Valuable insights into the history and intentions of hip hop, from music journalists Ogg and Upshal.
From its origins in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Harlem and the Bronx, hip hop has evolved into a commercial phenomenon of industrial proportions, dominating the charts and now commanding 11 percent of all music sales. The story is told here through the words of many of the participants, while Ogg and Upshal (writing in what one hopes is a self-mocking style) tie the quotes together. They do an excellent job of tracking the roots of the music—from Cab Calloway to Muhammad Ali’s ringside boastings to inner-city insult battles (in which “signifying, testifying, schoolyard and jailhouse rhyming all play a role in the aesthetics of urban verbal exchanges”). Early hip hop might have come out of a dangerously violent place, but it was a music—a whole culture, including art and fashion—that extolled creativity, political awareness, and (most importantly) inclusiveness, bringing people together for some joy in difficult circumstances. But, as the authors explain, hip hop is a house of many rooms, and gangsta rap came to epitomize the style because of the limelight it drew. Perhaps the most rewarding section here makes gangsta rap intelligible to those unfamiliar with its purpose. It wasn’t simply provocative posing, notes Ice Cube, of NWA: “It was done very unconsciously, because we were just being us. That’s how we dressed, that’s how we looked, that’s where we were from, that’s what was going on in our neighborhood.” Readers will gain a familiarity with the various rap landscapes, as well as the genesis of such notorious rappers as Eminem and 2 Live Crew.
A timely demystifying of the subculture that took that last quarter-century by storm and is still going strong. (8 pp. color photos, not seen)