In this article Pardue explores new practices of cultural expression, meaning making, and identity through rap music CD cover art. Pardue set out to find why certain images, colors, and compositional/design layouts were used on CD cover art. He believed that an examination of hip hop aesthetics would connect to larger hip-hop ideologies. Through ethnographic research and analysis of visual materials, CD cover art, Pardue “suggest[s] that the debate over representation in Brazilian hip-hop is not only a struggle in identity politics for semantic and aesthetic control of a growing phenomenon, but also a provocative exercise in cultural education[…]” (62). Pardue argues that Brazilian hip-hop artists use CD cover art to make connections between ideologies and images. Moreover, he posits that CD cover art plays a significant part in hip hop meaning making. Through interviews, he discovered that many of the hip-hoppers focused on “connecting particular images, colors, and typographies to a range of ideologies, regarding ‘reality’ “ (64). The CD cover art is a part of cultural design, which Pardue defines as a combination of “critical and generative aspects of graphic arts and social science” (67). The hip-hop ideologies and graphics connect “back to material and social conditions of periferia places’ (68). The “marginal” hip-hoppers and “positive” hip hoppers each use different images, typography, and composition to convey their respective ideologies. The former uses visuals “to return the viewer-listener to the reality of life conditions, which are filled with danger, frustration, struggle and partially fulfilled subjectivities,” and the latter “seek to de-center ‘violence’ as the primary discourse of signification” (75). The hip-hoppers use specific typography to represent their messages. For example, stencil like fonts are used to represent the system, but handwritten like fonts are thought to represent hip hop reality. Religious images and typography (i.e. gothic lettering) are sometimes used to present religious beliefs and specific localities or neighborhoods that the hip-hoppers represent. The CD cover art plays a significant role in cultural meaning in Brazilian hip-hop culture. The cover art moves beyond mere representation to connecting “aesthetic aspects of identity as well as the representation of material life conditions (‘reality’) and potential social change” (79). The use of these specific design aesthetics have created guidelines and essentialized certain aspects of Brazilian hip-hop culture. It has also fostered a cultural and technological literacy.
Pardue’s work on CD cover art parallels aspects of American mixtape cover art. Pardue specifically focused on how access to information technology aided Brazilian hip-hoppers in creating new forms of cultural expression. While the same cannot be said for American hip hop scene, his exploration of the connections between images, design, composition, and typography with specific localities and ideologies provides a useful framework for my examination of CD cover art as response to mainstream hip-hop and an attempt to maintain hip-hop ideologies. Moreover, I think Pardue’s theoretical framework of “cultural design” is useful for examining, as he says, “social theory and graphic design” (67). The article overall focuses on the specific design and layout of the CD covers, but Pardue and the artists he interviewed refer to the covers as art. Pardue defines art that is “productive as form and content engage in dialogue ot affect a potentially resistant signifying practice” (68). In regards to the course, Pardue’s exploration of CD cover art adds to our discussion of art vs design.