As we reach the end of volume 35 (and the end of 2023), we are proud to bring you the first special issue of this journal since the two of us took over as co-editors. Both of us have had the experience of being guest editors of special issues prior to taking the helm of JPMS, and seeing the process of bringing a themed issue to publication from the journal side has been a pleasure. In addition to our usual selection of fieldnotes and book reviews, we believe there is a lot to enjoy in this issue.
“Fieldnotes” features an essay by Adrian De Leon exploring his experiences of the Christian music of his youth, especially the song “Lemonade” by Jeremy Passion. He states that this Christian song had more to do with his identity in the Filipino diaspora than the Filipino national anthem. It is a heartfelt piece that threads together diasporic experiences with Christian popular music and upends the expectations in the title.
The research article section is comprised of the special issue, “Recast, Podcast, Broadcast,” edited by Morgan Bimm, Kate Galloway, and Amy Skjerseth which is on music podcasts. It features an issue introduction, five peer-reviewed articles, and a pithy response by Norma Coates. These articles are timely and touch on a variety of topics at the intersection of popular music studies and audio media.
The subject of music podcasts inspired for us thoughts about how much things have changed in the last four years. Way back in early 2020, many of us who work in teaching and research positions had never had to think all that deeply about the techniques of podcasting, such as what kind of microphones and audio editing software to use. Some of us may have assigned podcast episodes or asked our students to produce podcasts for assignments, but they were often in the periphery of our daily lives. What’s more: just a few years ago, podcasts were largely the domain of professionals rather than college-age students. That partially has to do with the name of the format, which derived from Apple’s iPod as a form of episodic media that could be easily downloaded to the device (using a cord and the iTunes software) to load episodes onto the iPod for such activities as commutes, household chores, and workouts. In those early years, music podcasts were few and far between and took a backseat to other kinds of audio programming. Still, music podcasts grew to their own genre, with various sonic conventions taking hold.
When COVID-19 turned education upside down, this incredibly generative site of audio media was suddenly a possible method for teaching our students under the framework of “asynchronous” teaching and supplementary material. Many lecturers and professors turned to podcasting to compensate for the unpredictable audio quality of Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet. While some music scholars such as Regina Bradley were ahead of the trend and used podcasting for years to discuss hot button issues in their chosen field well before COVID, others such as Will Robin, used the pandemic as an opportunity to launch new podcasts about music and music scholarship. Bradley’s Bottom of the Map (with music journalist Christina Lee) on southern hip hop ran from 2019-2021 and Robin’s Sound Expertise is in its third season. Even major media outlets have invested in the potential for podcasts on popular music topics to address topics often ignored by the mainstream media. One of the best examples of the potentials and pitfalls of that approach was NPR’s Louder than a Riot podcast which for two seasons addressed Black women and LGBTQ folk in hip hop. Its cancellation, however, demonstrates the limits of such pairings. It should not be a surprise, then, that podcasts related to popular music are generating their own field of scholarship. The entire editorial team hopes that reading these articles alongside each other will help to foster a lively intellectual exchange on the increasing role podcasts play in discourse about popular music.
It is fitting that as we celebrate 50 years of hip hop, our “Book Reviews” section of the year’s final issue would have so many books related to the genre. Christine Capetola kicks off the section with a review of The Politics of Vibration: Music as Cosmopolitical Practice by Marcus Boon. Capetola shows how Boon’s book is an exciting interrogation of vibration in sound studies, bridging textual and socio-cultural modes of sonic inquiry that demonstrates new entry points for considering music’s materiality. Boon’s book bridges anthropology, ethnomusicology, psychoanalytic theory, and Black studies to analyze and interpret Indian classical music singer Pandit Pran Nath within the context of post-war minimalism, mathematician and musician Catherine Christer Hennix, and Texas hip hop legend DJ Screw.
Lauron Kehrer follows with a laudatory review of Shanté Paradigm Smalls’ Hip Hop Heresies: Queer Aesthetics in New York City. As Kehrer elaborates, Smalls is an important figure in leading the way towards scholarship about queerness in hip hop, and their book lands as the first scholarly monograph in queer hip hop studies. The book offers some excellent reads of music while also expanding the discussion to other aesthetic considerations. The core of Smalls’ argument is that hip hop would not have developed the way it did without the intersection of Black, queer, and hip hop in New York City specifically. Kehrer lauds the book unequivocally: “It is a must-read for anyone interested in gender and sexuality in hip hop.”
Sean Latham’s review of Alessandro Portelli’s Hard Rain: Bob Dylan, Oral Cultures, and the Meaning of History places the book-length study of one of Dylan’s most enduring songs within the wider context of Dylan’s attempts to set his estate in order. While there is an increasing appeal for short books dedicated to songs, such as Duke University Press’s “Singles” series, Latham admits that there was some initial apprehension in reading that the book might not be able to bear the weight of such a lengthy study. However, Portelli surprises by bringing “an almost unique set of critical skills to the project, mixing folklore, sociology, media studies, historiography, close reading, and a sweeping comparative range that encompasses Scotland, Appalachia, New England, and Italy.” The result, it seems, is worth the space. While Latham has some quibbles with Portelli’s choices, the overall impression is that the book holds together and is a welcome addition to book length studies on Bob Dylan.
In his review of Lakeyta M. Bonnette-Bailey and Adolphus G. Belk, Jr.’s edited collection For the Culture: Hip-Hop and the Fight for Social Justice, Corey Miles points out how thoroughly the editors and contributors attempt to capture a huge range of approaches to hip hop culture. Miles lauds the book’s expansiveness, especially in terms of approaching the “messiness and contradictions” in hip hop. One opening that Miles finds in his review is on the discussion of political hip hop: “The contributors often frame conscious rap as political rap, which leaves me wondering about whether songs about partying, drugs, scamming, and violence enact their own forms of political activism. Can these types of texts give us access to nonnormative modes of feeling, thinking, and hearing that call into question dominant conceptions about rights, citizenship, and accountability?” One can’t help but wonder how these questions will inspire more work in the future.
We conclude this issue and volume 35 with Collin Wilkins’ review of DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution by Lance Scott Walker. With some admiration, Wilkins notes that Walker’s role in writing a book on the chopped and screwed legend is that of co-author. He does this by centering the perspective of the people who knew DJ Screw through a series of curated oral histories. Wilkins notes that this book is clearly for people deeply familiar with DJ Screw’s life and music while it is accessible enough to be of interest to those coming to his music for the first time. Beyond that, it’s clear that Wilkins admires how this book was written for how it points to new possibilities for writing popular music biographies, which in our view is a great way to close out volume 35 of the journal.
K. E. Goldschmitt and Elliott Powell, co-editors