“New World Water”: The Hydrocentric Imagination of Hip Hop


  • Stefan Benz University of Mannheim




Hip hop , Water, Anthropocene, Racial capitalism, Settler colonialism


Water has provided hip hop with a variety of central metaphors by which the genre has enriched its poetic terminology of the flow, denoted spiritual purity, or discussed political and police corruption. Over the last two decades, water-related environmental concerns and catastrophes have prompted hip hop artists to develop a more literal approach. This article showcases how selected songs of black conscious and indigenous rap—Yasiin Bey’s “New World Water” (1999), Common’s “Trouble in the Water” (2014), Taboo’s “Stand Up / Stand N Rock” (2016), and Supaman’s “Miracle” (2018)—develop hydrocentric perspectives in order to participate in the negotiation of the cultural and material meanings of water. These songs discuss the relationship between the human and water by working with images of water as “modern water” (Linton), “global water,” or “Anthropocene water” (Neimanis), which allows them to address the nexus of racial capitalism, settler colonialism, anthropocentrism, and ecological crises. True to conscious rap’s agenda of socio-political criticism, they not only unravel but also indict anthropocentric, racial capitalist, and settler-colonial ideologies and practices as they pertain to water. They further negotiate alternative cosmological approaches that conceive of the human/nonhuman relationship as interconnected and thus unfold “hydrosocial” perspectives (Linton). All the while, they advertise rap music as an important aesthetic tool of political-environmentalist intervention. This becomes particularly evident from the fact that all of them are connected by a specific activist impetus and framing.


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Author Biography

Stefan Benz, University of Mannheim

Stefan Benz is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the North American Studies Program at the University of Bonn, Germany. In his dissertation, he explored the resonances between critical posthumanism and the Beat poetry of Michael McClure, Diane di Prima, and Philip Whalen. His postdoctoral project focuses on how representations of rhythm and rhythmic practices negotiate indigenous identity within and against ongoing structures of settler colonialism. He has published with Antennae – The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture among others and is currently co-editing a special issue of Amerikastudien / American Studies on Capitalist Crisis Poetry.






Articles: Hip Hop Ecologies