The Real Hiphop

Battling for Knowledge, Power, and Respect in the LA Underground

The Real Hiphop

Book Pages: 224 Illustrations: 16 photographs Published: April 2009

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Popular Music

Project Blowed is a legendary hiphop workshop based in Los Angeles. It began in 1994 when a group of youths moved their already renowned open-mic nights from the Good Life, a Crenshaw district health food store, to the KAOS Network, an arts center in Leimert Park. The local freestyle of articulate, rapid-fire, extemporaneous delivery, the juxtaposition of meaningful words and sounds, and the way that MCs followed one another without missing a beat, quickly became known throughout the LA underground. Leimert Park has long been a center of African American culture and arts in Los Angeles, and Project Blowed inspired youth throughout the city to consider the neighborhood the epicenter of their own cultural movement. The Real Hiphop is an in-depth account of the language and culture of Project Blowed, based on the seven years Marcyliena Morgan spent observing the workshop and the KAOS Network. Morgan is a leading scholar of hiphop, and throughout the volume her ethnographic analysis of the LA underground opens up into a broader examination of the artistic and cultural value of hiphop.

Morgan intersperses her observations with excerpts from interviews and transcripts of freestyle lyrics. Providing a thorough linguistic interpretation of the music, she teases out the cultural antecedents and ideologies embedded in the language, emphases, and wordplay. She discusses the artistic skills and cultural knowledge MCs must acquire to rock the mic, the socialization of hiphop culture’s core and long-term members, and the persistent focus on skills, competition, and evaluation. She brings attention to adults who provided material and moral support to sustain underground hiphop, identifies the ways that women choose to participate in Project Blowed, and vividly renders the dynamics of the workshop’s famous lyrical battles.


“Morgan’s ethnographic study balances critical theory, narrative, observation,linguistic analysis, and interviews with founders, participants and audience members. . . . [R]equired reading.” — Justin Williams, Popular Music

“Morgan’s sustained ethnographic documentation of a localized hip hop culture is only one of a handful of such studies based in North America. . . . [H]er focus on the development, analysis, and peer-critique of lyrical skills is unique in the literature in its extensive detail, as are the numerous freestyle raps she transcribed in order to explore these dimensions of hip hop.” — Carrie Allen, Bulletin for the Society of American Music

The Real Hiphop is a book written with the eyes of an ethnographer, the ears of a true hip hop head, and the love of a scholar whose commitment to her subject runs broad and deep. By chronicling the history of an unfairly neglected underground music scene and by championing the potentially transformative influence of a popular music genre more broadly upon the academy, it offers a significant contribution to popular music studies.” — Adam Bradley, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“Executive director of The HipHop Archive and one of the leading scholars of hip-hop culture, Morgan has written a thorough, inspiring ethnographic study that looks at West Coast hip-hop culture through the lens of the underground venue known as Project Blowed. . . . The book’s strengths are the numerous fascinating primary sources, especially the excerpts of rhymes recited during battles at Project Blowed and its introductory chapter, in which Morgan offers the best concise scholarly history to date of hip-hop. Essential.” — A.-P. Durand, Choice

“Given the book’s layered treatment of underground hiphop and its practitioners, The Real Hiphop is a strong ethnographic and analytical treatment that is well positioned to be of use to students and scholars across a number of disciplines.” — Raymond Codrington, American Ethnologist

“Marcyliena Morgan’s high-level analysis and incisive explication of how underground hiphop works centers on two brilliant, ethnographic chapters on Project Blowed, one focusing on a Thursday-night MC battle (chapter three) and one on young women’s negotioations of race and feminism in the social world of underground hiphop and in relation to the sexualization of women in commercial hiphop (chapter four).” — Michael Nevin Willard, Southern California Quarterly

“Morgan’s musings on power, language, and mistrust feel no less pertinent now than they must have a dozen years ago in Leimart Park.” — Nate Chinen, Pennsylvania Gazette

“Youth across the globe have been marginalized, abused, neglected, and incarcerated, but Marcyliena Morgan gives hope to current and future generations by providing background on the start of hip-hop and revealing its multifaceted layers. . . . The Real Hiphop is a testament to the versatile creativity of underground artists who use words to make change.” — Nicolette Westfall, Feminist Review blog

The Real Hiphop is a powerful argument for hiphop’s continuing salience and centrality to any serious discussion about the state of contemporary Black life. Marcyliena Morgan unearths the socio-cultural particularities of hiphop as a dynamic musical genre and a complex way of life, and she links her analysis to the ethnographic particulars of Los Angeles, which crackles to life from the opening vignette.” — John L. Jackson Jr., author of Harlemworld: Doing Race and Class in Contemporary Black America

“In The Real Hiphop, Marcyliena Morgan has written a brilliant account of the origins of hiphop and the process through which it is created and evolves, from its most elemental and raw forms into the highly processed and polished versions that have become the lingua franca of popular American culture over the past few decades. Using her considerable skills as an linguistic anthropologist, Morgan—the founder of the world’s only hiphop archive—raises the analysis of hiphop to an entirely new level of scholarship, explicating it as a linguistic, sociological, and political phenomenon. This book is full of astonishing insights and subtle analysis. It is a must read for any student or scholar seeking to understand what is arguably the most important popular cultural phenomenon in the past thirty years.” — Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Marcyliena Morgan, Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, is the founder and executive director of the Hiphop Archive and the author of Language, Discourse, and Power in African American Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: I Am Hiphop 1

1. The Hippest Corner in LA 21

2. Welcome to the Underground: Building Hiphop Culture and Language 47

3. Thursday Night at Project Blowed 85

4. (Ph)eminists of the New School: Real Women, Tough Politics, and Female Science 131

5. Politics, Discourse, and Drama: "Respect Due" 161

6. It's Hiphop Nation Time: Enter the KAOS 185

Appendix: Transcription Conventions 195

Notes 197

Glossary 207

References 211

Index 223
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4385-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4362-2
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