Matthew Carrillo-Vincent

Matthew Carrillo-Vincent is a Doctoral Candidate in English and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. He is completing his dissertation on the politics of male sentimentality in US popular cultures, from abolitionist literature to emo music.



"Ears to the Streets, Peripheral Beats: The New Social Map of Backpack Rap"

The myth of sentimentality is that it’s a white man’s game; the myth of the urban is that it isn’t. With hoodies up and headphones on, the rise of the backpack rapper at the end of the 20th century represented something of a dilemma: Listening to the streets from the sidewalks, backpack rappers weren’t buying – or selling – the narratives of inner-urban culture that mainstream America wanted to hear. Instead of tidy ghetto fantasies that reinforced culture’s conception of racial, economic, and gendered difference, backpack rap offered its own sentimental perspective, a sonic vision of the streets that demanded we reconsider who had a claim on ‘feeling’ and what ‘difference’ could mean in the approaching Obama present. They were young, gifted, Black, and listening – and to them the logics of the streets were starting to sound just like the suburbs.

In this essay, I hold up the backpack rapper as the inheritor of a certain kind of sentimental listening that I trace back through African-American artists who insisted on redrawing the maps of culture by opening their ears. From Frederick Douglass to Lupe Fiasco, sentimental listening from the streets demanded that the stories we told about physical markers of difference belied the ways in which difference was a structure that worked beyond the bodies it managed to keep in place. Noting the ways in which logics of normativity circulated in dominant political systems and their critiques, backpack rappers posed the possibility that difference wasn’t a division between black and white, but between those who could hear and those who couldn’t.