Elliott Powell: Super Freaks and ATLiens: The Queer Afro-South Asian Aesthetic Futures of Rick James and OutKast

03/02/2018 - 3:30pm to 4:30pm
Fulton Hall

Elliott Powell, Assistant Professor, Dept of American Studies, University of Minnesota

“Super Freaks and ATLiens: The Queer Afro-South Asian Aesthetic Futures of Rick James and OutKast”

Abstract: Popular music scholars generally contend that the 1980s and 1990s were a period of increased politically charged musical cross-currents between black and South Asian sounds and musicians in the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, but not in the U.S. This paper challenges this narrative by exploring the place of South Asian aesthetics in the work of U.S. funk artist Rick James and American rap duo OutKast. In particular, this talk analyzes James’s 1986 album The Flag, his only solo album to feature South Asian instrumentation, and Outkast’ 1996 album ATLiens, their only album to engage South Asian cultural forms, for the ways that these albums use South Asian culture to articulate transformative black political ideologies. Through interviews and textual analysis, I argue that James and OutKast deploy the figures of “freaks” and “aliens,” respectively, as intercultural queer positionalities that trouble the dominant heteropatriarchal discourse of black politics. In so doing, I illustrate the ways in which these albums and artists’ use freaks and aliens to cultivate sonic and political possibilities that help us imagine and articulate a new kind of vision of intersectional, transnational, and coalitional praxis.

Elliott H Powell is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He received his BA in History from The University of Chicago and PhD in American Studies from New York University. He is the recipient of numerous fellowship and awards from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. His work is published or forthcoming in GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminism, the Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies, and The Black Scholar (for which he co-edited their first queer and/or trans special issue). And he is currently finishing his book manuscript, The Other Side of Things: African American and South Asian Collaborative Sounds in Black Popular Music, which brings together critical race, feminist, and queer theories to consider the political implications of African American and South Asian collaborative music-making practices in U.S.-based black popular music since the 1960s.

A reception will follow.

This event is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

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