Review – “That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader

That's the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader
That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader by Mark Anthony Neal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All of the review is found here:

“The thing about hip hop that people keep forgetting, is that it’s not just one definite thing.”

A third into this book, I noted:

“The bad thing about this anthology is the amount of repetition: no more about Herc, Flash and Bam, please!”

Apart from the incessant repetition – not only related to The Big Three – this anthology is really worthwhile. It’s big. It’s intimidating, but there are such nuggets here that the academic vocabulary – which sometimes really got on my nerves; should I hear the word “diaspora” soon again I’ll scream – can be overcome.

The edition of the book I read is dated but there is actually a new version printed and sold starting in August 2011! I still really recommend David Toop’s brilliant, brilliant book on hip-hop, called “Rap Attack!“.

This massively big anthology, however, starts from the start of hip-hop, and delves deeper back in time than that. The elements of hip-hop are of course much more complex than just the verbal, for example the graffiti:

By summer 1971 the appearance of the mysterious message “Taki 183“ had sufficiently aroused the curiosity of New Yorkers to lead the New York Times to send one of its reporters to determine its meaning. The results of his search, published on July 21, 1971, revealed that Taki was an unemployed seventeen year old with nothing better to do than pass the summer AU. […] He explained, “I just did it everywhere I went. I still do, though not as much. You don’t do it for girls; they don’t seem to care. You do it for yourself. You don’t go after it to be elected president.“ The reporter interviewed other appropriate neighborhood youths, including Julio 204 and Ray A.O. (for “all over“), who were following in the footsteps of Taki, to whom they referred as the king, and he spoke with an official of the MTA who stated that more than $300,000 was being spent annually to erase graffiti. Patrolman Floyd Holoway, a vice-president of the Transit Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association questioned by the reporter as to the legal machinery relating to graffiti writing, explained that graffiti was barred only by MTA rules, not by law. Thus writers under the age of sixteen could only be given a lecture, not a summons, even if they were caught in the act of writing on the walls. Adult writers could be charged with malicious mischief and sentenced to up to a year’s imprisonment. Taki confessed that as he grew older, he worried more about facing adult penalties for writing graffiti but admitted, “I could never retire…besides…it doesn’t harm anybody. I work. I pay taxes too. Why do they go after the little guy? Why not the campaign organizations that put stickers all over the subways at election time?”

And if you think the Wu-Tang Clan were the first Asiatic influence in hip-hop, you’re off:

Crazy Legs is considered by many to be the main focal point of the transition from old school to new school. Having invented many of the new breakdance moves like backspins and windmills, Crazy Legs is the one to whom many of the new school breakers of today are indebted. But other breakers along the way had their influences on the new school of breaking. Not only breakdancers, but media stars like Bruce Lee and other Kung Fu film stars and martial artists had a major influence on breakdancing culture. As said before, the popularity of Kung Fu films during the mid- and late 70s around the world, and especially in New York City, has had a great impact on breakdancing style. Many of the breakdancers were avid fans of martial artists like Bruce Lee. A large number of martial arts moves were incorporated into breakdancing through the influence of the films and the interest in martial arts vis-à -vis Bruce Lee. The Chinese, like many other folk around the world, mainly the Russian peasants and African slaves in early America, had a dance or style of movement that was influenced heavily by the animals on which they depended for survival. Instead of manifesting itself in dance like in Africa, or through sports like the gymnastics of the Eurasians and eastern Europeans, the Chinese animal emulation was expressed through martial arts. Styles like the white crane, tiger style, five star praying mantis, eagle, and monkey style were means of expressing body movement and fighting techniques through the imitation of animal movement. By imitating animal movement a human was able to do moves and body movements that served as a martial art. Kung Fu, with its imitation of animal movements, is a stylized form of human expression. Its heavy emphasis on style and rhythm was a natural influence and inspiration to breakdancing. The films featuring Bruce Lee and other great Kung Fu martial artists appealed to the working class aesthetics of the Bronx and the rest of New York street kids. Since most Kung Fu movements hug close to the ground and use the whole body, both the hands and feet, it was a natural influence on breaking moves. Windmills, which are gyroscopic body movements, are very similar to certain Kung Fu moves.

And then, the music hits. Hard. From a period piece in a national paper, pre-1980s:

NEW YORK. A funny thing has been happening at Downstairs Records here. The store, which is the city’s leading disco product retailer, has been getting calls for obscure r&b cutouts such as Dennis Coffy’s “Son of Scorpio,“ on Sussex, Jeannie Reynolds’ “Fruit Song“ on Casablanca, and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock“ on Pride. The requests, for the most part, come from young black disco DJs from the Bronx who are buying the records just to play the 30 seconds or so of rhythm breaks that each disk contains. The demand for these records, which the kids call B-beats, has gotten so great that Downstairs has had to hire a young Bronxite, Elroy Meighan, to handle it. According to Meighan the man responsible for this strange phenomenon is a 26-year old mobile DJ who is known in the Bronx as Cool Herc. It seems Herc rose to popularity by playing long sets of assorted rhythm breaks strung together. Other Bronx DJs have picked up the practice and now B-beats are the rage all over the borough, and the practice is spreading rapidly.

