This cross stitch features lyrics from DMX's 'Party Up' sewn in sweet pastel threads onto vintage fabric. The implications of this sort of cultural mash-up are vast. Though not necessarily bad, it is a bit jarring to see an art form dominated by black males reinterpreted as a craft primarily done by white females.
Cross stitching is a form of needlework embroidery which was popular from the 1600s to the 1900s. Historically, needlework was a requirement for running a well-kept house and cross stitching was an important aspect of that. Rap’s roots are quite different. It was born in urban African-American communities, bubbling up from the underground in the 1980s and coming to mainstream popularity in the early 90s.
Combining these two radically different art forms alters the tone of both. In many ways, rap is a declaration of identity which emphasizes dominance, presence, and style. Cross stitching, needlepointing and otherwise crafting these lyrics strips the music of it’s original spirit, making it simple, making it ironic. The repossession, repackaging and reselling of this identity by a white audience could be considered condescending. It treats the black male as “the other” and by reclaiming that message, owns it and makes it more palatable to a white audience.
On the other hand, this juxtaposition of the two starkly different arts could arguably enhance both. The complementary colours theory is one of art’s most basic: placing a colour adjacent to it’s opposite on the colour wheel emphasizes the essence of each. The same could be said for these DIY rap creations. The contrast created by stitching raps may make the tone of each stronger and clearer. Stitching Rick Ross's "everyday I'm hustling" in pink thread over a tumble of flowers makes visible the stark contrasts of tones, and clarifies each. By taking these lyrics and this craft out of their original context, it emphasizes both the words of the music and the style of the stitching.
It’s also interesting that this music has found an audience in the women it so frequently disparages, and that those women have glorified the message in a traditionally domestic and feminine art form. It's no secret that rap culture objectifies women, using them as status symbols, and revels in misogyny. By flipping this trend and owning it, the women making this art could be achieving a triumphant satire. Can anything take the sting out of "bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks" quite like sewing it in eggshell blue thread next to a pot of flowers on a throw pillow?
This discussion of ownership raises an important question in art: isn’t it well within the rights of the audience and the artist to play with anything that inspires them? After all, Picasso said that good artists borrow and great artists steal. Once an idea or an image has been shared, it becomes as relevant to the audience as it is to the source. Rap may have started in the black community, but it is now thoroughly ingrained in contemporary culture. It can’t and shouldn’t be confined to one community, however that community is defined. Rap’s crossover into the craft world is an important reminder of its appeal and cultural significance, and of the ability of pop culture to share perspectives.
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