10 December 2010

Excavating with the X-Clan

Archaeologists discover the tombs of the Underseer and the Overseer, and lo, X-Clan is unleashed! Thanks to Sean for the video tip.

X-Clan was formed in 1990, broke up in 1992, and recently re-formed. They came out of a New York hip-hop scene that was heavily intertwined with political activism and Black nationalism. Besides having made some total jams, they have awesome uniforms and a great archaeopop aesthetic that mixes ancient Egypt, the African diaspora, and American urban style.

In North America, I think esoteric/Afrocentric hip-hop artists have done the best job of using archaeological and historical motifs to create a modern identity, mostly through the beliefs of the Nation of Gods and Earths (aka '5 percenters') a religious tendency that branched off of the Nation of Islam in the 1960s. There's been a lot of influential hip-hop artists out of this philosophy (Busta Rhymes, Eric B, Wu-Tang, Nas, Brand Nubian, Big Daddy Kane, Jay-Z). The symbology of Egypt is crucial (e.g. this Nas cover) and a lot of these artists' work deal with history and identity in one way or another.

X-Clan have a habit of poking fun at the historical representations of Black people in their videos that I really dig, pun intended. The tomb-opening scene in the video above lampoons the idea that African history is something of the past: Egypt's not dead! The opening to the video of 'Fire and Earth' (below) totally destroys the stereotype of the 'primitive' Black man AND sarcastically suggests that the white guys in black face are the real neanderthals, all in about 10 seconds:

This is one of the songs that has gotten stuck in my head most often over the last 20 years.

A lot of people find Afrocentric approaches to archaeology absurd or offensive. I think that's bullshit - people have the right to remix archaeology however they want and it's GOOD if the past means something to everyone.
Stop yourself next time you see a neoclassical façade in an American city and contemplate the breathtaking audacity of white Americans claiming to be the heirs of the ancient Greeks. I mean, check out this building here, the Nashville Parthenon. It's a life-size reproduction and is actually more complete than the original. It even has a cult statue of Athena, right here in the bible-loving heart of our "Christian Republic"! In Nashville! Weird as hell. But no one's shocked anymore by the bizarreness of the ideological program "America=Ancient Greece". 200 years of familiarity, and patronage from powerful people, have made the aesthetic vocabulary of Greece and Rome boringly normal. Remixing the past only seems ridiculous when it's people who are traditionally disempowered doing it. Daring to find your own meanings in the past is 'uppity' behavior (that stuff is for the experts, y'all quiet down!).

Seriously? We could use a lot more uppityness in the world of history and archaeology.

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