J. Griffith Rollefson

J. Griff Rollefson is ACLS New Faculty Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Music at UC Berkeley where he teaches courses on global hip hop, jazz, and African American music. He has published in Black Music Research Journal, Popular Music and Society, Native Tongues: An African Hip-Hop Reader, and elsewhere.



"'Ghettos du Monde': Sounding the Ghetto from Paris to Berlin"

Drawing on recorded music and media as well as interviews and observations from fieldwork in Paris and Berlin, this paper compares the ways that images of “the ghetto” are crafted and deployed in the hip hop scenes of the two European capitals. In both cities the term draws on the iconicity of the African American inner city as cultivated in U.S. forms of hip hop—a puissant symbol of the ways that the marginal can become discursively, if not economically, centered. The study drawn from my book project Postcolonial Hip Hop: The Globalization of Black American Music and Politics in Paris, Berlin, and London thus looks at how the model of U.S. hip hop has served as a platform for gaining visibility in the French and German national contexts, ultimately aiding in postcolonial citizens’ struggles to gain voice, occupy cityscapes, and inscribe themselves into their respective national bodies politic.

The paper contrasts two commercially successful and nationally available ghetto statements—one from Paris and the other from Berlin. While the Parisian Oxmo Puccino’s 2001 hit “Ghettos du monde” paints a warm and humanizing picture of Paris’s 19th arrondissement and the adjacent Parisian banlieues, the Germans Bushido (Berlin) and Eko Fresh (Köln) paint a bleak picture of dehumanization in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin on their 2006 track “Gheddo.” As I outline, the wide discrepancy in musical style and lyrical content is due largely to the politics (and policing) of the term “ghetto” and its discursive availability in the two cities.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

9:00am EDT