What happens when Black music is critiqued using the standards of white music? The historical "whitening" of Black art forms is perpetuated.
This is the premise of Dr. Ajitpaul Mangat’s new research project exploring the interracial collaborations that produced the “blog era” (2006-2014) of popular music. The idea came from a course he taught last summer on hip hop music. As the class discussed the inventiveness of hip hop lyrics and the way these lyrics give voice to Black anger and hope, as well as how identity – namely gender and race – have shaped hip hop, Dr. Mangat, a faculty fellow in Niagara University’s English department, began thinking more deeply about the genre and how it was being interpreted by white audiences.
In “Racial Thought and Pitchfork’s Making of ‘Indie Rap,’” Dr. Mangat seeks to historicize the emergence of a new genre of American music during the late-2000s, early-2010s called “indie rap.” Through online reviews published by Pitchfork, Dr. Mangat traces the engagement between the Black genre of rap music and the "white" genre of indie rock and how it was mediated through music criticism. He argues that using standards of white music to judge rap draws a line of influence from indie rock to rap music, ultimately leading to associating blackness with the past and whiteness with the future.
Through its reviews, “Pitchfork emphasized the ways in which rap music was influenced by indie rock, while failing to show how indie rock was influenced by rap music,” Dr. Mangat said. “My project seeks to reveal how rap music also influenced indie rock. I want to situate rap music with blackness while also celebrating the creative possibilities of musical miscegenation.”
With the assistance of a number of research students who have taken classes with him in the past, Dr. Mangat is combing through reviews from the Pitchfork website to better understand how it racializes musical genres, using the aesthetics associated with indie rock to judge and criticize rap music. They are focusing on particular creative relationships between rappers and indie rockers, including Kanye West/Bon Iver, Kendrick Lamar/Beach House, and Jay-Z/Grizzly Bear and annotating the way Pitchfork reviewed these artists.
Hailey Griffin, a sports management sophomore from Buffalo, N.Y., is enjoying the opportunity to learn more about how people feel regarding music or a particular artist, she said, noting that the hip hop class piqued her interest in learning more about the music genre. She appreciates the opportunity the research project is giving her to improve her writing skills and read more about a topic she is interested in.
“While doing research, you get to learn so much more information about things that you didn’t know about,” she said. “You get to see other people’s points of view and stories that you would never (otherwise) know. It’s just fascinating.”
Dr. Mangat will present a paper that draws on this research at the 2022 conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music at the University of Michigan in May. He plans to write an article based on this paper for submission to the Journal of Popular Music Studies, with the intent to include the article in a full book-length manuscript that will explore the interracial musical collaborations that produced the “blog era.”
This research aligns with Dr. Mangat’s commitment to supporting and highlighting the voices of students, particularly those from marginalized communities. He is part of the university’s Inclusive Excellence initiative as a member of the climate and intergroup relations committee and serves on NU's accessibility and disability matters committee. Last year, he was named faculty mentor of the Aquila, NU's literary and arts journal, and is currently working on this year’s issue, which will focus on the topic of race.
Dr. Mangat earned his B.A. at the University of Manitoba, his M.A. at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, and his Ph.D. at the University at Buffalo. He focuses his teaching and research on how modern and contemporary art and literature represent the ways in which bodies become politicized in relation to identity, with particular attention to race and disability. His peer-reviewed writing has appeared in the collection “Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction” and his reviews have appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, Twentieth-Century Literature, Disability Studies Quarterly, and Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies, among other journals.