by Eric Detweiler
In an article exploring jazz’s influence on Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, A. Timothy Spaulding compares the narrator of Ellison’s novel to “the figure of the bebop virtuoso who struggles to achieve an individual identity through the creation of a unique improvisational voice” (482). Spaulding argues that the unnamed narrator of Ellison’s chaotic, experimental novel is of a piece with legendary bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker: Both exist “at the confluence of tradition and innovation, past and present, individual and communal identity.”
The same confluences are frequently at work in hip-hop music and the various literary styles with which it resonates. In his introduction to the anthology Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic, for instance, Sohail Daulatzai glosses the anthology as a “literary remix” (7), with the very concept of the remix implying a reworking of preexisting cultural materials—words, sounds, genres, etc.—in innovative ways.
On the album The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, Kalvonix & Big Luv remix a literary corpus that may seem relatively far from hip-hop aesthetics: children’s literature. But the fantastical confluences that result from their rapped remediations of and reflections on children’s lit—from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to Katherine Holubitsky’s Tweaked—resonate surprisingly with, say, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kalvonix & Big Luv alternately embody and comment on the sort of dreamlike, even nightmarish, bombast that West has become known for in recent years. They juxtapose it, however, with moments of delicate innocence drawn from children’s literature—not that such literature doesn’t have its own dark side, nor hip-hop its flights of whimsy. West’s album does begin, after all, by remixing Roald Dahl’s own macabre iteration of the story of Cinderella. In any case, Kalvonix & Big Luv’s juxtapositions—hip-hop bravado with childhood sorrow, otherworldly fantasy with adolescent anger—make for a potent musical mixture. The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of is a memorable, concrete example of the theoretical and pedagogical possibilities explored by the scholars whose work helped inspire it (cf. Kress, Tulley and Blair). Moving in the opposite direction of Invisible Man’s narrator, Kalvonix & Big Luv rework literary and scholarly forms in an innovative musical creation.
Daulatzai, Sohail. Introduction. Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic. Ed. Eric Michael Dyson and Sohail Daulatzai. New York: Basic Civitas, 2010. 1-9. Print.
Kress, Gunther, et al, eds. English in Urban Classrooms: A Multimodal Perspective on Teaching and Learning. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2005. Print.
Spaulding, A. Timothy. “Embracing Chaos in Narrative Form: The Bebop Aesthetic in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.” Callaloo 27.2 (2004): 481-501. Project Muse Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Tulley, Christine, and Kristine Blair. “Remediating the Book Review: Toward Collaboration and Multimodality across the English Curriculum.” Pedagogy 9.3 (2009): 441-469. Project Muse. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
West, Kanye. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Def Jam, 2010. CD.