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The work of art in the age of hip hop reproduction: Ice T and the cultural capital of keeping it real again in Kings of Vice (2011) and Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/10/2013
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal for Cultural Research
Issue number4
Number of pages16
Pages (from-to)382-397
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/08/13
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In turning his talents to fiction in his 2011 debut novel, Kings of Vice, gangsta rapper Ice-T has faced a particularly intricate challenge in “keeping it real”. At this point in the twenty-first century, the credibility of hip hop’s harder core seems to have been undermined by the distance gangsta rap has travelled from the street realities that gave it birth in the 1980s to the millionaire enterprises that have emerged since. A “rapocracy” of incredibly successful rappers and producers, most of them associated with gangsta rap (such as Diddy, Dr Dre, Jay-Z and Russell Simmons), has taken the gangsta ill-logic of exploiting the street for maximum profit to the extreme. Ice-T’s intervention in this dynamic has been to try to remind us of hip hop’s more “auratic” origins while acknowledging that the past is indeed a different country. The turn to authorship of books and making of documentary films in the context of a post-2008 economic meltdown environment constitutes an imaginative way to revivify the creative possibilities of the gangsta. The very title of Ice-T’s 2012 documentary film, Something Out of Nothing: The Art of Rap, betrays an almost nostalgic yearning for a purer age and the form that erupted out of it. This same retrospective paradigm for thinking a better way forward for gangsta aesthetics is also at the heart of Kings of Vice. Ice-T’s inventive return to origins shows us how even at a moment of its maximum commodification, gangsta culture (precisely because of its contradictory relationship to capitalism) can provide a uniquely critical perspective on a deregulated world.