Adrienne Brown

Adrienne Brown is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Her work analyzes the sonic and spatial dimensions of books, buildings, and forms of belonging. She is working on a book recovering the skyscraper’s central role in American social and aesthetic perception in the early 20th century. Her article on music in HBO’s The Wire was published in Criticism this summer.



"Rehearing Hip-Hop Automotivity"

Hip-hop’s obsession with cars can be read as one more sign of its gaudy materialism and apoliticism—its references to rims, Cadillacs, Maybachs, candy-paint, and tinted windows standing in for misplaced investments of all sorts. Diasporic theorist Paul Gilroy, in tracing the history of black automotivity from Jim Crow to Rick Ross, reads the car in hip-hop precisely this way, suggesting that rather than speaking on behalf of their owners, the souped-up cars of hip-hop culture today “speak instead of their owners and users.” For Gilroy, Bob Marley and Chuck Berry’s musical cars are revolutionarily diasporic and liberatory while the hip-hop car can only be vulgarly capitalist, ecologically damaging, and a marker of deviant sexuality.

This paper recuperates hip-hop automotivity as a crucial site of survival—affective, political, and otherwise—for those who lack other vehicles for moving through and beyond the hyperlocal of the corner. Dismissing hip-hop automotivity obscures other avenues of animation, queering, and appropriation present in hip hop’s fetishization of the car. From the beep beep of Missy Elliot’s rainy-day jeep, which Hurricane Katrina forces us to rehear in light of the car’s continued centrality to American understandings of citizenship, to the potential for collectivity unleashed in hip-hop’s commandment from Fresh Prince to Rich Boy to “drive slow,” this paper takes the hip hop car seriously as a vehicle of complex multiplicities.