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American negativity and rap/metal in the age of supercapitalism
Author: Scott Wilson

The seductive force of American supercapitalism unlocks new markets, unleashing the energy of desire, and provides a destructive version of Satan's rage. At the vanguard of this seduction has been the youthful rage and rebellion of the devil's music, American rock 'n' roll and its multiple related subgenres. This book looks at the most pervasive forms of American popular music in the post-cold-war period. Gangsta rap exploits and informs the consumption of luxury brands. The 'mom and pop rage' of the nu metal bands self-consciously exposes itself as the violent expression, the excess of the implacable banal excess, and of shopping-mall consumerism. The book explores the negativity and the 'niggativity' of American rap/metal in the 1990s in relation to a number of key events in the decade such as the Rodney King riots and the Columbine High School massacre. On the face of it, the gangsta 'nigga' is an unlikely point of identification for suburban white culture. But the phenomenon of the 'wigga' (white, wanna-be-nigga) and the success of companies like Nike testify to the fascination that such a figure holds. Rage Against the Machine (also known as Rage or RATM) do not normally have problems with machines, indeed their music and living depend upon them. Rather, the 'machine' is for Rage another word for the new world order of global capitalism. Death metal groups such as Morbid Angel and Deicide aim to outdo the others in its singular relation to death, shock and outrage.

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Scott Wilson

This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book looks at the most pervasive forms of American popular music in the post-cold-war period. It also looks at how the term negativity has been adopted, variously, by influential and symptomatic popular cultural forms in the domain of American rap/metal music. The book explores how death metal provides a simulation of Satan's rage not just in the horrific visions that it constructs from 'the clippings and footage of daily carnage and abuse' but also in its visions of apocalypse. It concludes at the point of George W. Bush's declaration of the war on terror, a declaration that formalises the condition of perpetual war that had been raging undeclared throughout the 1990s in the form of supercapitalism.

in Great Satan’s rage
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Scott Wilson

Supercapitalism's contentless, pragmatic Calvinism is like a genetic algorithm that turns economy into a computing machine. The understanding of supercapitalism is consistent with Jean-Joseph Goux's interpretation of Bataillean general economics, which he sees as a characteristic of what he calls postmodern capitalism. From the early modern period of mercantilism there has always been a connection between war and commerce in the West, articulated but never totally determined by the emergent European states. The role of the state has been diminished in the face of the rise of multinational corporations and the acceleration of transnational capitalism made possible by the globalisation of the system of finance and electromagnetic communications. Supercapitalism fractures paternal law and family structures though its deployment of contract law and its commodification of identity as workers are required to sell themselves and not just their labour in a highly mobile, flexible market.

in Great Satan’s rage
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Scott Wilson

The subject of 'Negative Creep', one of the highlights of Nirvana's first album Bleach, is generally taken to be the singer himself, Kurt Cobain. Almost as memorable as the music it contained, the album's cover nicely catches the negativity of the record that locates its interior to a contradictory logic of (anti-)capitalism. As Alexander Kojeve's Hegelian story unfolds, the pure negativity of desire becomes the inhuman machine of historical becoming. American rock music seems an ideal place to look at the conjunction between American culture, economy and the various forms of negativity that characterise it. By 1989, one social form in particular, rendered heterogeneous by the neoliberal economic policies of Ronald Reagan's government, came to negatively exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of American capitalism. Ironically, the negativity of this form was noted by neoconservatism, even as it was abjected as its social antithesis.

in Great Satan’s rage
Abstract only
Scott Wilson

On the eve of the neoconservative war against Iraq, Admiral Timothy Keating evoked an old mainstream hip-hop hit as his battle cry. Gangsta rap irrupts in the midst of this war in which deregulated capitalism provides the conditions of survival and combat. The term 'niggativity', indeed, which would seem a highly appropriate term to describe the attitude of Niggaz With Attitude (NWA), was actually coined by Chuck D himself on his solo album the Autobiography of Mistah Chuck. On this album, the ambivalence of niggativity is directly addressed and clear lines are drawn between progressive and non-progressive forms of African-American negativity. In academic commentary on the aesthetic of hip-hop, claims have been made for it as both a postmodern form and a form that is intrinsically African-American in its rejection of linear Western musical models.

