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S01 E03

(L)earning from Sellouts:
Hip-Hop, Architecture, and
Getting Paid
Sekou Cooke
There is no greater paradox in hip-hop culture than that of being a “sellout.” Hip-hop gives pounds to its most incorruptible artists with one hand while signing massive record deals and endorsement contracts with the other. Being true to your roots and being unapologetically capitalist occupy equal space at the core of hip-hop’s creative outlets. In Mark Fisher’s essay “It’s Easier to Imagine the End of the World than the End of Capitalism,” the author critiques hip-hop’s multiple understandings of “the real.” Authenticity within “the first version of the real,” Fisher states, “enabled [hip-hop’s] easy absorption into the second, the reality of late capitalist economic instability, where such authenticity has proven highly marketable." [1] Hip-hop’s success, therefore, makes it the least natural voice for anti-capitalist criticism.

Hip-Hop Architecture begins with the premise that architecture as a discipline has much to learn from hip-hop culture. Most of what is wrong with architecture — the lack of diversity, its growing irrelevance in popular culture, and the constant underselling of its product — hip-hop has had figured out from its inception. A more ambivalent yet antagonistic posture toward capitalist structures may be exactly what architecture needs. Can architecture as a profession shed its service-industry humility for a “fuck you, pay me” bravado? This may not be possible given the lack of any clear path for practitioners to trade in their moral values for exorbitant quantities of cash. There is no one waiting to sign the next young starchitect to a seven-figure contract for designing a new Walmart (or whatever the architectural equivalent of trap music is).
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I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell, “Holla”
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
Talib Kweli
I wanna rhyme like Common
(But I did five mil)
I ain’t been rhymin’ like
    Common since

Jay-Z, “Moment of Clarity”

Iggy Azalea was the most frequently invoked name during the 2015 symposium “Towards A Hip-Hop Architecture.” Most referenced her when contrasting hip-hop’s exclusivity with the importance of minority ownership of cultural production. As architecture struggles with its own “insiderism” – academic elitism, prevailing notions of “high design” vs. “low design,” and overbearing requirements for licensure barring greater minority inclusion – hip-hop continues to expand its definitions of who or what is included under its cultural umbrella. Maybe one day architecture, too, will ask the question: “Can I be down?” Then, the conundrum of associating hip-hop with such a conservative profession (a conundrum that has existed since I began studying Hip-Hop Architecture) will no longer be at issue. Then we can all sell out.
[1] Mark Fisher, “It’s Easier to Imagine the End of the World than the End of Capitalism,” in The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2013), 312.
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