Reporting from the ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center on the first day of ComplexCon, Angie Martinez, Jesse Williams, Aryn Drake-Lee, and Glenn Kaino discussed how the Internet and app technology is creating spaces for language from people of color, LGBTQ people, and other marginalized groups. Complex contributing editor Chris Lee moderated the conversation. "Language is culture, and culture is language," Williams said early on. "We're seeing a resurgence of people taking back their culture with language."
To this end, Williams, along with Aryan Drake-Lee, his wife, and Glenn Kaino have created an app called Ebroji. It allows for the sharing of GIFs, emojis, and other forms of digital language specifically created by communities of color, LGBTQ communities, and more. In effect, any language that resists the dominant sort of English practiced in America. "Language can be a very effective form of resistance," Kaino said.
Radio legend Angie Martinez, one of the most important voices in hip-hop history, discussed how she was pressured to mask her natural accent and suppress slang when she first started working in the industry. "I was trying to sound like what I thought someone on the radio was supposed to sound like," Martinez said. Eventually, she grew comfortable enough to express herself authentically and found a station to support that, in Hot 97. "There's something beautiful in being who you are and being comfortable with whatever your voice is," she said.
Language and slang evolve and expand constantly, and just as reliably the dominant culture tries to cash in on authentic speech. (This is, of course, particularly germane to thinking about rap music.) "[White people in positions of power] mock the way black people and poor people talk, and six months later they use [that same language] because they laundered it through whiteness," Williams said, sketching out a familiar cycle that unfolds on social media and in pop culture at large all the time. "Do you know how many young black and brown people [have their intellectual property ripped off] by brands?" he said.
Williams, Drake-Lee, and Kaino all agreed that the means to disrupting this cycle is for more marginalized people to start their own ventures and projects. They urged teamwork and collaboration. "Team up with people," Kaino said. "I've done lots of different [work] and I've never done it alone."