What does it mean, ethereal?
Hmmm...either heavenly or spiritual
Extreme, delicately light in a way that seems too perfect for this world
-Nas, MC Burial

People have different images of what "ethereal" may mean, with many people perhaps leaning towards the Maxfield Parrish interpretation, or perhaps to pictures of faeries on collectible plates. Those who know about Nas, even among hip-hop fans, would perhaps not immediately characterize him as "heavenly", being that he is known for perhaps being the most gritty, violent, and street hip-hop artist from the city of New York. The fact that the above quote comes from a song directed at battling 50 Cent, and his materialistic marketing machine, doesn't change the fact that Nas may not fit many people's visions of ethereal.

The inspiration for this node came from an incidental line in my writeup of gangsta rap, where I made a reference to hip-hop being the "anima" of American culture. I doublechecked what I had written, and realized that perhaps what I actually meant to write was that hip-hop was the "shadow" of mainstream American culture. After some research into Jungian psychology, I realized that hip-hop, both internally, and in terms of how mainstream American culture projects onto it, is both a shadow and an anima.

The Shadow represents all of what people fear about themselves, and what they seem to fall into. The Shadow is violent, impulsive, nihilistic, debasing, reductionist, and focused on only its own internal drives, turning away from everything else that is going on in the world. It should also be noted that some Jungians believe that the Shadow often takes on the dream image of a darker skinned person, meaning that whether or not the African-American population likes it or not, they be the incidental receptacles of our archetypes.

The Anima is like the Shadow in some ways. The Anima is also home of the violence and impulses of the soul. The Anima is not tame, and in its unpredicability and destructiveness can be much more frightening than the Shadow. But the Anima is also creative, and open to the outside world, and is full of innovation, play, orginality, and delight. Perhaps the main way I would describe the difference between the Shadow and the Anima is that the Shadow can be all-too-predicable, while the Anima is the most unpredictable thing we will meet.

If you are a fan of hip-hop, or a critic, you may be familiar with one of these. You should be familiar with both. Yes, there is much hip-hop music that is unredeemably violent, and seems to be full of hatred for anyone that is not the rapper speaking. As a hip-hop fan, I steer clear of this, but occasionally it assails my ears. There is much hip-hop music that intellectually, easy listening fans, or ideological bourgeious intellectuals can also listen to. There is a middle ground, and in hip-hop, this middle ground is what is the most interesting. There is also some great music touching on emotions of grief, longing, joy, anger, and many other emotions that it is hard to describe in a way that does not offend or challenge people. The difference between a song that is violent from the Shadow perspective, and a song that is violent from the Anima perspective, is very slight, perhaps even what you would call ethereal. It is, however, there, and hip-hop fans should learn it, and members of the dominant culture should also learn it, because it is their Shadow, their Anima that is being projected into hip-hop, when just maybe it is time to take it out and confront it directly.

The anima is a spiritual reality. It may not be a spiritual reality we are always comfortable with, but it is sometimes our only way to work our way out of the traps our minds and societies have created for ourselves. Although mainstream bourgeious society would suggest that the cure for social ills is to increase peoples' abstractions, to chip away on technical programs until we have entered a world of unlimited energy and boundless happiness, there are several reasons this may not work. Occasionally we are going to have to look the other way. And when we do, its a good idea to study the middle ground of hip-hop, between the Shadow, with its reductionist, nihilistic violence, and the rigid ideological correctness some people would place on hip-hop or our culture as a whole; to the middle ground, where spirituality meets the reality of life experience, and tries to find a better way to live.

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