In The Canterbury Tales, one of the most fascinating characters is Alisoun, the Wife of Bath. Written by a male author, one with his own troubling history with women, in her tale Alisoun nonetheless cuts right to a question of representation -- in art, in life -- by retelling a fable where a lion complains about a painting showing a successful lion-hunter and notes that a lion artist would paint a much different portrait. Similarly, Alisoun notes, responding to another of the pilgrims who has been citing learned authorities about troublesome women and wives earlier, that if women were the authorities, they could speak "of men more wikkednesse / Than al the merk of Adam may redress." It's 'just' a battle of the sexes moment if you want to call it that, but it was never an equal one.

This literary moment and its wider applicability has been floating around my head lately thanks to three projects debuting or announced this month here in America that all, in very different but key ways, seek to represent or incorporate two things: interpreting history and celebrating hip-hop. To talk about every one of them in detail is beyond the scope of a short piece like this, but what's been fascinating to me is how the creators or artists in question -- none of them African American -- are also outsiders to an American mainstream understanding of hip-hop. Yet not equal outsiders, by any means.

The highest profile so far has been Fresh Off the Boat, based on the memoir of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, also the narrator and co-producer of the show. The show has gained attention on numerous levels, from its position as first Asian American sitcom on national TV in two decades to Huang's combative, very public statements about avoiding generic or too pat results. But the book is also a memoir of hip-hop as Huang grew up with it in the 1990s, the acts he loved and the songs he identified with, and why. The questions and potential tensions at how hip-hop is now used for the show is already the subject of discussion even at only three episodes in -- there's celebration and nostalgia, but, as writer Christina Lee notes, after discussing Huang's unease with an anachronistic scene involving Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and 'making it rain,' "This gag wasn't for hip-hop fans, but a general audience with only the vaguest knowledge of rap and its place within pop culture....It's not that I don't like these moments of comic relief [but] part of me wonders, though, if like the memoir, this sitcom adaptation will have a more serious scene dedicated to Tupac's Me Against the World.

Photo courtesy of Public Theater
Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

While Huang's project comes from his desire to share a specific autobiography, though other hands can use anachronism knowingly for their work in turn, and such is the case with Lin-Manuel Miranda. Unseen except by New York City audiences as yet, Hamilton is the newest musical from Miranda, creator of the Tony-award winning hit In the Heights. A New York native of Puerto Rican background, Miranda grew up with hip-hop much like Huang did in that time and place, and by default and intent incorporates it into his work as a compositional element. However, unlike the present-day setting of In the Heights, Hamilton is an ambitious effort to tell the story and time of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founders of the United States, interpreted on stage in this initial production by Miranda and a team of actors from widely different backgrounds. This story by Rebecca Mead delves much deeper into Miranda, Hamilton, hip-hop and how that's all come together -- everything from approving nods from Common about Miranda's freestyling skills to one of the producers anxious to stress that it's not a hip-hop musical as such, another little moment of strange tension. (When the producer says, "No one wants to listen to hip-hop all night" he speaks of a Broadway context in specific, presumably, but I'm sure the millions who do listen just that way on a regular basis would have something to say.)

"History may be reinterpreted or rewritten but it is not complete if the major figures still telling the stories or causing them to be told come from one location on the gender or sexuality spectrum."

Then there's Baz Luhrmann. The Australian director, joining what's become a rush of established figures towards cable and streaming services, announced an upcoming effort with Netflix called The Get Down, billed as a history of hip-hop's earliest days in the Bronx. After a year where the success of his countrywoman Iggy Azalea produced no small share of side-eyeing and more besides -- the biggest success of the recent Grammy awards for many was the fact she didn't actually win anything -- this news almost seemed the icing on that particular cake. Given that Miranda's own form of creative anachronism with Hamilton, Luhrmann's own obsessive interest in doing similarly throughout much of his film career isn't necessarily a strike against him, and in the announcement linked above he stressed that he has "a team of extraordinary writers and musicians, many of whom grew up with and lived the story we've set out to tell." Still, considering his most recent film's aim at removing any form of deeper observation in favor of glossy celebration, it's little wonder the announcement was met with suspicion. Without knowing more as it stands, though, for now it has to be left hanging.

Photo courtesy of Netflix
Baz Luhrmann's The Get Down. Set to premiere in 2016.

Having invoked the idea of the Wife of Bath at the start, though, I will note the obvious irony here in that the three figures I've mentioned are all straight men -- history may be reinterpreted or rewritten but it is not complete if the major figures still telling the stories or causing them to be told come from one location on the gender or sexuality spectrum. (Christina Lee's reaction to Fresh Off the Boat, noted above, tells her own story of growing up with hip-hop and what it meant; another essay worth reading on the show is by New York MC Awkwafina.) As history and hip-hop further intertwine and are interpreted, will the hands making the creative calls, getting the deals, holding the palettes, uses the brushes, painting the lions, always be biased towards that location? One can look at these creations and more and note progress or at least variety, but never a finishing line.

Ned Raggett writes for the likes of The Quietus, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and Red Bull Music Academy. You can find him over on Twitter.