David Toop has done some extraordinary detective work on where New York rap came from: Rap’s forebears stretch back through disco, street funk, radio djs, Bo Diddley, the be-bop singers, Cab Calloway, Pigmeat Markham, the tap dancers and comics, the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Muhammad Ali, a cappella and doo-wop groups, ring games, skip rope rhymes, prison and army songs, toasts, signifying and the dozens, all the way back to the griots of Nigeria and Gambia.11 The mix is very rich. The radio DJs Toop refers to were the jive-talkers of the be-bop era like Daddy O Daylie, Dr. Hep Cat and Douglas Jocko Henderson (the “Ace from Space“).

As Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash basically created the scene by DJing, introducing MCs and building the scratching techniques that are used to this day. In an interview with Source Magazine, all three are into it:

THE SOURCE: Who was the first person to take the record in the bathtub and wipe the labels off?

FLASH: That was me. People were getting too close, you know. I will give all due respect to my boys right here, but you know, other people.

HERC: He put us on a wild goose chase [everyone laughs].

BAM: I had a way of telling things from the color of the album. I could know if it was Mercury or Polygram. Then I would try to see who it sounded like.

FLASH: Hey Bam, I followed you on a Saturday with glasses on. I seen one bin you went to, pulled the same shit you pulled, took that shit home“”and the break wasn’t on the muthafucka [everyone is hysterical].

BAM: I used to tell people, “Do not follow me and buy what I buy,“ and I went into a record store and everyone was waitin’ around to see what I pulled. So I pulled some Hare Krishna records [everyone laughs]. It had beats but . . .

FLASH: You couldn’t play that bullshit. I got a crate full of bullshit.

After graduating in electronics, Flash began combining his two main interests: sound technology and hard funk. He made his own system and would play at night in local parks. To get the power he needed to operate the system he would run a cable from the decks and amplifier to the nearest street light. Flash became an expert at punch phasing. This is when the DJ hits a particular break on one deck while the record on the other turntable is still playing. The punch works in hip hop like a punctuation mark in a sentence. It helps to give shape to the flow of sounds on the record in the same way that a comma or a full stop helps to shape the flow of written language. And just as punctuation brings time to the pages of this book by telling the reader when to pause, so the punch in hip hop can be used to accentuate the beat and the rhythm for the dancing crowd. Flash was also one of the first hip hop DJs to work with a beat box: a machine that produces an electronic drum beat. Together with his MC crew“”headed in those days by Melle Mel“”Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five produced a hard rapping style that became their trademark. As Flash leapt from deck to deck using multiple turntables Mel would rap in an aggressive, staccato style to the raw, stripped down electronic beat.

This makes me want to go back in time:

Afrika Bambaataa likes mixing things up, too. He has been known to cut from salsa to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to Yellow Magic Orchestra to calypso through Kraftwerk via video game sound effects and the Munsters television series’ theme tune back to his base in James Brown. And in 1982 he made a record with the Soul Sonic Force called Planet Rock that was a big hit. In its own way, Planet Rock is as bizarre as Adventures on the Wheels of Steel. But the Soul Sonic Force didn’t use the edgy staccato rapping style of the Furious Five. Instead their voices weave in and out of the pulsing party beat with lines like “More bounce to the ounce“ and “Planet Rock. It just don’t stop it’s gonna drive you nuts!“ Meanwhile Bambaataa mixes in snatches of song and sound effects round the steady electronic beat. The rhythm of a rap record by Captain Sky called Super Sporm is crossed with the computer-generated rhythms and melodies of records like Trans-Europe Express and Numbers by the German electro group, Kraftwerk. This is then mixed up with the theme from the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars More. (The Eastwood themes composed by Ennio Morricone had also made a powerful impact on dub producers like Lee “Scratch“ Perry in Jamaica in the 1970s.)

