Tom Jones meets Waiting to Exhale against a backdrop of the black music business: a wildly uneven examination of the dissonances within black American culture. Former Village Voice music critic, nonfiction journalist (Elevating the Game, 1992, etc.), and novelist (Urban Romance, 1994) George hasn't got much in the way of literary chops, but he has found a subject: the devolution of black music from '70s soul to disco to rap, as experienced through the rise of Derek Harper, a middle-class, moderately talented songwriter from Queens. Son of a stern undertaker, whose business success serves as an index of the rise of crack and black-on-black murder, Derek's course is set when R&B music promoter Edgecombe Lennox recruits him: He'll drop out of college, hang around with musicians instead of taking a job, and hit on available women instead of staying true to childhood sweetheart Candi. The novel sings in these early scenes of black Queens, but then takes a bizarre and tasteless turn: a woman Derek has been having a kinky affair with is murdered with his anatomically ambitious dildo. Somehow, though, the story survives this John Irvingesque-capade. Taking over the management of an early rap tour, Derek witnesses and becomes part of a scary, violent, yet undeniably powerful new phenomenon--and he learns to cover up rape by rappers, to deal with gangbangers and drug kingpins, to hustle groupies, and to write songs. It's this material, and the portraits of Derek's more serious relationships with a group of successful black women, that elevate a novel that otherwise would be a tin-eared B-side single into a credible, if minor, hit. Derek's reunion with childhood sweetheart Candi, and his decision to start a community arts center with proceeds from his one success, shows that this is one male author who can dish out wish-fulfillment with the best of them. Sweet, raunchy, and, when the author doesn't flinch, genuinely arresting.