I am a scholar, writer and lecturer who studies the way people use art – especially music and dance – to develop new perspectives on social, cultural and political issues.
Most of my work focuses on hip-hop culture as part of a larger complex of expressive traditions of the African Diaspora. I am particularly interested in the abstract stylistic principles that hip-hop’s practitioners have developed to guide both the production and interpretation of their work. Because these principles are not always articulated publically, my scholarship has been heavily informed by my own participation in a wide range of hip-hop practices for over thirty years. One of my central goals over this period has been to refine an ethnographic approach that is responsive to the political, moral and intellectual concerns of the communities in which I work.
The first product of my research was Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-Hop (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), a study of hip-hop’s musical aesthetic, based on over ten years of study with hip-hop producers. It was awarded the International Association for the Study of Popular Music’s 2005 Book Prize, and was re-released in a 10th anniversary edition in 2014, with a new introduction by hip-hop historian Jeff Chang and a new afterword by myself.
My second book, Foundation: B-boys, B-girls and Hip-Hop Culture in New York (Oxford University Press, 2009), focuses on breaking, a form of traditional Afro-Diasporic competitive dance that developed in New York City in the 1970s (and which is sometimes known as “breakdancing,” a term that most dancers reject). This book was also based on extensive ethnographic research, including attendance at virtually every significant breaking event held in New York City between 2003 and 2008.
I also co-authored the textbook Rock: Music, Culture and Business (Oxford University Press, 2012), with Christopher Waterman and Larry Starr.
More information about my books, including how to purchase them, can be found on my Books page.
In addition to my academic work, I have written extensively about music and culture in many non-academic contexts, including the anthologies Total Chaos: The Art & Aesthetics of Hip-Hop and Classic Material; print media including URB, Vibe, The Seattle Weekly, and The Flavor; and many online publications.
For a full CV, please contact me.
“Joe Schloss isn’t just one of the best scholars I know, he’s also been an incredible mentor to a generation of hip-hop scholars and ethnographers. In the years I’ve known him, he’s been like an advisor/editor/sounding board, all wrapped into one and I know my work has deeply benefitted from his insights and support.”
—Dr. Oliver Wang, Associate Professor of Sociology, CSU-Long Beach
“Foundation expertly blends the history of b-boying and hip-hop’s cultural and musical development with the results of the author’s ethnographic observation. The result is a perceptive and nuanced analysis that takes academic writing on hip-hop into new areas. The book is punctuated by the expressive words of Schloss’s interviewees, which combine with the stylish crispness of Schloss’s more academic prose to make it a pleasure to read. For readers with an interest in contemporary American or popular culture, urban history, or youth subcultures, this is an important work. In the rapidly expanding field of hip-hop studies, Foundation is likely to become a key text.”
—Journal of American Studies
“Joseph Schloss’s Making Beats: The Art of Sample-based Hip-hop, the first ethnographic study of hip-hop production, embodies its subject. The very character of his prose mimics deejaying / production techniques. Schloss cross-fades between quotations from his consultants and his own reflections; layers multiple voices and ideas into the mix; ruptures the flow of his prose to pointedly correct misconceptions about hip-hop production; and loops themes of agency, compositional intention, and aesthetic pleasure throughout the book. For hip-hop scholars, connoisseurs, and fans, however, the most valuable aspect of Schloss’s study is his determined myth-busting… Schloss’s consistent emphasis on artistic agency, musical processes, and individual compositional proclivities make this an important study for fans, scholars, critics, and anyone who needs convincing that hip-hop music, is, in fact, music.”
—Journal of Popular Music Studies
“Foundation is the best work ever produced on b-boying, and one of the finest books yet to emerge from the swiftly proliferating ranks of hip-hop scholarship… Schloss’s insights are wide-ranging and consistently illuminating… Schloss’s book is a major contribution to a new school of hip-hop scholarship, one whose aesthetic and political engagement transcends the simplistic attack/defend paradigm that has plagued the public discourse for so long. “It is not enough to simply say that hip-hop is a complex and sophisticated cultural tradition,” he writes. “We must demonstrate it.” For a compelling and under-examined art form, Foundation does just that.”