As we duck the hurricanes, crank up the A/C, and flock to the beaches, it's become perfectly clear that summer is upon us. And the two things that epitomize summer for Apollo Kid are those sugary summer hip-hop jams and a good book to read while lounging at the pool. Even those of you who don't have a library card still might want a little cover as you sneak peaks at the beautiful bodies inhabiting the shore. Here are several music-related books that have rocked the Kid's world these past few weeks.
Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America by Baraki Kitwana, Basic Civitas Books. $24. After a brief dalliance with African-American consciousness in the early Nineties, hip-hop has all but abandoned dealing with matters of race in the public sphere. After all, if Jimmy Iovine is your boss and the white kids in the suburbs persist in buying your albums, why rock the boat? But as much as we try to plant our heads in the ground and pretend color lines don't exist, few questions are more important or lasting than the place of race in rap.
Kitwana, former executive editor of The Source and writer for the Village Voice, tackles the question head-on in his provocative White Kids. He asserts that a new race reality has emerged in the wake of the hip-hop generation, and that the old, dichotomous models established during the civil rights era are increasingly obsolete. Race in the hip-hop generation is more fluid and less rigid, Kitwana argues.
Aside from their skin color, few similarities exist between a blue-collar Caucasian like Eminem, a white activist embedded in hip-hop's emerging political grassroots organization, and the traditional stereotype of a suburban hip-hop listener: the pimply-faced brat bumping G-Unit and Dipset. Trying to find common ground among these socially, culturally, and politically disparate groups is difficult, so coming up with one definitive answer to why white kids love hip-hop is something of a fool's errand.
But Kitwana gives it a shot anyway, tentatively suggesting that globalization and absentia parenting are responsible for pop culture (and by extension hip-hop) playing a larger role in the socialization of America's youth. This argument is full of holes. Growing up in the Eighties, AK repped both hip-hop and Garbage Pail Kids pretty hard, but you don't see me driving down Ocean Drive with Adom Bomb or Shrunken Ed pasted on my rims.
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While White Kids fails adequately to answer the book's central question, Kitwana does force readers to examine assumptions about race and hip-hop culture. And for a culture that seems stuck in a state of denial regarding matters of race, that is a pretty remarkable achievement.
Rakim Told Me by Brian Coleman, Traffic Entertainment. $20. If you're not the type to ponder the validity of "concentric attitudinal circles," then you might be better served picking up Brian Coleman's debut Rakim Told Me. It is as light as Kitwana's book is dense, and as much about music as Kitwana's is about hip-hop politics and culture. The premise is simple: Interview golden-era hip icons such as Public Enemy, Kool Keith, and of course Rakim, and get a behind-the-scenes peek at the creation of some of hip-hop's most influential albums.
Highlights include Rakim's detailed account of how he entered the game and Kool Keith's (not surprising) confession that Eighties leftfield group Ultramagnetic MCs catered to dust heads. South Florida native Luke Campbell also makes an appearance to talk about 2 Live Crew's classic As Nasty As They Wanna Be. The book is essentially an extension of Coleman's "Classic Material" column for hip-hop rag XXL and retains that column's preference for authorial transparency and letting the subjects speak for themselves. It's a nice respite from Kitwana's academic posturing, and makes for a quick, fun read.