Still, this is a wholly involving and piercingly intelligent examination of contemporary popular culture.

NEVER DRANK THE KOOL-AID

ESSAYS

Collected dispatches of the de Tocqueville of the Hip-Hop Nation.

Journalist Touré’s (Rolling Stone; the New Yorker) impassioned, insightful and stylish articles on hip-hop make up the bulk of these collected pieces, and their cumulative effect is staggering; Touré employs his sly voice, clear sense of mission and novelist’s eye for the telling detail to elevate his profiles and interviews above conventional celebrity journalism, creating a political and personal manifesto that is provocative and deeply felt. As the author grapples with hip-hop’s place in American culture and his own complicated responses to it, his subjects come to startling life: Embattled rapper 50 Cent’s girlfriend proudly displays their young child’s pint-sized, bullet-proof vest; genial MC DMX casually recalls the time he stabbed a first-grade classmate in the face; fearsome record exec Suge Knight decorates his offices with framed portraits of Lucille Ball and Elvis Presley; and soul diva Alicia Keys confesses her painfully conflicted reaction to post-9/11 patriotism. Fascinating bits of off-the-cuff sociology abound: The author compares rap collectives such as the Wu-Tang Clan and the Junior M.A.F.I.A. to traditional African family structures; the plight of the gay rapper is frankly addressed; graffiti artists play cat-and-mouse with authorities in the pursuit of their ephemeral art. To lighten the mood, Touré takes on Prince and Wynton Marsalis in one-on-one games of basketball, and the doyens have rarely come off so likable and human. Venturing beyond black popular music, Touré proves equally adept at limning compelling portraits of tennis players, race-car drivers and Ivy League counterfeiters. Touré includes a searing personal essay, What’s Inside You, Brother? (tapped for The Best American Essays 1996), near the end of the book; it’s a tour-de-force of punishing, articulate introspection that clarifies and deepens the searching tone of the preceding work. Like his subjects, Touré occasionally indulges in boastful self-mythologizing—the book’s title is a testament to his incorruptibility, and a piece on his bad-boy sexual exploits seems ill-considered.

Still, this is a wholly involving and piercingly intelligent examination of contemporary popular culture.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-42578-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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