HOLLER IF YOU HEAR ME by Michael Eric Dyson


Searching for Tupac Shakur
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Noted African-American scholar and Baptist minister Dyson (I May Not Get There With You, 2000, etc.), in keeping with the current reappraisal of hip-hop and rap, offers provocative insights into the life and milieu of the artist he calls a “ghetto saint.”

In a lengthy preface, Dyson details how his interview with rapper Big Tray Dee (the artist broke down in tears after talking about Tupac) became for him a metaphor of the “agony many have over the loss of Tupac’s gift . . . that nevertheless continues to speak to millions around the globe.” In four sections (“Childhood Chains,” “Adolescent Aspiration,” “Portraits of an Artist,” and “Bodies and Beliefs”), Dyson attempts to understand, with the help of those who knew Tupac and also of critics like Stanley Crouch, the man who symbolized the best and worst of rap. To start, Dyson explores Tupac’s troubled childhood: his mother was a former Black Panther as well as crack addict, which meant that, though he absorbed her revolutionary ideals, he saw the Black Panthers as a practical attempt to “answer racial oppression.”her drug habit made for an impoverished and unstable childhood. In the second section he assesses Tupac’s role as an artist, who not only read widely (Sartre, Walker, and Orwell) but, understanding the reality of inner-city life—its thug culture, its hopelessness—wrote stirring raps that changed people’s’ lives. The last section analyzes the crude sexist language of many raps, Tupac’s own conflicted attitude toward women, and his spiritual beliefs—“an ongoing argument” with God as the performer both rejected and embraced suffering. Though critical of his treatment of women and of his drug-taking, Dyson notes approvingly how in death Tupac has become a posthumous icon as well as an urban legend, serving “the psychic and cultural needs of poor black youth.”

Perceptive, informative, and certainly timely, albeit a tad hagiographic.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2001
ISBN: 0-465-01755-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2001

Kirkus Interview
Michael Eric Dyson
February 2, 2016

In Michael Eric Dyson’s rich and nuanced book new book, The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America, Dyson writes with passion and understanding about Barack Obama’s “sad and disappointing” performance regarding race and black concerns in his two terms in office. While race has defined his tenure, Obama has been “reluctant to take charge” and speak out candidly about the nation’s racial woes, determined to remain “not a black leader but a leader who is black.” Dyson cogently examines Obama’s speeches and statements on race, from his first presidential campaign through recent events—e.g., the Ferguson riots and the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston—noting that the president is careful not to raise the ire of whites and often chastises blacks for their moral failings. At his best, he spoke with “special urgency for black Americans” during the Ferguson crisis and was “at his blackest,” breaking free of constraints, in his “Amazing Grace” Charleston eulogy. Dyson writes here as a realistic, sometimes-angry supporter of the president. View video >


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