in Great Satan’s rage
Scott Wilson

The paradox of the wigga, the white suburban teenager who mimics black speech and style, is that he or she cannot help drawing attention to an incongruous whiteness. The wigga's mimicry circulates G thang, the ambivalent nature of which is nicely encapsulated by the term 'nigga' itself. Expropriated from the term 'nigger', that signifier obscenely loaded with hatred and suffering, nigga is an ambivalent signifier of affirmative negativity. The nigga has no essence even though he resides as the x-essence of the white neoliberal supercapitalism. While the x-essence of gangsta is traceable in the marketing strategies of companies like Nike, the heterogeneity of the figure cannot be utilised or controlled in any unproblematic way. The 'sovereignty' that is attributed to African-American culture should not be understood in the sense of that term when it refers to the sovereignty of states as defined by the international law.

in Great Satan’s rage
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Scott Wilson

Lil' Kim's first musical track, 'Big Momma Thang', is audible as he purchases a small order of popcorn, a large order of butter and a load of napkins. Lil' Kim's Hardcore introduces and develops the Queen Bitch persona, Lil' Kim's alter ego, who features in all her records to date. Hardcore essentially tells the tale of Queen B's rise to wealth and fame in a music business that for a woman is virtually no different from the sex business. As if confirming Queen B's work ethic gone bootilicious, the male hip hop stars past and present involved in the porn industry all stressed its economic dimension and the hard work involved. The chorus to Lil' Kim's track 'We Don't Need It' stages a sexual stand-off in which that relation is contested in the form of a symbolic exchange.

in Great Satan’s rage
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Scott Wilson

By associating cunnilingus with a Tootsie commercial aimed at children, Lil' Kim's 'How Many Licks' mischievously risks broaching one of the biggest taboos in the American culture. Childhood, as a sacred place of uncorrupted innocence, is largely an invention of romanticism, popularly resonant in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and in William Blake's 'Songs of Innocence' for example. In the generic mom and pop rage that characterises many lyrics in nu metal, Korn's in particular, the father tends to vacillate between the imaginary and the real registers. The chapter looks at another symptom of adolescent rage that seems to be more radical than the therapised mom and pop rage. Apparently indifferent to mom, pop and their surrogates at school, the target of this destructive rage is American adolescence itself, as a symbol of the American way of life.

in Great Satan’s rage
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Scott Wilson

On 20 April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold turned up at their school armed with two shotguns, a 9-mm Hi-Point carbine semi-automatic rifle and a TEC-DC9 handgun. Although this attack was preceded by others at Springfield, Oregon, Paducah, Kentucky and Jonesboro, Arkansas, the event at Columbine was by far the most deadly and traumatic, causing recriminations in the national press. In Columbine, the goths were opposed to the jocks who baptised them with their name after the goth fashion for wearing long, black trenchcoats, a fashion that was given further cultural resonance by the Matrix films. In his account of the Columbine event, John F. Murphy Jr cites eye-witness reports that Harris and Klebold 'were ecstatic in their happiness'. One of the curiosities of Harris and Klebold's action in the library and elsewhere at Columbine is that technological objects became their targets as well as the students.

in Great Satan’s rage
Abstract only
Scott Wilson

An episode of MTV's Celebrity Death Match illustrates one of the many misconceptions concerning the relation between rage and the machine. In this episode, pioneering rap-metal band Rage Against the Machine were pitched against 'the machine', a giant robot. Biohazard, another metal band whose early use of rap can be credited with pioneering the nu metal genre, addressed similar themes to Rage, often emphasising the environmental damage caused by capitalist exploitation and the waste of natural resources. Formed in 1988, their first major-label album, State of the World Address(1994), combined rap and metal with political rage directed at nuclear power, pollution, greed, violence and rage itself which becomes the object of self-reflection. Discussing creative or artistic production in the context of supercapitalism, addressing the rage that is integral to the machine, requires developing a concept of econopoiesis.

in Great Satan’s rage