A large part of the disc jockeys’ mystique and power is their resourcefulness in finding unknown or obscure records that can move a crowd. These can be rarities, white-label pre-releases, acetates, unreleased tapes or simply good songs that slipped through the net at the time they were released. Given the obvious difficulty of identifying tunes in the non-stop collages of the b-boy style, the most creative DJs in the Bronx were able to build up strong local reputations as “masters of records““”the librarians of arcane and unpredictable sounds that few could match. In time-honoured fashion their secrecy extended to soaking records in the bath to peel off the center labels or giving records new names. Previously jealously guarded lists, emerging gradually at the beginning of 1984, make bizarre reading. Bambaataa was one of the most outrageous: The Bronx wasn’t really into radio music no more. It was an anti-disco movement. Like you had a lot of new wavers and other people coming out and saying, “Disco sucks.“ Well, the same thing with hip hop, ‘cos they was against the disco that was being played on the radio. Everybody wanted the funky style that Kool Herc was playing. Myself, I was always a record collector and when I heard this DJ, I said, “Oh, I got records like that.“ I started digging in my collection. When I came on the scene after him I built in other types of records and I started getting a name for master of records. I started playing all forms of music. Myself, I used to play the weirdest stuff at a party. Everybody just thought I was crazy. When everybody was going crazy I would throw a commercial on to cool them out “”I’d throw on The Pink Panther theme for everybody who thought they was cool like the Pink Panther, and then I would play “Honky Tonk Woman“ by The Rolling Stones and just keep that beat going. I’d play something from metal rock records like Grand Funk Railroad. “Inside Looking Out“ is just the bass and drumming . . . rrrrrmmmmmmm . . . and everybody starts freaking out. I used to like to catch the people who’d say, “I don’t like rock. I don’t like Latin.“ I’d throw on Mick Jagger“”you’d see the blacks and the Spanish just throwing down, dancing crazy. I’d say, “I thought you said you didn’t like rock.“ They’d say, “Get out of here.“ I’d say, “Well, you just danced to The Rolling Stones.“ “You’re kidding!“ I’d throw on “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band““”just that drum part. One, two, three, BAM“”and they’d be screaming and partying. I’d throw on The Monkees, “Mary Mary““”just the beat part where they’d go “Mary, Mary, where are you going?““”and they’d start going crazy. I’d say, “You just danced to The Monkees.“ They’d say, “You liar. I didn’t dance to no Monkees.“ I’d like to catch people who categorize records.

The daring of Bambaataa’s mixes and the black political input that he has made into hip hop have inspired other artists. Air Force One built a hip hop record round Ronald Reagan’s famous gaffe when he made a “joke“ at a TV station. Reagan had claimed in jest that he had the solution to the Russian “problem.“ “Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans,“ he says, barely able to restrain the laughter, “We begin bombing in five minutes.“ President Reagan was unaware that he was being recorded at the time. See the Light, Feel the Heat begins with Reagan’s “announcement.“ The phrase “We begin bombing“ is picked out and repeated several times as the funk rhythm breaks and crashes in a series of explosions round Reagan’s voice.

At the same time, it’s interesting and a bit sad to see how people were really naà¯ve and green in the start of the recorded rap-game, as when most artists start out, I guess:

But while he shares these high hopes, a seasoned veteran of “the business“ like Charlie Chase remains acutely aware of the pitfalls and distortions involved. After all, he had witnessed firsthand what was probably the first and biggest scam in rap history, when Big Bad Hank and Sylvia Robinson of Sugar Hill Records used a rhyme by his close friend and fellow Cold Crush brother Grandmaster Cas on “Rapper’s Delight“ and never gave him credit. The story has been told elsewhere, as by Steven Hager in his book, but Charlie’s is a lively version. This is how it happened. Hank was working in a pizzeria in New Jersey, flipping pizza. And he’s playing Cas’ tape, right? Sylvia Robinson walks in, the president of Sugar Hill. She’s listening to this, it’s all new to her. Mind you, there were never any rap records. She says, “Hey, man, who’s this?“ He says, “I manage this guy. He’s a rapper.“ She says, “Can you do this? Would you do this on a record for me?“ And he said, “Yeah, sure. No problem.“ And she says, “Okay, fine.“ So he calls Cas up and says, “Cas, can I use your rhymes on a record? Some lady wants to make a record.“ You see what happened? Cas didn’t have foresight. He couldn’t see down the road. He never imagined in a million years what was going to come out of that. He didn’t know, so he said, “Sure, fine, go ahead.“ With no papers, no nothing. And it went double platinum! Double platinum! “Rapper’s Delight.“ A single. A double platinum single, which is a hard thing to do.

The playfulness of early hip-hop and how it can be at its best in an instrumental sense…

Although much is made of rap as a kind of urban streetgeist, early rap had a more basic function: dance music. Bill Stephney, considered by many to be the smartest man in the rap business, recalls the first time he heard hip-hop: The point wasn’t rapping, it was rhythm, DJs cutting records left and right, taking the big drum break from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,“ mixing it together with “Ring My Bell,“ then with a Bob James Mardi Gras jazz record and some James Brown. You’d have 2,000 kids in any community center in New York, moving back and forth, back and forth, like some kind of tribal war dance, you might say. It was the rapper’s role to match this intensity rhythmically. No one knew what he was saying. He was just rocking the mike.

