For fans of music made in the post-War era, lowriders—the flashy classic cars with tiny wheels, Snoop’s 64 Impala—are the stuff of West Coast rap videos, with the crown of biggest baller on the block given to the guy whose whip scrapes lowest. But lowrider culture runs deeper than beater old Chevys bouncing on hydraulics. Like all automotive subcultures, the lowrider community is tight-knit; unlike others, the community’s numerous clubs have a historically political bent.
Ben Chappell, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas, wrote a book that shows that lowriders aren’t merely cars. Not only do the cars speak volumes about class and ethnicity, but they challenge and redefine the way we interpret contemporary urban space. Chappell propelled himself directly into lowrider culture, talking to those directly involved, and reaching conclusions that will make you think of more than the last Game mixtape the next time someone mentions hydraulics. I asked Chappell how the book came about and what lowriders tell us about the country.
MOTHERBOARD: What originally inspired you to write an entire book on the culture surrounding lowriders?
Ben Chappell: I went to grad school because I was interested in understanding how aesthetics intersected with politics. Growing up in the 80s, I was inspired by hip-hop, which I felt was addressing some issues of race and class that I didn’t see political leaders or other authorities dealing with. I moved to Texas to study, saw some lowriders cruising around town, and immediately felt that there was something interesting going on there.