Professor Jooyoung Lee was recently interviewed on the blog Black Perspectives about his book, Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central. In the interview Professor Lee discusses the research, methods, and inspiration for his book, which is an ethnographic study of the lives of young Black men in Los Angeles and how they are affected by gang violence, the entertainment industry, and hip-hop culture. Professor Lee teaches sociology at the U of T St. George campus. His research explores the effects of gun violence on the lives of young Black men.
Black Perspectives is the official blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). We have posted an excerpt of the interview below.
Darryl Robertson: Please tell us more about your research. Who or what inspired the research for your book, Blowin’ up: Rap Dreams in South Central?
Jooyoung Lee:Blowin’ Up is inspired by my lifelong love of Hip Hop culture. I grew up in Southern California during the early 1990s, and like many adolescent boys, I was a huge fan of gangsta rap. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was one of the first albums that I owned. I bought it with my allowance money and listened to it non-stop. Even though I didn’t grow up around the stuff described in this music, gangsta rap and other kind of Hip Hop music got me thinking critically about American history and the marginalization of people of color. Hip Hop music also inspired me to get into Djing and pop-lockin’, which became huge parts of my young adult life. In other words, Blowin’ Up is a small ode of appreciation to Hip Hop. It’s one way that I can give back to a culture that has been a source of positivity in my life.
Robertson: How would you summarize the major contributions and interventions of your book? Why is it important to understanding the history of hip-hop in the United States?
Lee: At its core, Blowin’ Up is about the challenges of growing up in low-income African American neighborhoods across “South Central” Los Angeles. While much of the sociological research on urban poor African Americans discusses the conditions that cause unemployment, incarceration, and other negative outcomes, I wanted to tell a different story–one about hope, creativity, and resiliency. Hip Hop culture provides a very important creative outlet for marginalized African American youth. The young men in my book saw Hip Hop as a “creative alternative” to Crip and Blood gangs across “South Central.”
I think this message is critical at this moment, as police and courts continue to criminalize Hip Hop culture and African American youth. In the past few years, prosecutors have tried on numerous occasions to submit rap lyrics as evidence in criminal court proceedings. This is just another example of how our judicial system profiles and marginalizes African American youth. I hope that Blowin’ Up will challenge these larger narratives about Hip Hop culture.
Read the full interview here.