And no, people didn’t really like “The Message” that much!

Like disco music and jumpsuits, the social commentaries of early rappers like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel were for the most part transparent attempts to sell records to whites by any means necessary. Songs like “White Lines“ (with its anti-drug theme) and “The Message“ (about ghetto life) had the desired effect, drawing fulsome praise from white rock critics, raised on the protest ballads of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. The reaction on the street was somewhat less favorable. “The Message“ is a case in point. “People hated that record,“ recalls Russell Simmons, president of Def Jam Records. “I remember the Junebug, a famous DJ of the time, was playing it up at the Fever, and Ronnie DJ put a pistol to his head and said, “˜Take that record off and break it or I’ll blow your fucking head off.’ The whole club stopped until he broke that record and put it in the garbage.“

Funny bit about Sylvia Vanderpool:

And rap and reggae have a common root in a record called Love Is Strange by Mickey and Sylvia. This record was released in 1956 at the time when ska and soul and rock ‘n’ roll were just beginning. On this record, guitarist Mickey Baker and vocalist Sylvia Vanderpool sing a bantering duet over a lilting Caribbean-flavored shuffle rhythm. In the middle there is a sort of mini-rap between the two. Mickey asks Sylvia how she calls her lover boy. As Mickey keeps asking the question: “And if he still doesn’t answer?,“ Sylvia calls back to him in a voice that gets sexier and sexier. The record made the top twenty in the States. It was a hit in Jamaica too. It is sometimes classified as a “rhythm and blues calypso hit.“ And almost a quarter of a century later, it was Sylvia Vanderpool who set up Sugarhill Records with her husband. This was the company that released the first Bronx-style rap by the Sugarhill Gang before going on to record Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

It’s interesting to see how hip-hop at times could be parasitic onto “itself”, e.g. “black culture”, while being a magnificent political tool:

Although rap would later enhance its technical virtuosity through instrumentation, drum machines, and “sampling“ existing records “” thus making it creatively symbiotic “” the first stage was benignly parasitic upon existing black music.

And onwards, directing critique inwards:

For example, N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitudes) reflects the brutal circumstances that define the boundaries within which most ghetto poor black youth in Los Angeles must live. For the most part they “” unlike their socially conscientious counterparts Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, and Stetsasonic“”have no ethical remove from the violence, gangbangin’, and drugs in L.A.’s inner city. In their song “F*ck Tha Police,“ N.W.A. gives a sample of their reality:

Fuck the police, comin’ straight from the underground. A young nigger got it bad ’cause I’m brown / And not the other color, so police think, / They have the authority to kill a minority / . . . Searchin’ my car looking for the product, / Thinkin’ every nigger is sellin’ narcotic / . . . But don’t let it be a black and a white one, / ‘Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top, / Black police showin’ out for the white cop.

Such expressions of violence certainly reflect the actual life circumstances of many black and Latino youth caught in L.A. ghetto living. N.W.A. celebrates a lethal mix of civil terrorism and personal cynicism. Their attitude is both one answer to, and the logical outcome of, the violence, racism, and oppression in American culture. On the other hand, their vision must be criticized, for the stakes are too high for the luxury of moral neutrality. Having at least partially lived the life they rap about, N.W.A. understands the viciousness of police brutality. However, they must also be challenged to develop an ethical perspective on the drug gangs that duplicate police violence in black-on-black crime. While rappers like N.W.A. perform an invaluable service by rapping in poignant and realistic terms about urban underclass existence, they must be challenged to expand their moral vocabulary and be more sophisticated in their understanding that description alone is insufficient to address the crises of black urban life. Groups like N.W.A. should be critically aware that blacks are victims of the violence of both state repression and gang violence, that one form of violence is often the response to the other, and that blacks continue to be held captive to disenabling lifestyles (gang-bangin’, drug dealing) that cripple the life of black communities.

There’s a true bit about sexism in hip-hop/rap, which sadly is still there, today:

Also problematic is the sexist sentiment that pervades so much of rap music. It is a rampant sexism that continues to mediate the relations within the younger black generation with lamentable intensity. While it is true that rap’s sexism is indeed a barometer of the general tenor and mood that mediates black male-female relations, it is not the role of women alone to challenge it. Reproach must flow from women and men who are sensitive to the ongoing sexist attitudes and behavior that dominate black male-female relationships. Because women by and large do not run record companies, or even head independent labels that have their records distributed by larger corporations, it is naà¯ve to assume that protest by women alone will arrest the spread of sexism in rap. Female rappers are certainly a potential resource for challenging existing sexist attitudes, but given the sexist barriers that patrol rap’s borders, male rappers must be challenged by antisexist men, especially male rappers who contest the portrayal of women in most rap music. The constant reference to women as “skeezers,“ “bitches,“ and “ho’s“ only reinforces the perverted expression of male dominance and patriarchy and reasserts the stereotyping of women as sexual objects intended exclusively for male pleasure.

