Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. By Gwendolyn D. Pough. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004. Pp. 265, introduction, notes, bibliography, index, illustrations.
In Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere, Women's Studies professor Gwendolyn Pough makes significant contributions to both black feminist thought and hip-hop scholarship. A third-wave feminist of the hip-hop generation, Pough critiques rap music's masculinist dynamics but stops short of dismissing hip-hop culture as inherently misogynistic or thoroughly corrupted by commercialism, as is the tendency for second-wave feminists and other scholars who came of age before rap. Rather, Pough convincingly argues that hiphop offers rhetorical tools to invigorate black feminist discourse and increase its relevance to new generations of female intellectuals and activists of color.
Central to Pough's argument is the conceptualization of hip-hop as not simply an aggregation of artistic texts and performers--as is the case with most research on hip-hop, which takes the form of cultural history--but as a sphere of discourse, an expressive space within which young people, including young black women, communicate their experiences and articulate their political concerns. Yet it is a contested, male-dominated space in which women struggle for room to maneuver; hence, Pough's central metaphor of "bringing wreck," the hip-hop slang term that "connotes fighting, recreation, skill, boasting, or violence" (17). More specifically, she asserts, bringing wreck with regard to black women in hip-hop means to "fight hard and bring attention to their skill and right to be in the public sphere" (17).
Another key term Pough continually invokes is the aforementioned "public sphere," a concept she productively mines to develop her spatio-political theorization of hip-hop as a locus of political and personal expression. Her primary theoretical orientation derives from the Black Public Sphere Collective, a group of African-American scholars who in the mid-nineties reworked critical theorist Jurgen Habermas' influential notion of the "public sphere" of civic participation to include the activities of black civil society. In Chapter One, Pough offers a succinct synopsis of Habermas' central claim: that the public sphere is an egalitarian zone of democratic debate in which individuals put aside personal differences and...