Deaf Rappers Fight to be Heard in a Field Dominated by Sound
April 11, 2015 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I first saw Prinz-D in 2011, in a basement rec room at Gallaudet. He stood tall and confident, dressed in all white, coolly holding the mic to his side until the beat dropped in. The grounding 808 sub-bass kick drums ignited the stage, his limbs and the audience. As a general rule with predominantly Deaf audiences, Prinz-D performs in both American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English. The ASL is compromised when he holds a microphone, which is one reason why most Deaf or HOH entertainers perform without one, opting instead to shout along to a track and focus the performance on accentuating the signs and dancing. Some members of the audience were clearly annoyed by his haphazard attention to signing, but in general, Prinz-D kept the crowd engaged. They were feeling it — literally.
posted by josher71 (18 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I had never thought of it as such, but it makes perfect sense. Rap is largely about the beat, and that is something that can be physically felt. Layering on top of that the lyrics and hand gestures, it's amazing that I had never thought, considered or known of any deaf rappers before today. Honestly it is pretty cool.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:15 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eyeth is a pretty cool planet, as opposed to Earth where all the muggles use ears for hearing. As if.

I have a huge respect and love of deaf performers. Thanks for posting this!
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is really cool. It's like a midpoint between song and dance.
posted by painquale at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2015

Just a friendly reminder that the artists here identify as Deaf, and it's important not to erase that cultural component by calling them deaf, even if they also do identify as deaf. I'm particularly prickly about this because often in mainstream media, Deaf performers will be introduced as deaf as if to imply that they're some kind of "inspirational figure" who has "overcome their disability". Moreover, the suggestion is that we're just apeing hearing people rather than expressing our unique culture and experiences, which goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that ASL is just a signed version of English rather than a language in itself. ASL music isn't just Deaf people pretending to be like hearing people - it's an entirely different artform. Deaf artists don't perform because they want to be seen as a "handicapped" version of hearing culture, but because it's a form of cultural expression in itself. So it's important to use Deaf over deaf here as so not to erase the cultural dimension.
posted by Conspire at 10:16 AM on April 11, 2015 [9 favorites]

I had totally missed the capitalisation of Deaf throughout the article so the beginning of your comment confused the hell out of me Conspire! But thank you, as it's a nuance I wasn't aware of before now. I have had conversations with people about Deaf culture/the debate over cochlear implants/signing as a distinct language etc but it occurs to me now that I never saw any of it written down, or if I did I hadn't grasped that the spelling wasn't arbitrary. TIL :) And interesting post josher71, thanks.
posted by billiebee at 11:17 AM on April 11, 2015

Also never had any idea that there was a difference in meaning based on the capitalization of deaf/Deaf. Thanks for dropping the knowledge.
posted by the jam at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2015

I was wondering when this post went up, mostly out of ignorance on my part, is ASL used by signers who grew up in other languages? How divorced from English is it actually? Is it possible that a signing rapper could make rhymes that are physical rather than auditory?
posted by LionIndex at 12:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Aaand wikipedia tells me that ASL is a sort of lingua franca, since a lot of people will learn it as a second sign language in addition to their native one, but that even other English-speaking countries use a different system.
posted by LionIndex at 12:18 PM on April 11, 2015

ASL is one of many signed languages. It is pretty much completely divorced from English because the syntax of signed languages is dramatically different from that of spoken/written languages. For one thing, spoken languages have only one dimension (time), whereas signed languages have four (time and the three dimensions of space). There is also the fact that signed languages assign specific meaning not only to the movement of the hands and arms, but also to movements of the face.

Sentences in spoken languages are very linear; in English, they often go from subject to verb to object, for example. But in signed languages, a set of references might be established in three dimensional space, and then those spaces will be used to describe the interactions between them.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:24 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I initially meant more in the meanings of the words/signs, but I guess that's sort of tied up with the syntax anyway. I was just thinking that if the signs the rapper was using were mutually intelligble to people who grew up in other spoken language cultures, "rhymes" could be based on repeated phonemic components of the signs rather than relying on their spoken equivalent, but from the article it looks like they're concerned about not alienating a hearing audience.
posted by LionIndex at 2:06 PM on April 11, 2015

I don't understand why the author of the article is using "Deaf(ness)" in may of these contexts: "Multiple people emphatically advised earplugs. 'If not, you'll be Deaf, too!' one joked." How could a loud concert make you a self-identified member of a minority group? Is this a typical way to write about these topics?
posted by koavf at 9:37 PM on April 11, 2015

I don't understand why the author of the article is using "Deaf(ness)" in may of these contexts: "Multiple people emphatically advised earplugs. 'If not, you'll be Deaf, too!' one joked." How could a loud concert make you a self-identified member of a minority group? Is this a typical way to write about these topics?

The author is hearing, judging from a cursory google search. Someone probably told her that she should be using Deaf to describe them, given she did go to Gallaudet and that's about the first thing they tell hearing people - but she's probably overapplying it now.
posted by Conspire at 9:47 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

ASL seems like a natural fit for rappers, since they never seem to know what to do with their hands anyway
posted by unknownmosquito at 11:06 PM on April 11, 2015

Just out of curiosity, are "deaf" and "Deaf" very distinct in ASL?
posted by Etrigan at 4:05 AM on April 12, 2015

So they're Def and Deaf?
posted by euphorb at 6:59 AM on April 12, 2015

Just out of curiosity, are "deaf" and "Deaf" very distinct in ASL?

No, we just have the one sign, which in a way reflects the attitude around deafness in Deaf culture - it's not seen as a disability, but just as a natural variation in the human experience. In hearing society, we're marked out as abnormal, but within our language, we're the norm - if you want to talk about non-signing or non-culturally deaf people, you use "oral deaf" or the slang "hearing-minded". Hearing people just don't get this - that we don't center hearing people as default in our culture.
posted by Conspire at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought the sign HEARING-MIND was more of an insult?
posted by cobain_angel at 1:27 PM on April 12, 2015

I thought the sign HEARING-MIND was more of an insult?

It's partially a generational thing. Prior to cochlear implants, I'd argue that it had more of a connotation of pity - Deaf people wouldn't really understand why anyone would opt for partial communication over being able to communicate in a fully capable language. When cochlear implants made their appearance, people were much more eager to draw sharp lines in the sand due to the threat to Deaf culture, so that's when it began having the connotation of someone who's betrayed their roots. Nowadays, since we're past that - and especially since Deaf youth have been incubated with more inclusive/diverse values in addition to having grown up around cochlear implants - I'm seeing it used more often as a self-depreciating self-identifier, especially since people are aware that adhering to hearing values and using spoken language grants a Deaf person with a lot more privilege than someone who rejects or does not have access to either.

The point is that if you sign deaf, people are going to assume that you mean a culturally-involved, signing Deaf person, so you have to specify if you mean otherwise. This is in contrast to hearing society, which assumes that when you talk about a deaf person, you're talking about someone who is the exact same as a hearing person except they can't hear.
posted by Conspire at 2:02 PM on April 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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