003 interview Boyd states, "Some may see Iverson as controversial and thuggish, but the hip-hop generation sees him as authentic and as someone who achieved success doing things his way, and who refuses to change just because someone else says he should" (Silsby). The fact that Iverson is such a polarizing force is analogous to the young, black, rich, and famous culture that has risen from the shadows of the Civil Rights Era.

Black cultures import into mainstream society reflects a shift in the force of popular culture as well with television, music, film and fashion all taking cues from the new urban elite. As Boyd points out, the majority of American blacks do not have access to such assets as oil, but they can control their creative and athletic license in a way that has the power to change society in general. Boyd points to the rise of hip-hop among white suburbia along with foreign cultures as evidence of the reach of these newly wealthy black citizens. That being said, Boyd does not ignore the fact that stereotypical images of thugs in the media can be perpetuated by the image that many hip-hop and NBA players choose to portray in their public personae. This can have a negative influence on the progress of black culture as well as on the mainstream culture that is still trying to figure out how to fit in with the shifting political landscape.

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