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HIP HOP AMERICA by Nelson George


by Nelson George

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-87153-2
Publisher: Viking

An informative, though often frustrating, survey of the history of one of today’s most popular musical forms. Veteran journalist George (Blackface, 1994, etc.) expands this view of hip-hop far beyond artists and discs; he looks also at such related phenomena as graffiti, cinema, and commercial culture. The author eyes the business behind music, especially the shift from traditionally white management of record companies to increasing black leadership. An irony: the occasional anti-Semitism found in hip-hop music. Using the ouster of Public Enemy’s Professor Griff for anti-Jewish statements as an example, George points out that despite Griff’s views, Public Enemy had a large Jewish backing that stayed put behind the band in the face of fallout from the Jewish establishment. George’s examination of racism in regard to both the Public Enemy case and also the outcry over Luther Campbell’s obscenity trials in Florida is right on the money. Unfortunately, he relies too heavily on the first person in his writing—it’s invasive. One can’t help but wonder if George’s ego is also his Achilles heel. Equally troubling is his general acceptance of the Nation of Islam as a positive force; he even labels NAACP head Benjamin Chavis’s defection to Farrakhan as “progressive.” Some of his omissions are curious, such as his failure to mention Keith Haring in his discussion of graffiti (even though Haring went on to illustrate an album cover for De La Soul) and his decision not to cite Arrested Development’s near-masterpiece video for “Tennessee.” There’s much history here that makes for good reading. Too bad George couldn’t keep a better professional distance and include an even wider view of the subject at hand (8 pages photos, not seen)