FGS Faculty Spotlight

What does it mean to listen attentively and to take a musical tradition seriously on its own terms? To refuse simplistic answers to complex questions? To stay with a conundrum and to trust one’s gut knowledge? To insist on a careful reading of the past while lovingly offering critiques of contemporary discourses? Furthermore, what does it look like to work and think collaboratively? To write in community? To build networks of mutual care and intellectual reciprocity that resist competitive models of academic success? And in the process, to surprise oneself, to rewrite one’s story, and to find joy, power, and fullness in the process of knowing? These are but some of the rich themes and multilayered questions animating our first ever Feminist and Gender Studies Faculty Spotlight, a space where we proudly honor and celebrate the accomplishments of our faculty, while also going behind the scenes of academic labor to offer a more situated, lived, embodied, felt, and critical perspective on the process of knowledge production.

For this inaugural edition of the spotlight, we invited Dr. Heidi R. Lewis, Associate Professor of Feminist and Gender Studies and David & Lucile Packard Professor at Colorado College, to give us a sneak peek into the book she has been working on for the past few years and is now in the final stages of writing. Entitled Make Rappers Rap Again: Interrogating the Mumble Rap ‘Crisis’, the book is under contract with Oxford University Press, as part of their new book series “Theorizing African American Music.” As part of the interview process, we also invited her to reflect on what writing this book has taught her about herself and about the multiple forms that feminist knowledge production can take. 

In Make Rappers Rap Again, Lewis argues that Mumble Rap is real Hip Hop. She does so by problematizing real Hip Hop norms for engaging with its origins and old heads; recovering longstanding debates about what Hip Hop has been, is, and should be; demonstrating the ways most mumble rappers practice citational and collaborative politics congruent with real Hip Hop; taking a comprehensive approach to examining the Mumble Rap sound; geographically situating Mumble Rap as southern; and examining how Mumble Rap challenges dominant narratives about Hip Hop masculinity. The book could not be more timely as this year (2023) marks the 30th anniversary of Hip Hop Studies and the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop.

We hope you enjoy learning about Dr. Lewis’ book project as well as her writing process in this interview with Professor Guessous, Associate Professor and Chair of the Feminist and Gender Studies Department.  We also hope you will attend the two talks (one in the fall and the other in the spring) where Professor Lewis will be sharing more of her work. Entitled “Make Rappers Rap Again: Interrogating the Mumble Rap ‘Crisis’ Part I: The Old Heads,” the first talk is being hosted by the Feminist and Gender Studies Department and will take place over a catered lunch on November 9th at 12:30 PM in McHugh Commons. The second talk entitled “Make Rappers Rap Again: Interrogating the Mumble Rap ‘Crisis’ Part II: The South” is being organized by the Black Student Union and will take place on April 10th at 1:30 PM (location TBD).  Please mark your calendars and help us spread the word about these exciting opportunities where we are sure to learn invaluable insights about the importance of thinking carefully about Mumble Rap, musical history, cross-generational debate, the South, and so much more! 


I’d been regularly listening to what is now called Mumble Rap for a couple years before the phrase “mumble rapper” was used, for what I think was the first time, in 2014. I couldn’t exactly explain the shift that was happening in Hip Hop back then, but I knew Future changed the game on April 16, 2011 when he released “Tony Montana,” the lead single from his debut studio album Pluto (2012). That’s the day I claim Mumble Rap was born. Within the next few years, folks started taking serious issue with Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, and other mumble rappers. Mumble Rap was being subjugated within “real” Hip Hop (or the most authentic Hip Hop) and sometimes even expelled altogether and situated as the catalyst for its demise. Critics claimed mumble rappers were ignorant about Hip Hop history, disrespectful toward “old heads” (or Hip Hop elders), too similar, unskilled, prone to rapping about nonsense, and too feminine (e.g., wearing nail polish and rapping about depression). Hip Hop was being declared dead—yet again!—by fans, critics, and rappers themselves. Near the end of 2018, I decided to write this book to give Mumble Rap the complex scholarly attention it did and still does deserve.

