Jul 14, 2020 Last Updated 11:50 PM, Jul 2, 2020

Hip-hop: a missed opportunity

Published: Jan 26, 2020
Versi Bh. Indonesia

Diana Teresa Pakasi

Hip-hop is a popular genre of music among young men in West Papua, who post songs they have composed on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook. Some of these songs attract millions of views. A song titled ‘Turun Naik’ (Ups and Downs), composed by Freshboy and featuring Blasta Rap Family, has been viewed on YouTube over 12 million times. Another song, ‘Ade Kelas’ (Junior Girl) by Suku Dani, and featuring Freshboy, Zuid Boyz and Lesto Baco, was viewed more than a million times within a month of its release. Facebook has also been used to promote hip-hop in West Papua. One group, named Para-Para hip-hop, has more than 4000 members. Another, Abe Rap, has more than 200.

Hip-hop began to grow in popularity among young West Papuan men in the 1970s following the formation of Black Brothers, a successful rock band from Jayapura.

Many young West Papuan men are now forming their own hip-hop groups, composing songs, making music videos and sharing them online. As a result, hip-hop groups are mushrooming in cities like Jayapura, Sorong and Manokwari, playing in malls, parking lots and public parks each Saturday night. They also play at university campuses and at community events.

The audiences at hip-hop performances are made up of young men and women from West Papua and other parts of Indonesia, many of them dancing.

Via social media and music streaming platforms such as Spotify and ReverbNation, young people in West Papua are also consuming foreign hip-hop. But young West Papuan men are doing more than just consume: they are appropriating and recontextualising hip-hop music based on their own life experiences and cultural contexts.

But is hip-hop more than just music to the West Papuan men who make and consume it? Does hip-hop actually say something about masculinity and sexuality in contemporary West Papua?

Hip-hop brotherhood

Hip-hop groups typically consist of five to ten young men. Many rappers in well-known groups are students either at high school or university. Most are aged 18 to 24 years old. Many of them have come from small towns to continue their studies in universities or other institutions in big cities such as Jayapura.

The young men who form hip-hop bands often live in dormitories, boarding houses or rented rooms with their peers. For those who like hip-hop music, singing together and making music become a daily activity and they often end up forming hip-hop groups. As one artist told me, ‘creating hip-hop music is a productive way to spend time together with my friends; it’s better than just chatting and getting drunk.’

A hip-hop group usually has a mabes (headquarters) where the young men meet and make music. When their home is also the mabes of a hip-hop group, the group becomes like brothers. ‘We are brothers. We sleep, eat, hang out and make music together,’ said one young man.

A hip-hop group can become a new family for those who live away from their home towns. But while many groups spring up, not many last long because they disperse or break up when members finish studying and get jobs. But hip-hop music never lacks young enthusiasts ready to create new groups to replace the old ones and carry on their predecessors’ hopes of becoming famous.

Masculine fantasies

Most of the hip-hop artists I talked to do not consider hip-hop to be something they can make a living from in the future. But while they are young, they love having the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd and of being, or hopefully becoming, famous.

Stereotypes are attached to hip-hop artists in West Papua. The young men told me that there is a stereotype attached to rappers as being troublemakers, drunks and sexually promiscuous. While some rappers in West Papua fit this stereotype, other young men I spoke to told me that the stereotype does not fit them.

Part of the stereotype comes from the fact that during their performances the young men follow the fashion and behaviours they see portrayed in American rap videos. The West Papuan rappers thus emulate what is perceived as a violent form of masculinity in their dress, dance moves and lyrics.

The lyrics of their songs use English mixed with Papuan and Indonesian. Some of the songs include swear words common in English and Papuan. Artists told me that it is considered cool to use English words in their songs, but that it is important that they don’t forget their Papuan heritage. These young men use hip-hop music to project an image of themselves as modern and globally-connected Papuans.

Sexual desire

Many of the hip-hop songs written by young West Papuan men are about love, romance and sexual desire. Songs tell of the experiences of the artist being attracted to women. For instance, the lyrics of the song ‘Ade Kelas’ include the lines: ‘Junior Girl, you shoot me, bang, bang. Your hair is very nice.’

Some of the songs also convey stories about sexual relations and practices considered taboo by many, particularly older generations. For instance, ‘Turun Naik’ describes a dance party where men are groping (meraba kiri dan kanan) women’s bodies.

Hip-hop has a reputation for often containing offensive lyrics that condone and even encourage sexual violence against women. Is hip-hop in West Papua also guilty of this?

Sexual violence

West Papua has one of the highest rates of sexual violence against women in the world. A 2016 UNDP report shows that in West Papua, 38 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.

Another report by UNDP revealed that over 60 per cent of men admitted to being physically and/or sexually violent against women. In addition, there are very high rates of multiple-perpetrator rape.

While hip-hop might provide a space in which artists could condemn sexual violence and promote a form of masculinity not based on sexual violence, the lyrics of popular hip-hop songs often actually glorify rape. For instance, the following lyrics explicitly promote gang rape:

It seemed this girl could play in a group
We locked her in; one to a thousand
Did not have to wait for long
The headquarters were near
Came to the headquarters and friends were surprised
Be patient friends, get in line
We will take turns
Now you all wait there
I will give you a code then you just bang on the door

Such horrifying lyrics as the ones above, which are freely played on social media platforms without censure, reflect the worrying normalisation of sexual violence in West Papua. I could find no Papuan hip-hop songs that condemned sexual violence against women. Other songs popular on social media include lyrics about infidelity, transactional sex (where the exchange of gifts or money plays a role) and sex under the influence of alcohol. While many people are shocked and disturbed that such songs are popular, their concerns are given little voice.

Hip-hop could be a space where young Papuan men take a stand against sexual violence and encourage a form of masculinity that promotes gender equality, but unfortunately some popular hip-hops songs merely serve to reinforce the normalisation of sexual violence against women.

Diana Teresa Pakasi (diana.pakasi@ui.ac.id) is a researcher at the Centre for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Universitas Indonesia.

Inside Indonesia 139: Jan-Mar 2020

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