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.