Found when I was following up on an Imani Perry interview on the Washington Post website and Googled into a very quotable reference to créolité — “The origins of everything American twist and shout their way through history.” Shades of Chubby Checker! So I kept on reading. Turned out I had it in a book at home, so I copied the quote here.

(To see what Perry does with it in her book on rap/hip hop, scroll down to the bottom of this post. But first, here’s a memorable 10-minute video of Springsteen covering “Twist and Shout” in a 1984 concert in Toronto.)

Here are several quotes:

John Szwed, “The Real Old School,” in Crossovers: Essays on Race, Music, and American Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005

[…] The origins of everything American twist and shout their way through history, giving and taking as they go, inventing and reinventing themselves, praising their authentic beginnings about as often as they deny them.

Americans have always been creole — and whether “creole” refers to food, speech, music, or race, it always means something made new, something emergent, not an import from Europe, Africa,Asia, whatever. Try it another way: America has been postmodern from the git-go, with everything out on the table, history unfolding, putting it all up for grabs. It is a country in which mixture is king. And as the poet said, the pure products of America would go crazy anyway. (174)

_____, “Metaphors of Incommensurability,” ibid.

[cf “terms for racial mixing” monrelization, bastardization, corruption, métissage or mestizaje, and “recent more polite or ironic terms” like hybrid] But this is the terminology of those who speak from positions of dominance; the view from the bottom often yields quite different tersm, such as the food and cooking metaphors gumbo, callaloo, massala and sancocho, or those of violence and disruption, like broke-up, or of / mock or transvalued opprobrium, like bad.” (223-24)

In the America the oldest known term for these processes is creole, itself apparently created in creole fashion from the Portuguese criar (“to bring up”) and crioulo (“native”) and who-knows-what-else and merged into a term with both adjectival and noun forms. The discourse of creolization has continued now for four centuries, an ongoing dialogue which remains remarkable open and inviting of participation. The concept of creole has been used across a great deal of geographical and intellectual territory in the New World (and to a lesser degree even in parts of the Old). From Cotton Mather’s description of Harvard graduates (“shining criolians”) to the offspring of Russians and Aleuts in the Bering Strait, from the children of French planters in Louisiana to the children of newly arrived slaves, the concept has always meant a new product, something emergent, something else. (224)

Doing a Google search on Szwed’s name and “creole,” I found this abstract. The book’s floating around my home office somewhere, but I can’t find it, so I’ll just copy a citation and quote the abstract they give:

Gray Gundaker, “Creolization, Nam, Absent Loved Ones, Watchers, and Serious Play with ‘Toys’,” in ed Robert Baron and Ana C. Cara, eds., Creolization as Cultural Creativity, _____: University Press of Mississippi, 2011

[Abstract] This chapter explores the several theoretical trajectories related to the term “creolization.” It contends that the term has outlived its usefulness as a unitary theoretical rubic, but as an open-ended synonym of “mixture” it can still draw attention to cultural processes that recreate ancestral precedents, selectively combine multiple cultural resources, and reject the idea of mixture to foreground moments of irreducible seriousness. The chapter then explores the concept of “toy blindness,” the moment when a received classification related to a dominant cultural history overshadows other possibilities and explanations.

Grey Gundaker


My source for all of this is a discussion of the origins of hip hop I Googled into on a VDOC.PUB copy of Imani Perry, Prophets Of The Hood: Politics And Poetics In Hip Hop [Duke University Press Durham & London, 2004] (For Terms of Service, go to

Here it is, verbatim as I copied it (again I’m not indenting because I want to preserve the block quotes in the original):

Certainly, although hip hop was born in the multiethnic, colored melting pot of New York and has become a national form with dominant voices emerging from the three other major geographical regions of the United States (the south, the midwest, and the far west), it is far more identifiable in the American imagination and in American practice as particularly black American in terms of what group rappers are constituted from and which communities push forward the music’s artistic growth. Ethnomusicologist John Szwed, with respect to originalism, asks,

Does rap have a beginning? Where does the credit or (some might say) the blame lie? The quick answer is to say that it’s an African-American form, for which, on a diasporic flow chart, you could plot an unbroken line from African to the Caribbean and on to the United States. Or maybe bypassing the Caribbean altogether, but in any case ending with the youth of the black working class.Yet things in the United States have never been that simple. Or that pure. The origins of everything American twist and shout their way through history, giving and taking as they go, inventing and reinventing themselves, praising their authentic beginnings about as often as they deny them.1

Szwed locates the music as African American, and yet he also understands that this categorization cannot refute hip hop’s créolité. Paul Gilroy, who in his outstanding critical work resists the identification of hip hop as black American music, nevertheless acknowledges the danger of relying on originalist sensibilities for discussions of hip hop. He writes,

No straight or unbroken line of descent through either gendered line can establish plausible genealogical relations between current forms and moods and their fixed, identifiable and authentic origins. It is rather that the forbidding density of the processes of conquest, accommodation, mediation, and interpenetration that helps to define colonial cultures also demands that we re-conceptualize the whole problematic of origins. . . . Our difficult object: black performance culture and its social and political forms is a profane practice. It has been propagated by unpredictable means in non-linear patterns. Promiscuity is the key principle of its continuance.2

Gilroy and I part ways, and therefore reach divergent theoretical conclusions, because he takes as his unit of examination for black performance culture the Afro-Atlantic, rather than any national community. Nevertheless, I agree with his argument concerning the nonlinear and promiscuous course of cultural production within the African American context in particular. And certainly it is the case that at critical moments in the development of hip hop the participation of nonblack Americans was paramount. Yet I argue that the promiscuous composition does not destroy cultural identity. The manner in which the music became integrated into the fabric of American culture was as a black American cultural product, through an overwhelmingly black American audience (no longer the case), and using black American aesthetics as signature features of the music. As Szwed has also written, ‘‘Having noted rap’s broad




7168 Perry / PROPHETS OF THE HOOD / sheet 23 of 248 Tseng 2004.9.14 09:40

affinities, its American-ness, its creole emergence, and its lack of exclusive rights to be offensive, no one would be fooled into missing the fact that it finally is also very much an African American form.’’ 3 Although I am asserting that hip hop is black American music, I do not want that to be mistaken as a nationalist glorification or simplification. It is the very fact of postmigration fragmentation and reintegration that explains much of the music’s beauty, as well as its various regional and international variations and interactions. It is black, and yet it is certainly ‘‘impure.’’ What is southern hip hop without the tension between the urban and the rural South? What is New York hip hop without the Caribbean and African American blend, the memory in text of experiences of adolescents who returned to ancestral homes for summer vacations or to get away from the negative influences in the city? What is West Coast hip hop without the shadow of Hollywood and the history of the Black Panthers, funk, and blaxploitation? These questions are impossible to answer because the cultures in question are constituted by a postmigration mosaic at once plagued by the feeling of loss, by constant efforts to recover, and by the celebration of the current hybrid self.

She cites the quoted as follows:

  1. John Szwed, ‘‘The Real Old School,’’ in The Vibe History of Hip Hop, ed. Alan Light (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), 4;
  2. and the Gilroy to: Paul Gilroy, ‘‘ ‘. . . To Be Real’: The Dissident Forms of Black Expressive Culture,’’ in Let’s Get It On: The Politics of Black Performance, ed. Catherine Ugwu (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1995), 15.
  3. Szwed ‘‘The Real Old School,’’ 7.

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