"Every emcee's a fan, every fan's an emcee": Authenticity, identity, and power within Bay area underground hip-hop

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Deborah Pellow


Emcee, Fan, Authenticity, Identity, Power, Hip-hop

Subject Categories

American Studies | Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Do oppositional subcultures pose a threat or offer a legitimate alternative to the institutions of power that they develop in response to? This dissertation looks specifically at a subcultural arena known as West Coast underground hip hop, and its particular manifestations within the San Francisco Bay Area. Following a Do-it-Yourself ethos, which undermines the distinction between hip hop producers and consumers, Bay Area underground hip hop has emerged in response to power imbalances within the music industry and the capitalist agendas that inform them. Accordingly, its enthusiasts espouse multiple discourses of egalitarianism in their musical and non-musical endeavors. Yet, an ethnographic examination of both the politics of identity (including race/ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, and social geography) and issues surrounding the tension between art-form and commodity reveal that Bay Area underground hip hop falls short of reaching its progressive ideals in telling and potentially disturbing ways. This research is the product of a one-year field-stay within, as well as several subsequent visits to, the social spaces that comprise the underground hip hop scene in "the Bay". It is a product of participant-observation in the truest sense, including not only conventional qualitative research methods but also the ethnographer's experiences becoming a recognized artist within this subcultural scene. This full-scale immersion into the world of Bay Area underground hip hop fostered analyses of how dynamics of power play out in the construction of underground hip hop authenticity, the creation and distribution of underground hip hop musical products, and the establishment and maintenance of the conditions that influence who does and does not participate (and on what terms). Despite its egalitarian discourses, issues of power pervade Bay Area underground hip hop and its relation to the broader social structures that it aspires to exist outside of.


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