The population of artists who frequently represent women in this manner is too large to characterize fully here, but N.W.A.’s (1991) “One Less Bitch“ serves as a prime example: In reality, a fool is one who believes that all women are ladies / A nigga is one who believes that all ladies are bitches / And all bitches are created equal / to me, all bitches are the same / money-hungry, scandalous groupie hoes! / that’s always ridin’ on a nigga’s dick / always in a nigga’s pocket / and when a nigga runs outta money, the bitch is gone in the wind / to me, all bitches ain’t shit. . . .

Even though some performers – such as Lil’ Kim – try to revert the rà´les, it’s wayward – but fun:

Lil’ Kim debunks the old myth that women only give sex for love and men only give love for sex; she makes it clear that the terms on which masculinity will be recognized will be her economic and sexual self-satisfaction: I knew a dude named Jimmy he used to run up in me night time pissy drunk off the Henne and Remy I didn’t mind it when he fucked me from behind It felt fine especially when he used to grind it he was a trip when I sucked his dick he used to pass me bricks credit cards and shit I’d suck ‘im to sleep I took the keys to the jeep tell him I’d be back go fool with some other cat . . . it was something about this dude I couldn’t stand, something that coulda made his ass a real man something I wanted But I never was pushy the motherfucker never ate my pussy (1996) In a Vibe interview, Lil’ Kim describes this sexual commerce as the American way: “Sex . . . Money is power to me. It’s not power alone, but you wanna have money to get the girls. To me, men like what women like, or they learn to like it“ (Good, 1997, 176). She and her fellow AU: add year from bib“” female artists have understood that “sex sells“ and have indirectly initiated a transformation 1997? of the color-coded and gender-laden rules by which social relations are scrutinized. This is in no way a proto-feminist position; neither Kim nor Foxy increases the value of women’s sexuality. Nonetheless, their performances in the cultural marketplace open up a dialogue about “natural“ gender roles and explore issues of female pleasure.

There’s a part of the anthology on the Puerto Rican influences in hip-hop, which was massive. Also, on multinational ones:

In Hip-Hop: The Illustrated History, Steven Hager describes the early tagging and writing scene in 1970s New York as being racially integrated: the first tagger on record, Taki 183, was Greek; the second, Julio 204, was Chicano; and Tracy 168, a young white kid living in Black Spades territory, founded one of the scene’s largest crews, “Wanted,“ in 1972.16 The internationally known Lee Quinones and Lady Pink (stars of Wild Style)17 were both Puerto Rican, as were the members of the all-time great breaking group, the Rock Steady Crew.

Also there are lots of pertinent issues regarding racism on all fronts:

Citing Leon R. Harris’s 1925 essay, “The Steel-Drivin’ Man,“ as its principal literary quotation, the Oxford English Dictionary defines nigga as a southern pronunciation of nigger, whose variant forms are niggah, nigguh, and niggur: “Howdy niggahs, . . . how’s you all dis mawnin’.“1 The next quotation is from Chester Himes’s Black on Black: “Niggah, ef ‘n yo is talkin’ tuh me, Ah ain’ liss’nin’.“ The h gets dropped in Paulette Cross’s recording of a joke told to her by Ronald Taylor, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1968: “There’s this uh“”black cat from the north, ya know, he’s a bad nigga. . . . There’s this nigga who went to the ‘Sip, you know, uh“”Mississippi. . . . They end up losing all of their money to that big nigga who is supposed to be the epitome of “˜nigga-ness’.“3 The irregular spelling of the term persisted, however, well into the mid-seventies, which is when the OED’s citations end. Nigga became the dominant form with the emergence of hard-core gangster rap, as a particular expression of hip-hop around 1987. Since then, real niggaz have been associated with hip-hop and hard-core rap, and the latter identified as an index of social malaise. As Joe Wood discovered in his search for “the real thing“ in Mississippi, the domain of “real niggaz“ is global: Down here, traditional blues has lost stagger lee’s [sic] spirit to hip-hop’s real niggaz. . . . Folks do listen to other music, but the essential music“”the “real“ thing“”is the nihilistic capitalistic hard-core hip-hop rap shit. . . . [W]e want the real niggaz even when they’re fronting all that bitch shit because of this: in America, violence and making dollars make for respect and those motherfuckers are getting it.4 Employing nigga in this way leads to consideration of the seemingly unavoidable question of authenticity in relation to commodification: Can a commodified identity be authentic?

