Dr James McNally
School of Film, Music and Theatre
James McNally is Marie Curie Research Fellow in the CIPHER project at University College Cork. He is a writer and cultural historian with a long history as a rap critic, most recently for the album analysis podcast Decode. He was Staff Writer at Hip-Hop Connection for almost a decade and as a postdoc James worked at the University of Bristol on the AHRC-funded project Regional Rap in Post-Devolution Britain. James’ scholarly work has appeared in Journal of the Society for American Music, Global Hip-Hop Studies, Journal of Popular Music Studies, and Visual Culture in Britain. His first book will be Future Shock London: a cultural history of hip-hop in the capital, 1982-1985.
Between 1986 and 1993, rap music’s creative centre shifted from New York City’s five boroughs to predominantly middle-class – but often downwardly-mobile – Black suburbs on Long Island. Not only did Long Islanders like Rakim, Public Enemy, De La Soul, and EPMD each effectively rewrite what hip-hop could be, they did so as the children of a historic post-Civil Rights Black population movement from city to suburb that has received little detailed attention in either hip-hop studies or Black studies.
The EU funded LI-RAP project is the first work to fully explore this era-defining explosion of hip-hop innovation from Long Island and its richly revealing social context. Drawing on original interviews, extensive archival research, and detailed analysis of key recordings, the cultural history aspects of the project will map the contributions and experiences of hip-hop innovators from small Black communities like Wyandanch, Roosevelt, and North Amityville. These aspects are brought together with an interrogation of the complicated contours of the broader social history. Following the Civil Rights gains of the 1960s, an increasing minority of Black New York families decided to stake claims on the ‘American Dream’ and its suburban ideal, moving to New York’s then predominantly white middle class hinterlands. Less than twenty years later, however, the landscape had been radically transformed. The once aspirational Black every-towns – that rap’s newest innovators emerged from in the 1980s – were by now ones often besieged by a complex of social and political pressures. The reality for Black suburbia in the post-Civil Rights conjuncture was an increasingly fragile, segregated, and embattled experience.
LI-RAP will ask how, from these circumstances, and this seemingly marginal hip-hop locale far from the genre’s inner-city heartlands, a string of tiny towns with a cumulative population measurable in just tens of thousands, was able to exert so monumental an influence on new directions in rap. In doing so, the project will unsettle frequent ‘ghettocentric’ assumptions about hip-hop’s history, bringing to light a more nuanced conversation on race, class, and geography.
The main output for this project will be a monograph titled the Long Island Rap Renaissance: Remaking rap in New York’s post-Civil Rights Black suburbs, 1986-1993.