Rebels Without a Pause: Hip‐hop and Resistance in the City


At the outset of the 1970s, with the city of New York deep in financial crisis, the Bronx was the scene of violent conflict between rival gangs. In 1971, however, the South Bronx gangs came together to sign a truce. Afrika Bambaataa, a young warlord from the Black Spade gang, emerged as a peacemaker. In 1975 he created his own organization, the Universal Zulu Nation, which brought together the four components of hip‐hop culture (DJing, MCing, Bboying and graffiti). Bambaataa organized the first block parties, informal gatherings where DJs illegally ran sound systems off the municipal power supply. The block parties catalysed the South Bronx youth, for a time contributing to a more peaceful gang culture. Using the resistance paradigm, and Cornel West’s substantial conception of cultural democracy, this essay questions whether hip‐hop engages and potentially challenges American democracy in creating an autonomous space for putting citizenship into practice. The essay concludes by arguing firstly that hip‐hop can be seen as a hidden transcript emerging from places of exclusion, and secondly that its diffusion is inscribed in struggles for space in the city.