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Dream and LegacyDr. Martin Luther King in the Post-Civil Rights Era$
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Michael L. Clemons, Donathan L. Brown, and William H. L. Dorsey

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781496811844

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2019

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496811844.001.0001

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King the Sellout, or Sellin’ Out King?

King the Sellout, or Sellin’ Out King?

Hip Hop’s Martin Luther King Jr.

(p.152) King the Sellout, or Sellin’ Out King?
Dream and Legacy

James L. Taylor

University Press of Mississippi

Imani Perry of Princeton University has raised the following question: “Why does the hip hop audience believe that it is okay to embrace the past, to converse with it, without adhering to its ideological divides or rules?” This points to an intergenerational tension in which the earlier stages have a utility that enables hip hop to borrow and sample without being obligated to community nor accountable to it. Throughout this essay it is argued to the contrary that the “ideological divides and rules” were indeed adhered to, at least with regard to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, and interpreted and recruited them to its purposes. Errol Henderson insists it is the “sampling aspect of hip hop” that facilitates “cross-generational cultural transmissions” among “the relatively apolitical generation of the 1970s and 1980s with a staunch Black nationalist African subculture of the 1960s.” If sampling places hip hop in conversation with the past, so has “dissing.” Like any first-rate rap icon, Martin Luther King and the broad Civil Rights movement, have been subjected to well-known street poses of disrespecting (dissin’) and challenging (battling) from upstarts, whether in lyrics, film, or among the self-recognized “hip hop intelligentsia,” seeking to make their mark. Imani Perry suggests likewise, “dis- functions as a negative prefix (e.g., disrespect, dismiss, etc.), [and] gathered its meaning in the social context of inter-personal rejection, or what another generation might have referred to as ‘putting someone down’ not in the white American dialect sense of insulting, but in the black American sense of getting rid of someone as though setting someone on a table and walking away.” King was thus “dissed” ideologically in emergent “message” or “conscious” rap in the late 1980s through 1990s period.

Keywords:   Hip hop, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rap, Nationalism

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