Rewriting Survival Strategies: Hip Hop, Sampling,and Reenactment
Birdsong, Destiny O'shay
According to R. G. Collingwood, the historian does far more than simply present a series of facts to his audience. Such an individual actually “re-enacts past thought...within the context of his own knowledge and therefore, in reenacting it, criticizes it, forms his own judgment of its value, [and] corrects whatever errors he can discern in it” [my emphasis]. This groundbreaking re-assessment of what history is and what historians are supposed to do has recently opened up the field to all kinds of opportunities for scholars to reenact, critique, and revise historical record. However, I would argue that hip hop music is an art form that also reenacts, judges, and critiques both history and present-day culture by using bits of pre-recorded music as an intricate part of its incisive social commentary. In this thesis, I will use three songs to illustrate how hip hop as a musical genre achieves what Collingwood says true history should. The three songs are: Tupac Shakur’s posthumously-released 1998 single titled “Changes,” Jay-Z’s 2002 “I Did It My Way,” and Lupe Fiasco’s recently-released “Daydreamin’” (September 2006). I will argue that, in each song, the artists rely on the irony of the sampled selection to reinforce the urgency of their messages, thus using reenactment as both a re-visioning of the artistic merits of the borrowed texts as well as a call for national redress of some of America’s most egregious and longstanding social ills.