Add “The Hip Hop Wars” to your bookshelf

Saturdays aren’t always about going out. Sometimes they’re about mourning the loss of a feminist icon by eating cheesecake and watching episodes of The Golden Girls (R.I.P., Bea Arthur). Sometimes people like to curl up with a book and nest on a Saturday night (I’m one of these people tonight; I’m finally picking up Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and it’s breaking my heart).

If you’re looking for a new book, I recommend The Hip Hop Wars, a new book by Tricia Rose. (FYI, on my list of bad-ass professor ladies I want to be when I grow up, Tricia Rose is up there with my thesis adviser Mary Kearney.)

Rose breaks down contemporary issues in hip hop to contextualize and debunk many essentialist claims made about hip hop. The first five chapters focus on what detractors often purport to be wrong with it (that it causes violence, that it suggests the ghetto is a wasteland, that it hurts black people, that it destroys American values, and that it demeans women). The next five assuage a critique on what defenses people have made for it (questioning what it means when people say hip hop is about keeping it real, that it isn’t responsible for sexism, that some women arebitches and hoes, that hip hop cultural figures don’t want to be role models, and that nobody talks about hip hops positive attributes). The final section seeks to answer some of these questions, pointing to the importance of grssroots activism, the rise of independent hip hop, and progressive figures in the game (specifically mentioning documentarian Raquel Cepeda, and MCs like Lupe Fiasco and Jean Grae, one of my all-time favorites).

(Note: I may be doing a disservice to the blog by skipping out on Jean’s show in ATX tonight, but I kinda need to nest tonight. If you have means to get to the Scoot Inn, though, you should go. She’s amazing live.)

This book really puts hip hop in a larger context and in the present. There’s a lot of discussion of contemporary MCs, which is appreciated, as hip hop scholarship can tend to get stale (i.e., dwelling on the 80s and early 90s, neglecting any female MC unless her name is Lil Kim or Queen Latifah). Rose also does an admirable job of dialoging MCs with one another and framing them within an increasingly conglomate music industry. She also critiques the charity organizations that hip hop figures put together, suggesting that they actually do little to change the hardships of urban poverty in America. Thus, she also pays attention to the American underground and considers why an alternate business model, alongside the increasingly ubiquity of digital media, may help level the extreme wealth promoted and maintained among hip hop’s elite.

And finally, she does something that scholars tend to shy away from doing — providing solutions to some of these problems, endorsing community building, activism, non-profit work, and that trusty word Obama likes to use, volunteerism. She even provides a list of organizations she found out about in her research as a way to get started. So pick up a copy (if from your local library or bookstore, so much the better), and then figure out a way you can get involved. If there’s a local affiliate of the NHHPC in your area, start attending some meetings. And if there isn’t one, start your own chapter.

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8 comments

  1. rm

    Jean Grae was awesome last night. She is hilarious, and on it. It was truly a pleasure watching her. Devin the Dude was cool for the first 1/3 of the show, with all of his insane weed smokin raps, which is the only stuff I was familiar with. Then it started to get freaky but also funny talking about dicks and collard greens. Then it started getting just misogynist and turned sour. Boo!

  2. rm

    Also, do you know when the documentary on Talib Kweli is coming out? Can’t seem to find any info on it. Maybe I need to hone my google search techniques.

    • feministmusicgeek

      I don’t know when the Talib Kweli documentary is coming out. I found this item, posted in late July when the trailer started circulating:
      http://frolab.com/2008/07/25/frophilenonstop-movieworks-video-rahim/

      My guess is that Non Stop Movies still haven’t cut through all that red tape (there are probably multiple things stacked against an independent production house, but my guess is that they have a lot of music to clear before the documentary makes it to retailers). I e-mailed Non Stop Movie Works asking them when this documentary will be released, but haven’t heard back yet. If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.

    • ms_vz

      I highly recommend it. One of the best books I’ve read this year and one of the best books I’ve ever read on hip hop.

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