The biggest difference between us and white folks is that we know when we are playing. Alberta Roberts, quoted in John Langston Gwaltney, Drylongso

And of course, on the use of the word “nigga”:

This distinction between the politically correct behavior of Arrested Development and the “group of brothers“ is based on the difference, according to Speech, between a “nigga“ and an “African.“ In numerous media interviews, Speech defines a “nigga“ as someone who realizes that he/she is oppressed and wallows in it; an “African“ realizes his/her oppression and through knowledge attempts to overcome it. “Nigga“ is often used by rappers who consider themselves products and practitioners of the ghetto life. The “hardest“ and often the most confrontational rappers have defined themselves as “niggas“ in opposition to the dominant society. For instance, NWA, having called their 1991 album EFIL4SAGGIN (“Niggas 4 Life“ spelled backward), proclaim that “Real Niggas Don’t Die“; Ice T boldly alerts his listeners that “I’m a nigga in America and I don’t care what you are“ and rejects “African American and Black“ as inconsistent with his ghetto identity. Ice Cube has described himself as both “the nigga you love to hate“ and “the wrong nigga to fuck wit.“ In each instance, “nigga“ is politicized to indicate class as well as racial politics. This usage often involves a strong identification with the ghetto, but a regressive posture against women. “African“ has recently been used to signify a spiritual connection with the continent and an Afrocentric political connection. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy has declared, “I don’t wanna be called yo nigga“ on the 1991 cut “Yo Nigga,“ which leads into Sister Souljah’s assertion about “African people, too scared to call themselves African“ on her 1992 cut “African Scaredy Cat in a One Exit Maze.“ Calling oneself African is supposed to demonstrate an advanced consciousness that eliminates any connection to America, and affirms one’s links with an Afrocentric cultural, political, and spiritual base.

And whoa, there’s a bit in here about hip-hop in Sweden!

Bjurström considers the significance of hip hop among the youth of ethnic minority groups in Sweden as a form of collective resistance to the white skinhead style, suggesting that hip hop and skinhead represent “the most conspicuous opposite poles in the ethnic-stylistic warfare of Swedish youth culture“.


Bjurström’s work on ethnicity and identity in Sweden illustrates how local hip hop fans have embraced Swedish rapper Papa Dee’s tongue-in-cheek claim to be an “Original Black Viking“ as a means of negotiating the hostility exhibited by white racist agitators who “celebrate the mythical Viking as an ancestor to German Nazists [ sic] and their modern counterparts“

Elsewhere in Europe, one finds rappers like Leila K, the teenage daughter of Moroccan immigrants living in Sweden who delivers rhymes in proficient black street English and whose single, “Got to Get,“ recorded in Sweden, was a 1990 U.S. dance hit.

And of the everyday living harshly as translated into hip-hop poetic lyricism:

[…] as David Toop writes, “the first release on Ruthless Records, launched by rapper Eazy-E and producer Dr. Dre in 1986, was like a tabloid report from the crime beat fed through a paper shredder“

Moreover, the assumption that rappers are merely street journalists does not allow for the playfulness and storytelling that is so central to Hip Hop specifically, and black vernacular culture generally. For example, violent lyrics in rap music are rarely meant to be literal. Rather, they are more often than not metaphors to challenge competitors on the microphone. The mic becomes a Tech-9 or AK-47, imagined drive-bys occur from the stage, flowing lyrics become hollow-point shells. Classic examples are Ice Cube’s “Jackin’ for Beats,“ a humorous song that describes sampling other artists and producers as outright armed robbery, and Ice T’s “Pulse of the Rhyme“ or “Grand Larceny“ (which brags about stealing a show). Moreover, exaggerated and invented boasts of criminal acts should sometimes be regarded as part of a larger set of signifying practices. Growing out of a much older set of cultural practices, these masculinist narratives are essentially verbal duels over who is the “baddest.“ They are not meant as literal descriptions of violence and aggression, but connote the playful use of language itself.

…and how this entered more mainstream America, especially non-black mainstream America:

This summer Soundscan, a computerized scanning system, changed Billboard magazine’s method of counting record sales in the United States. Replacing a haphazard system that relied on big-city record stores, Soundscan measured the number of records sold nationally by scanning the bar codes at chain store cash registers. Within weeks the number of computed record sales leapt, as demographics shifted from minority-focused urban centers to white, suburban, middle-class malls. So it was that America awoke on June 22, 1991, to find that its favorite record was not Out of Time, by aging college-boy rockers R.E.M., but Niggaz4life, a musical celebration of gang rape and other violence by N.W.A., or Niggers With Attitude, a rap group from the Los Angeles ghetto of Compton whose records had never before risen above No. 27 on the Billboard charts.

