Hip Hop Naturalism: A Poetics of Afro-pessimism


  • Julius Greve University of Oldenburg




Hip hop, American literary naturalism, Darwinism, Afro-pessimism, Poetics


This article examines the cross-discursive constellation of hip hop studies, ecocriticism, Black Studies, and literary studies. It proposes the notion of “hip hop naturalism” to come to terms with the way in which current U.S.-American rappers express their social ecologies. Taking its cue from scholars such as Imani Perry, Gregory Phipps, and Kecia Driver Thompson, the article argues for the relevance of literary naturalism in contemporary forms of cultural expression: not merely in the audiovisual archives of TV or film, but in hip hop lyricism. Greve scrutinizes how rap has dealt with themes of social heredity, cultural ecology, and structural racial violence by using similar or even identical diction to that of turn-of-the-twentieth-century American literary naturalists. Furthermore, juxtaposing the essentializing aspects of post-Darwinian discourse with those of Afro-pessimism, the article ultimately argues that what Darwinism was to authors like Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, and Frank Norris, Afro-pessimist discourse is to major representatives of contemporary rap, including Mobb Deep, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, and Kendrick Lamar. The writings of Frank Wilderson III and other scholars within current Black Studies thus figure as a social-philosophical grounding on which the given lyricist might map his or her own take on the lived experience of the black individual in contemporaneity. While racial inequality has always been a central notion within hip hop literature and culture, it is this naturalist bent that renders possible a more thoroughly ecocritical reading of how rap songs both underscore and subvert, with critical defiance, the systemic naturalization of black life as inferior.


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Author Biography

Julius Greve, University of Oldenburg

Julius Greve is a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute for English and American Studies, University of Oldenburg, Germany. He is the author of Shreds of Matter: Cormac McCarthy and the Concept of Nature (2018), and of numerous essays on contemporary American fiction and poetry, media studies, and critical theory. Greve has co-edited America and the Musical Unconscious (2015), Superpositions: Laruelle and the Humanities (2017), “Cormac McCarthy Between Worlds” (EJAS-special issue, 2017), Spaces and Fictions of the Weird and the Fantastic: Ecologies, Geographies, Oddities (2019), and The American Weird: Concept and Medium (2020). He is currently working on a manuscript that delineates the relation between modern poetics and ventriloquism.






Articles: Hip Hop Ecologies