Alim’s Combat Linguistics: The Struggle for Equanimity
Dr H Samy Alim is a linguist or combat linguist, to use the apt phrase employed by Geneva Smitherman, Dr. G University Distinguished Professor of English and Director who wrote the foreword to the Roc Mic Right, Alim’s third book on the Hip-Hop. Combat linguists always search for the ruptures in the official pedagogy or the science of instruction in a language class room. We have had experience of our English teacher caning us for using past tense instead of past participle. S/he might be standardizing our English; that is s/he might be making our utterances similar to those of the graduates in the Ox-bridge or those that Daniel Jones singled out for the English speaking Dictionary.
Hip-Hop grew in protest against all tendencies to normalize and standardize language. It taught us that ‘the “blackest” thing we can do—that is, the most politically subversive strategy—is to learn to appreciate the totality of Black American culture, its contradictions, fluid possibilities, dynamism, and the power potential evident in the newly emerged (and constantly emerging) Hip Hop Nation (HHN) Language.” (Page: 3) ‘Rappin, one aspect of Hip Hop Culture, consists of the aesthetic placement of verbal rhymes over musical beats, and it is this element that has dominated Hip Hop cultural activity in recent years. Thus, language is perhaps the most useful means with which to read the various cultural activities of the HHN.’ (Page 4). From the very beginning of his career, Samy Alim has been trying, to use the words of Geneva Simtherman again, to throw out the old world of “linguistic supremacy” and usher in a new world of “linguistic equanimity ethnography, linguistic anthropology, quantitative sociolinguistics, poetics, and discourse analysis. (Page VII) He charts new, important territory as he hooks up linguistics, anthropology, cultural studies, and other disciplines in the Academy, with the streets, Hip Hop Nation Language and Culture, Islam, and the classroom. Like Old School folk say, “People git ready, cuz a change gon come.” (Page VII)
Roc the Mic Right: The Language of the Hip Hop Culture is an odyssey in seven chapters into the counter-hegemonic realm of Hip-Hop culture which for the last four decades has been the challenging the linguistic and sociological status-quo. The first chapter is titled ‘The Street is a Mutha: The Street and the Formation of a Hip-Hop Linguistics’. In the Black American English, Mutha means Mother and the chapter explores ‘how the streets gave birth to, nourished, and raised Hip Hop Culture, and continue to advise it well into its adult years Page’ (Page 16). By consciously varying their language use, these rappers are forging a linguistic-cultural connection with the streets (meaning both members of the Black Street Culture and the sets of values, morals, and cultural aesthetics that govern life in the streets—peep the Geto Boys’ “G-Code,” The Foundation).
The second chapter titled Verbal Mujahidin in the Transglobal Hip Hop UmmaIslam, discursive struggle, and the weapons of mass culture closely observes how Islam has become a force to reckon with in the very life of Hip-Hop nationhood so much so that journalist Harry Allen described Islam as Hip Hop’s “official religion” (Page 22). In the chapter the simple question he analyses is this: Given the fact that Islamic civilization has been “at once transnational and connective” (Cooke and Lawrence 2005), how has this transnational connectivity been manifested within the Hip Hop Cultural Movement? He explores the studies and documents which discuss the pervasive presence of Islam or, the Nation of Islam, in the Hip-Hop. There is a transcript of interviews Alim held with artists including MosDef and JT the BiggaFagga on their tryst with Islam and the Quranic text to form an Islam-centered discourse. Islam played a dual role in the context: It provided them a spiritual springboard from which they can launch the struggle against ego, or, to realize what NOI Minister LoiusFarrahkhan advised: ‘The moreyou struggle to gain mastery over yourself (Jihad against ego), the closer you come to God’ (page 38).Second, the emancipatory potential of Islam helped the Hip-Hop Nation develop a revolutionary discourse that is the Jihad of words, against the hegemonic discourses of white racism.
The third chapter titled Talkin Black in this White Man’s World” Linguistic supremacy, linguistic equanimity, and the politics of languageis an attempt to ‘recognize the high degree of linguistic creativity and verbal virtuosity present in the HHN, and explain how Black American youth possess extraordinary, chameleon-like linguistic capabilities. Chapter four goes deep into nuances of the language of the Hip-hop nation and the next chapter is an attempt to map the construction and development of street-conscious identity. Chapter six Every syllable of mine is an umbilical cord through time: Toward an analytical schema of Hip Hop poetics sums up the whole polemics of the book. It’s a linguistic and stylistic analysis of the pattern of discourse and rhyme in the Hip-Hop music to buttress the fact that Hip Hop has its own “innovative and inventive poets”as powerful as Chaucer and Shakespeare—or Langston Hughes and Sonia Sanchez. It is not a question of substituting one for the other, but including all as we seek to set afoot a new generation in the twenty-first century. The last chapter is the transcript of an interview with PharoaheMonch, aka Troy Donald Jamerson, the Afro-American rapper who is noted for his inventive and experimental stylistics inside the Hip-Hop Nation. A piece of PharoaheMonch’s conversation sums up the entire philosophy of Hip-Hop: “You know what? It’s not about hatin or bringin down other music.” Because without humorous music, or dance music, or fun music, or hardcore music, it’s no variety. And that’s what Hip Hop is based on. But we believe in a fairness. And in Black music, and in Hip Hop music, it needs to be a balance. Because a human, and common sense, should just be able to have a choice.A choice to be deep and choose.A choice to choose this brand of art or a time to be silly. It’s time for all of that. But our brand doesn’t get put out there, and we was just like, “Let’s bring it to the people.”
The Website of Stratford University introduces Samy Alim in the following words: H. Samy Alim is an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Policy Studies in Education (SHIPS) program faculty in Educational Linguistics and holds by courtesy appointments in Anthropology and Linguistics. His goal is to illuminate the relationships between language, race and ethnicity across a wide range of social, cultural and educational contexts. He has written You Know My Steez: An Ethnographic and Sociolinguistic Study of Styleshifting in a Black American Speech Community (Publication of the American Dialect Society) and Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. (co-authored with Geneva Smitherman). All his works have been listed in the website of the Stratford University http://www.stanford.edu/group/creal/cgi-bin/drupal/publications. Those who are interested in ethnicity, language, race and anthropology should not miss Samy Alim. And those who are interested in the language of Hip-Hop should not miss his Roc Mic Right.