And of course, count on rap to blow fuses:

After the release of Straight Out of Compton, N.W.A.’s lead rapper and chief lyricist, Ice Cube, left the group. Billing himself as “the nigger you love to hate,“ Ice Cube released a solo album, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, which gleefully pushed the limits of rap’s ability to give offense. One verse ran: I’m thinking to myself, “why did I bang her?“ Now I’m in the closet, looking for the hanger.

Ice Cube goes on in “Us“ to enunciate the contradictory nature of much within the African American community: Us gonna always sing the blues ‘Cause all we care about is hair styles and tennis shoes If you mess with mine I ain’t frontin’ ‘Cause I’ll beat you down like it ain’t nothin’ Just like a beast But I’m the first nigga to holler out, peace I beat my wife and children to a pulp When I get drunk and smoke dope Got a bad heart condition Still eat hog mauls and chitlins Bet my money on the dice or the horses Jobless So I’m a hoe for the armed forces Go to church but they tease us With a picture of a blue-eyed Jesus Used to call me Negro After all this time I’m still bustin’ up the chiferow.

And there are always words on selling out in the rap game:

Ice Cube, Eric B. & Rakim, EPMD, the Geto Boys, Compton’s Most Wanted, Yo! MTV Rap’s Fab Freddie and Yo-Yo“”who was not even drinking age at the time“”were all used to sell highly potent malt liquor. Sexually-suggestive scripts also attempted to convince consumers that malt liquors are aphrodisiacs. Yo-Yo would moan that St Ides Malt Liquor “puts you in the mood [and] makes you wanna go oooh.“ Ice Cube claimed that with St Ides you could “get your girl in the mood quicker“ and that the beverage would make your “jimmy thicker.“ The alcohol content of St Ides, Elephant, Magnum, Crazy Horse, Olde English 800, Red Bull Malt Liquor, PowerMaster and other malt beers is greater than regular beer“”nearly twice as great in some cases. Malt beer accounts for only about 3 per cent of all beer sold, yet more than 30 per cent of its sales are in the black community.

…and of religion:

The dominant ideological trend of the rappers is black nationalism. Universally wedded to the notion that black leadership, for the most part, has sold out, the black nationalist rhetoric of Hip Hop becomes a challenging and liberating political paradigm in the face of surrender on the part of many political forces in the black community. While there are leftist rappers, such as the Disposal Heroes of Hiphoprisy and KRS-One, who to some extent embody Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition notion of politics, most range from the soft-core nationalism of Arrested Development to the hard-core nationalist influenced raps of the political and gangsta rappers. In particular, minister Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam have had tremendous influence on the political views of black youth, in general, and of rappers, more specifically. Ice Cube, for example, joined the organizeation, stating that, “To me, the best organization around for black people is the Nation of Islam.“20 And a whole set of Muslim rappers has come on the scene. This includes groups such as Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Movement Ex and Paris, who created his own mini-controversy when he wrote the song “Bush Killer““”the title of which should be explanation enough. Other nationalist groups and movements have also emerged, such as the hard-core cultural nationalist Blackwatch movement, centered in New York, which sees itself as building a national black youth movement. It is spearheaded by the group X-Clan and includes other rappers such as Isis, Professor X and Queen Mother Rage. In modern rap, Public Enemy (PE) is the leading, though by no means only, force espousing a black nationalist ideology. Public Enemy’s Chuck D, recognized by many as the leader of radical rap, calls Hip Hop music “black folks’ CNN.“

…and censorship:

Not surprisingly, there have been moves to censor rap. One organization active in this is the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) founded by Tipper Gore (wife of former vice president Al Gore) and Susan Baker (wife of Bush’s campaign manager, James Baker). In 1985, PMRC led the movement that forced congressional hearings on record labeling. Record companies succumbed to the pressure and began to put warning labels on rap and rock music felt to be obscene and too explicit. The first album to have a warning label placed on it was Ice T’s Rhyme Pays. Evidence indicates that most of the groups targeted for labeling are black. In a 1989 newsletter put out by PMRC, every song listed as having warning labels was done by a black artist. Other groups calling for censorship of rap records have been more explicitly racist. Missouri Project Rock passed out information packets that criticized “race-mixing“ and called Martin Luther King “Martin Lucifer King.“

One of the best and most in-depth bits of the entire book is the penultimate one, about the inner workings of the hip-hop music industry:

WENDY DAY: Study the industry, and then make your move. You wouldn’t get on a basketball court with Michael Jordan if you didn’t know how to play basketball, right?

NORMAN KELLEY: Is that what you tell some of them?


NORMAN KELLEY: What’s their response?

WENDY DAY: When they think about it, they go, “Yeah . . . you’re right.“ If you don’t study the game and, more important, how he moves, you’ll never win. So why are you going to get on the court and look like an asshole? Why are you going to go to Atlantic Records and look like an asshole?

