Bourbon 'n BrownTown

Ep. 29 - Code Switching ft. Heavy Crownz

Episode Summary

BrownTown again welcomes Heavy Crownz, rapper and educator, to the conversation around the nuances, personal experiences, and real life implications of code switching.

Episode Notes

Heavy Crownz is an MC and high school educator hailing from Chicago's Englewood community. With a degree in History from Tuskegee University, Crownz aims to create personal music from the soul in a style of flow he calls AfroTrap. His strongest motivations to go on have been the need for people to have good music with substance and purpose.

Near the end of episode 25, the podcast’s first live recording at DePaul University, Heavy and Caullen began discussing the nuances of code switching. In this episode, BrownTown welcomes Heavy back to continue that conversation. The gang breaks down their personal experiences with code switching and how it interplays with respectability politics, social mobility, and survival. Code switching is a linguistic phenomenon often described as switching between dialects, or changing the way in which one speaks, in order to more easily acquiesce to a particular environment or be understood/validated by a particular person(s). These alterations can include changes to rhetoric, language itself (slang/vocabulary), tone, syntax, diction, body language, overall demeanor and can be both conscious and unconscious. Though everyone plays this game to some degree, in America it’s often discussed and practiced amongst Black folks and other people of color (see Insider’s take).

BrownTown begins by inquiring about Heavy’s experience traversing the worlds of hip-hop and educational institutions. All three dive into personal experiences at places of work and growing up fluctuating between their “native” speech and code switching to better assimilate into situations. David brings in a bilingual perspective, adding more depth to the discussion. In relation to friends and family as well as society at-large, BrownTown and Heavy make parallels to broader issues, recognizing their and others’ privilege regarding language, access, and discourse. They analyze how the need to and refusal to code switch can create unconscious value judgements and indications of one’s relationship to the dominant social and cultural order. The group spends much of the episode broadening the linguistic definition of code switching to social situations in white spaces and the internal monologue of Black and Brown folks to resist playing up stereotypes for sake of onlookers (see SoapBox editorial piece). This is intermixed with discussions of Boots’ Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You and the Saturday Night Live Prison Job skit.

In short, the gang subverts the idea of “appropriate” and “proper” language and demeanor, sending up these notions as inherently problematic, othering, and ultimately harmful. However, they recognize the real consequences this brings: Heavy articulates how, while in college, Martin Luther King Jr. felt immense pressure to code switch and dismantle every stereotype about Black men in order to avoid any additional discrimination and hindrance to his education. Caullen references Fred Hampton’s powerful oratory and ability to capture attention to organize all kinds of people with his rhetoric. All three push back against the idea that one need code switch to be ”respectable” yet understand its real life implications.


Find Heavy’s music on Spotify, Soundcloud and YouTube. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


CREDITS: Intro music by Fiendsh with soundbite from Dave Chappelle on Inside the Actor's Studio. Outro song Dangerous by Heavy Crownz. Audio engineered by Genta Tamashiro.


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