Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Andrea Wright

Committee Members

Sibel Zandi-Sayek

Anne Rasmussen

Stephen Sheehi

Negar Razavi


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia serves as a stronghold of Southeast Asia’s commercially successful hip-hop music industry, and is also home to a thriving underground scene. Concurrent with the growth of hip-hop are the significant urban redevelopments that the city has undergone since the 1990s (Fujita 2010). These notable developments, such as the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, are part of the broader pattern of constructing “global cities” – cities that market distinct urban brand images on a global scale to attract tourism and international investment (Ong 2011). This particular type of urbanism exists within the political economic structure of neoliberalism, which operates as a hegemonic discourse that finds its way into the “commonsense way we interpret, live in, and understand the world” (Harvey 2007, 22), promoting privatization and commodification and structuring our social relations in a distinctly entrepreneurial way (Harvey 2007, Lemke 2001). From May 2019 until the present, I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork on underground hip-hop in Kuala Lumpur, both through participant observation and digital fieldwork. As my research shows, the hip-hop scene is intimately intertwined with neoliberal urbanism. I focus on the types of spaces that the underground rap scene occupies, constructs, and modifies, and how practices of performance, marketing, and self-identification weave in and out of accordance with established neoliberal narratives about success. I argue that the ways that people make, perform, consume, and engage with this scene are extremely complex, and cannot be classified neatly into categories of resistance or cooperation with capitalism, offer new avenues for approaching the materiality and spatiality of rap music, and complicate our understanding of how the discourse of neoliberalism functions.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

On-Campus Access Only