Nothing is, what Nothing has… Let the Niggas Create: Trap, Rock n’ Roll and Cultural Radicalism

And it’s a permanent scar, you can’t forget who you are
It don’t matter where you go, they say we are who we are
When you cook in the raw and you’re bad from the start
You as cold in your heart, you as cold as your heart

And it’s a permanent scar…

– Future, “Permanent Scar”

Trap is black rock n’ roll. And yes, I know that rock n’ roll was black rock n’ roll at one point, but we must concede the point that cultural appropriation has done a number on rock n’ roll. Appropriation disentangled rock n’ roll’s cultural radicalism by disentangling rock n’ roll from Blackness. And by saying this, I am not attempting to think cultural appropriation in accordance to the logic of community property, but rather I want to think cultural appropriation in accordance to the logic of hegemony itself, in accordance to the axioms of Man. If I do this, I will see that what belongs to Blackness, belongs to the bottommost beings of the World, the wretched of Earth, and what belongs to the bottommost beings of the World is absolutely nothing.

“What is it that the poor, the ones who have nothing, have? What is this nothing? What comes from it?”

– Fred Moten, Black and blur, 153

Indeed, nothing is, what nothing has. Yet, what belongs to Man or the Non-Black being is the capacity to engulf the nothingness that nothing has and turn that nothing into something, something like a commodity. It is here, at this level, that most conversations about cultural appropriation get stuck. They are ultimately questions concerning the use of culture as a commodity and the benefits that one hegemonic group (Man) has in determining, situating and designating the valuable from the invaluable in accordance to the logic of racial capitalism. I am not interested in this conversation precisely because I believe that once one takes seriously that surreal fact that even the notion of community as we-know-it, and of “Black” community as-we-know it are both abstractions meshed together in a conceptual ecology made possible through violence of metaphysical proportions, one is forced to rethink the notion of community property in the form of cultural assets. One begins to rethink cultural appropriation only as a secondary recapitulation of a deeper violence that is the situation of the World-as-such. In addition, one begins to sit with community, kinship and culture in radically different ways.

Nothing is, what nothing has. Thus, Blackness has no culture insofar as Blackness is an intramural community forced into immanent signifying relation as a result of a violence that ontologized a negative abstraction onto a multiplicitous range of differing yet entangled bodies. Additionally, Blackness has a culture insofar as Blackness is an intramural community from within the determinations made in, up and against the axioms of Man. Some say that there was Blackness before the determinations of the axioms of Man. I say let niggas that wouldn’t have understood themselves as niggas  or even possibly in meta-relationship to niggas prior to the invention of the Nigga be left alone. Blacknesses’ gap in relationship to the other beings that are called Black is an aporia of sociality that constructs an ambivalence to sociality itself. This ambivalence is what Jared Sexton calls “the social life of social death.”

To interrogate “the racial discourses of life philosophy” is to demonstrate that the question of life cannot be pried apart from that thorniest of problems: “the problem of the Negro as a problem for thought,” that dubious and doubtless “fact of blackness,” or what I will call, in yet another register, the social life of social death. This is as much an inquiry about the nature of nature as it is about the politics of nature and the nature of politics; in other words, it is metapolitical no less than it is metaphysical.

– Jared Sexton, “The Social Life of Social Death,” 15

When we are made to have culture as Black body-beings, we are made to have culture in accordance to the axioms of Man because the axioms of Man have laid out of the conceptual coordinates, or rather the metapolitical, metaphysical determinants of what constitutes a culture and what doesn’t. But what this does for Blackness is that it always makes Black culture and community a community and culture furnished by its relationship and proximity to death. And I do not say that as a critique. I say that as a description of the conditions of possibility for Black culture. Black culture is always an in-spite of. This in-spite-of is in-spite-of the violence of slavery which is social death. This in-spite-of paradigmatically conditions both Black capitulation to the axioms of Man and Black resistance to the axioms of Man. Thus, both function as a social life of social death that orbit within the paradigm in-spite-of the paradigm. But, in-spite-of only makes sense as an example of fugitivity that exceeds the hold if and only if one envisions paradigms as archaeological rather than architectural because the performance of fugitivity is thought to signify an act which cannot be determined by the principally historicist approach of the archaeologist. However, paradigms are architectural rather than archaeological.

