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GHETTO CELEBRITY by Donnell Alexander


Searching for the Delbert in Me

by Donnell Alexander

Pub Date: June 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-4602-5
Publisher: Crown

A mix of young-black-journalist memoir and rural family history, told with plenty of analytical flossing.

Alexander introduces himself by noting of his Sandusky, Ohio, upbringing, “Niggas always accusing Buckeye niggas of acting white, but that’s a small-town thing.” His debut’s most charming moments depict the conflicting influences on his childhood of his strict mother and his mostly absent father, locally notorious for gangster glamour and an abbreviated singing career. Delbert appears only sporadically in his son’s life, but provides this memoir’s strongest element: Alexander adeptly dramatizes the hard equations that befell generations of African-American men, ranging in Delbert’s instance from youthful addiction, violence, and imprisonment to humiliating stints at factory work and selling Confederate flags. Far less powerful is Alexander’s exhaustive evocation of his own post-adolescence, a druggy idyll of underground radio, school-newspaper controversies, interracial sex, and slacker angst—hardly novel memoir material, notwithstanding numerous references to and encounters with West Coast rappers. His rapid success as a California-based freelance journalist is recalled in aggressive prose that combines hip-hop freestyling with Mailer-esque affect. Yet this personal narrative devolves into a dreary final third, as Alexander’s relationship with his long-suffering wife deteriorates and he concentrates on racking up human-interest stories on “difficult” athletes like Alonso Spellman and Latrell Sprewell. The author seems incapable of writing about the cultural milieu he loves without projecting his own persona as its epochal center, and his striving to be “the only hip-hop journalist who mattered” becomes increasingly wearying. Despite various shrewd observations (e.g., terming sports journalists “the ultimate hangers on”), Alexander comes off by the end as yet another under-40 culture flack with mutational self-esteem.

Some will appreciate Alexander’s recollection of rap’s bling-bling ’90s, while others will be haunted by the portrait of his delinquent father.