NORMAN KELLEY: What is it that they see initially?

WENDY DAY: Fame. They see a video with Jay-Z driving down the street in a Lexus. They hear Puffy on the radio every three minutes. They have a perception of this great lifestyle where you’re famous and everybody loves you. Nobody hates you; everybody loves you. And you can fuck any woman you want. The president’s wife? No problem. You can have her if you want her. So it’s this whole misconception of more money then God and never having to worry about paying a bill. Waaaay too many women, and love from tons of adoring fans.

On how easy it is for a label to woo a fresh artist into signing what might seem like a lucrative deal, but in fact is designed to bleed them dry in years – plus locks them into a long-term deal.

WENDY DAY: They front-load deals, they meaning record companies.

NORMAN KELLEY: What do you mean by front-load?

WENDY DAY: Front-load means they dangle money in your face. “Here’s a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.“ They don’t even talk about what you’re going to get down the road. I’m generalizing again, not all labels are the same, but they say, “Okay, these guys are disposable. We’ll get them to sign for a BMW or a bunch of sneakers, and a little bit of cash. We’ll make a gazillion dollars and when they are not making money any more“”fuck ’em.

And the thing about points in relation to that:

Okay, you may decide that instead of giving me twelve, to give me nine points. I’ve seen them as low as six. Ice Cube gave Cam six points and he signed it. Naughty by Nature gets eighteen points. They didn’t start off at eighteen. I don’t remember what they began with. Scarface is at thirteen. Why is Scarface at thirteen points and Naughty by Nature at eighteen points? I bet if I pull the statistics on them they sell about the same amount of units. Why is that? It’s because Scarface and Naughty by Nature don’t talk, but I talk to both of them and then I bring information back to both of them. I tell Scarface that they are getting eighteen. I tell them that he’s getting thirteen. That’s my job. My job is to educate them. What they do with that information is on them. I can’t make them renegotiate their contracts. I can refer them to attorneys and accountants who can. But Scarface never will because he feels that Little Jay, his label, is working in his best interest. He doesn’t have a clue. He doesn’t realize it’s about Jay getting rich, not Scarface getting rich. And Scarface doesn’t care because whenever he needs money, he goes to Jay, and Jay just gives it to him.

As Public Enemy’s Chuck D proclaimed in an advertisement which appeared in The Source of September 1996 and in which he was launching his own Rap Style International: “So You Wanna Be in the Music Business . . . Whatcha’ Gonna Wear?“

To finish up the quotes, here’s one from Ice-T’s classic tale of a gangsta, “New Jack Hustler

So think twice if you comin’ down my block / you wanna journey through hell? / well shit gets hot / pregnant teens, children scream / life is weighed on the scales of a triple beam / you don’t come here much and you better not / wrong move“”bang“”ambulance, cops / I gotta get more money than you got / so what if some mothafucka gets shot. . . . That’s how the game is played, another brother slain / the wound is deep but they givin’ us a bandaid / my education’s low, but I got long dough / I’m raised like a pitbull, my heart pumps nitro / sleep on silk, lie like a politician / my uzi’s my best friend, cold as a mortician / lock me up, it’s genocidal catastrophe / there’ll be another one after me. . . .

The psychical struggle the Hustler experiences here is remarkable. The dialectical perspective allows him to see the nightmare despite the brilliance of the Dream. This paradoxical image is produced by the conflicting rhetorical demands placed on the discourse by the “street“ and “decent“ orientations. Viewed in this way, the Hustler’s tale is about how social economic processes bolstered by the American Dream and encoded in the materialistic aspect of street relations conceal nightmarish effects. Indeed, the “decent“ orientation provokes the reference to a history of oppression as well as the speculation about forms of abuse (“with cocaine . . . education’s low . . . raised like a pitbull“). However, this resistant space is always susceptible to the dictates of a street code that, through market impulses, becomes virtually consubstantial with realizing the American Dream. And so, in these final sections of this track, the Hustler partially recognizes the terms of his subjection, but continues to participate in it.

To finish off, this book does a great job at gathering sources to show hip-hop as the phenomenally creative, fantastic and utterly amazing output that it is, in a lot of mainly American-based facets of the entire thing, including the business-side of it all, the anti-feminism (of which I think more should have been written) not to mention how the many repetitions of how hip-hop came to be should have been shaved off. I also think the writers could have done with a healthy dose of editing as far as their use of language is concerned. I know this book is for studying, but when I feel language is being used solely to impress and not to tell, it’s not sophisticated, only vulgar.

All in all: mighty, threatening and massive, describing the modern-day movement that hip-hop is, while showing us what might be best about it: the playful, creative universe that is all that you make it to be.

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