Before I continue I must say: There is no way to focus “too” much on the cultural side of things. For the cultural is intimately tied to the social. Additionally, the majority of academics who claim that an academic focuses “too” much on something commit an axiomatic academic fallacy of assuming to be able to determine the “Thought” of another author by only what they wrote. The majority of our thoughts, feelings, conversations, and ideas will never be written down and there’s no reason to assume that what one has written takes priority over what one has said unless one assumes that the traditional of textuality is to be preferred to that of orality. No one can ever make a qualitative judgment on an author’s thinking in general based on their quantity of their writing on a specific genre of issue because what one writes is only an iceberg’s view of what one thinks. However, focusing on the cultural side of things, on the culture genre of issues, is a way of focusing on the way Black folks perform structural adjustments or borrowed institutionality.

Such an adjustment, required for the “privilege” of participating in the political economy of academe, is not unlike the structural adjustment debtor nations must adhere to for the privilege of securing a loan: signing on the dotted line means feigning ontological capacity regardless of the fact that Blackness is incapacity in its most pure and unadulterated form. It means theorizing Blackness as “borrowed institutionality.

– Frank Wilderson, Red, White and Black: The Structure of US Antagonism, 52


To focus on the cultural is to focus on the way Black folks perform borrowed institutionality because it concedes the deeper ontological point about how Black bodies were put into violent relation. What happens here at this point is pivotal because it gets us closer to what I mean by the cultural radicalism of Black sound. The notion of cultural radicalism gets shifted away from always signifying “progress” in any strictly political sense. Instead, when talking about cultural radicalism one has to sit with the sociality of the cultural. The structure of sociality is the locus of culture insofar as everything that was/is touched (and I mean literally and figuratively touched as in the bass of trap’s booms are things that literally and figuratively grasp ahold of a body) by culture implies a connection to kin. This is why culture and language are so closely related because language is an inherently encultured device. But blacknesses’ connection to kin is a kinship formed in nothingness; it is social life in social death. Thus, black sound is more than how we connect with other’s musically, it is something that changes the way performances are done and understood within the architecture of the paradigm itself. It is something that changes the way people are held, not in ways that exceed the hold, but from within the hold itself. If we are dancing with death, then black sound is graphing, designing and diagramming particular movements. Thus the cultural radicalism of black sound not only has a necessarily non-political or pre-political dimension; it also does not necessarily signify a progressive political dimension. You cannot “write blackness into being” or “sound blackness into being” but you can sound blackness and write blackness through non-being. The moment you attempt to write blackness into being or sound blackness through being is the moment of the relentlessly occurring occurrence that people call “cultural appropriation.” An occurrence that ceases to occur only when the axioms of Man cease to exist.

Now, we know that the history of black radicalism is both a critique of political progressivism while simultaneously playing the appropriative role as its textual support, so what I am saying here is important to be clear about. Niggas don’t always make music that is political progressive; but they always make music that alter sociality and alteration is different than progress. Progress is difference-beyond-negation, alteration is difference-in-repetition. Progress assumes a bettering of conditions; alteration assumes that there are stable conditions which difference performs itself within. It is the difference between purchasing a brand new iPhone and saying “this one is better” versus just getting a new update on your current phone and recognizing the newness within the sameness.

What Black sound does to the social itself is that it alters the social in such a way that while not always signifying “progress” and not necessary outside of repetition always illustrates the capacity for difference-in-repetition in accordance to an anagrammatical syntax.

Blackness – the extended movement of a specific upheaval, an ongoing irruption that anarranges every line – is a strain that pressures the assumption of the equivalence of personhood and subjectivity.

– Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, 1

What originates in the sound is the sound of nothingness, of the bottommost beings of the planet, and what these sounds do is not simply reimagine kinship but architect kinship by turning dancefloors into mosh pits, university classrooms into trap houses and schoolyards into block parties. Understand, we are not discussing progress here. We are not talking digression either and anyone who sees digression in a university classroom finding a home in a trap house or a trap house finding a home in the university probably have no sincere interest in actually undoing the World. Trap is black rock n’ roll after the engulfment of rock n’ roll’s Blackness and the stabilization of sociality in accordance again to the community, kinship and culture of Man. Rock n’ Roll returns to respectability, to cordiality, to Humanity. Just as the Blues and Jazz has prior to. And what we are recognizing ironically (thanks, Post-Malone) is the movement towards trap’s engulfment by Whiteness too. I want to suggest that we shouldn’t fret. I want to suggest that Blackness, if it is anything other than Nothingness, it is Nothingness-With and as Nothingness-With the other No-things of this World, architecting sociality is the anarchic system of our musico-ethical relationality – our meta-relational relationality. Ta produce suffin’ outtta nuffin’; ta make suffin’ outta nuffin’. It is this ex nihilio onto-epistemology that generates Blackness as the trap and the trap as Blackness in a way that is always already appropriated yet never exhausted in its performative enunciation. In this sense, I’d say I am a bit of a nihilistic Alain Locke.

Let the niggas create.



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