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Black Histories and Futures Month: "Tell Me What You Know About Dreamin’: The Terrors and Triumphs of Party Culture in Kid Cudi’s 'Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)'” by Rachel Riddell

Our second student submission for the Black Histories and Futures Month Student Research Showcase is "Tell Me What You Know About Dreamin': The Terrors and Triumphs of Party Culture in Kid Cudi's 'Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)'" by Rachel Riddell. 

As Rachel explains,

By definition, black pop culture is a contradictory space. It is a sight of strategic contestation. But it can never be simplified or explained in terms of the simple binary oppositions that are still habitually used to map it out: high and low [...] There are always positions to be won in pop culture… (Stuart Hall, Black Popular Culture, 26). Hall’s disavowal of monolithic frameworks—routinely used to oppress and diminish Black peoples— is imperative in my analysis of rapper Kid Cudi’s seminal song “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” and its dismantling of European sonic priorities. While rap music has been subject to racist sentiments that not only diminishes its capacity for sociopolitical possibilities but rejects it as a form of music at-large, my essay treats Kid Cudi’s song as a rich and complex survey of party culture, and how the neoliberal contempt for it is rooted in white supremacy. I argue that “Pursuit of Happiness (Nightmare)” challenges colonial values as the song’s meaning, predicated on the tension between its linguistic and instrumental elements, dismantles the European priority on lyrics as the main source of symbolism in music. Cudi specifically disrupts this white cultural emphasis as his lyricism and composition reflect different values, as he shares a nuanced perspective on partying and aligns with the tradition of Black popular culture that shifts from the binary oppositions of European art. To explicate my assertion, I weave in scholarship from prolific figures in Black studies—from Queen’s University’s Dr. Katherine McKittrick to hip hop studies pioneers Tricia Rose and Imani Perry—to examine how Cudi’s dynamic and nuanced view of party culture is expressed both syntactically and musically, and considers, in McKittrick’s formulation, how “music dancing, music jumping, music singing [...] is one way black communities physiologically and neurobiologically navigate racist worlds” (McKittrick, Katherine and Alexander G. Weheliye. “808s & Heartbreak,” 21).


In honour of Black Histories and Futures Month, the Department of History is featuring undergraduate student research that addresses Black histories, Black cultures, and Black experiences. Throughout the month of February, we will post the three essays deemed to be the strongest of the many exceptional projects we received during our open submission call. The selected papers were produced for courses in the Department of History and the Dan School of Music, namely: MUSC 271: Introduction to Hip Hop, HIST 473: Black Women in US History, and HIST 216: US Civil War and Reconstruction.  

We hope you enjoy reading our students’ work! The Selection Committee would like to thank all of those who submitted their work for consideration. Learn more about events on campus and in Kingston celebrating Black Histories and Futures Month here. 

Department of History, Queen's University

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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.