I’ll start with Hip Hop, which has given me a lot of academic firsts. My first conference presentation was “In the Same Boat and at Each Other’s Throat: Gender Politics in Female-Male Collaborations in Hip Hop Music, 1996-2006.” My first online publication was “Lil Wayne and the New Politics of Cunnilingus in Hip Hop” (NewBlackMan, 2012). I then developed that into my first peer-reviewed journal article, “Let Me Just Taste You: Lil Wayne and Rap’s Politics of Cunnilingus” (The Journal of Popular Culture, 2016). Two years before that, I also published my first peer-reviewed publication, a chapter in The Cultural Impact of Kanye West (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014) entitled “An Examination of the Kanye West Higher Education Trilogy.” Now, Hip Hop is giving me my first university press book. Make Rappers Rap Again is also methodologically connected to many of my previous projects. Especially because I am a Black feminist scholar, I most often focus on Black people, and in all cases, my approach is decidedly intersectional. I’ve also been heavily reliant on discourse analysis, which means I often focus on how some ways of knowing and making sense of the world are rendered unintelligible but also how discourse is a site where power is both enacted and negotiated. For this project, discourse analysis allows me to examine the ways mumble rappers are subjected to myriad processes of exclusion and mechanisms of discipline. However, I do not only understand the mumble rapper as a subjugated subject. I understand the Mumble Rap debate as a negotiation, taking participants seriously on their own terms rather than resisting the exceptionalization of mumble rappers by doing so in the other direction. The biggest departure, I think, is that Make Rappers Rap Again is a single-authored manuscript. That’s a first for me. I’m thinking about something I often used to say, something you lovingly tease me about now, “I’m an article person, not a book person. I don’t have that much to say.” It’s been wild to see myself transform in this way. You know that even when I struggled with drafting, I found myself saying, “Wow, this really is a book. I can’t contain what I have to say in just one chapter.” I’m grateful to have had your support during this process because you’ve always believed I had the potential. I think you knew all I needed was the spark, encouragement, and support, and you’ve given that to me every step of the way.

I began by galvanizing student research assistants to help me gather and think about primary sources, starting with Precious Cooper and Gaby Jadotte all the way back in 2019. Other notable assistants—and there are “too many” to name!—include Feminist & Gender Studies’s very own Malone DeYoung (‘20), Avia Hailey (’22), and Misbah Lakhani (’24), as well as Jessica Martinez. A couple years ago, Naomi Wood and I gathered every Friday, and I read what seemed like every book and peer-reviewed article on Discourse Analysis. Similarly, I reread what seemed like every Hip Hop Studies text last fall. Then at some point, I had a lifechanging conversation with Scott Krzych. I told him about the project, and he recommended I contact his editor at Oxford University Press. I did, and the rest is living history. Scott has also been instrumental to my process, reading my work and giving me great feedback. Then, of course, there’s you and I. We gathered weekly during your sabbatical—thank you so much again!—to read, write, and discuss our work. Admittedly, we spent most of the time on mine. I’m going to frame the first page of the line reading you did of my first proposal because of how much I appreciate your time and effort. I also sent the proposal and first two chapters to a few of my Hip Hop Studies elders, and we had rich conversations that helped make the project what it is today. I keep saying Tony (my husband) is going to have this book memorized before it’s published—I’ve read every single word to him multiple times. Chase (our daughter) also eavesdrops sometimes, too, and shares her thoughts. Make Rappers Rap Again really has been a collective effort, necessarily. It wasn’t always easy, but it’s always been fun and encouraging. I wish I could write more, but let’s just say this—the “Acknowledgements” section of the book is going to be epic.

This is an advanced book written primarily for my Hip Hop Studies peers, but it certainly can be taught in graduate-level seminars and courses for advanced undergraduates. To that point, I briefly conclude the manuscript by calling for a reconsideration of Hip Hop’s commitment to situated analyses. Despite some popular beliefs, Hip Hop will never die in my opinion. Therefore, it will become increasingly difficult to engage all of its complexities routinely and substantially, which could result in further simplification or even inattention. So, I call for attending more precisely to the ways scholars understand and name themselves in Hip Hop Studies. As was the case with Hip Hop Feminism, Postmodern Hip Hop Studies, and other subfields, I argue the field should be more deliberately comprised of Old School and Golden Age scholars, Nas and Tupac scholars, Gangsta Rap and Shiny Suit Era scholars, scholars of the elements or particular ones, and Midwest or Southwest Hip Hop scholars, to name a few. In addition to calling for scholars to think more carefully about what real Hip Hop is, Make Rappers Rap Again encourages us to ask more critical questions about who we are, an opportune conversation as 2023 is the 30th anniversary of Hip Hop Studies and the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop. I make many other points illustrating the impact I hope the project will have, but for that, folks will have to attend one of the two talks I’m giving on campus this year or read the book when it’s published. 😊

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