Mad Squirrel Keeping it Rural: Reflecting on Twenty Years of Hip hop Environmental Awareness and Advocacy
Keywords:Hip hop, Environmentalism, Animal stories, Black aesthetics, Social movements
In this autobiographical piece, I reflect on my twenty-year history as an emcee working at the intersection of hip hop and environmental awareness. Since summer 2000, I have recorded and performed environmentally situated hip-hop music under the moniker “Mad Squirrel.” This includes co-founding two groups—the San-Francisco-based Forest Fires Collective and Washington DC’s The Acorns—as well as releasing various solo projects and taking part in a handful of performances. In what follows, I explain the origins of my nature-based performance identity by, first, recounting my experiences growing up as an avid hip-hop fan in a rural New England (USA) mountain village and, then, expounding on how Mad Squirrel’s forest narratives marked a return to the Black diasporic tradition of animal stories that align with my West African heritage. I go on to describe how this identity and approach became the springboard for a small circle of Bay Area artists to produce a series of critically heralded releases in the early 2000s. After relocating to the East Coast of the United States, I continued to create nature-based hip hop and, notably, performed at several fundraisers and political rallies organized around the movement to stop Mountain Top Removal coalmining in Southern Appalachia. Underlying these narrative accounts, in this piece, I critique hip hop’s presumed urban-rural divide by highlighting its longstanding presence in in rural communities; I compare and contrast the effectiveness of using didactic versus coded environmentalist lyrics/themes; and I draw attention to the underappreciated connections between environmentalism and anti-racism. While acknowledging hip hop’s failure to thoroughly embrace an environmental justice agenda, through this personal case study, I draw attention to some of the groundwork that has been done in alternative hip-hop spaces and advocate for fruitful directions through which to move forward.
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
a) Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal (CC BY-NC for articles and CC BY-NC-ND for creative work, unless author requests otherwise.
b) Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.
c) Authors are permitted and encouraged to post their work online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) prior to and during the submission process, as it can lead to productive exchanges, as well as earlier and greater citation of published work (See The Effect of Open Access).