Hip Hop CDs
Straight Outta Compton (Priority, 1988)
Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (Jive, 1989) /
Get Rich Or Die Tryin’
– Soundtrack (2005)
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50 Cent CDs
Get Rich Or Die Tryin'
The Massacre /
Guess Who's Back /
Power of the Dollar
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Books on Rap &
New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop
Sharif Responds to Todd
Hop Really Dead?
It's Not About a Salary... Rap, Race and Resistance in Los
Angeles: Rap, Race, and Resistance in Los Angeles (1993)
Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America
Russell A. Porter, Spectacular
Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism
The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the
Crisis in African American Culture
Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (2004)
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Power of Rap
On Hiphop and Musicology
By Jonathan Scott
This essay is based on
a paper delivered on October 21, 2005 at Lehman College
in the Bronx, NY. Professor Scott’s paper was part of
a conference on hiphop culture, “Hiphop: From Local to
Global,” that was organized by the college’s Department
of Sociology and Social Work. For a look at the
Jazz music is universal and so is hiphop. The
striking difference is that hiphop’s universality is strictly
commercial whereas jazz music’s is academic and commercial at
the same time. My short paper here cannot answer why this is, but there are
more than a few ideas about how it happened and what we can do
The first thing to notice is that in hiphop
there are no academic-commercial or industry collaborations. On
the other hand, in jazz music you can easily find a
collector’s edition of a rare Pharaoh Sanders recording from
1969 that’s richly documented by some academic musicologist.
In these liner notes can be discovered important historical and
biographical information, an aesthetic appreciation in terms of
that specific moment in jazz, photographs of live performances,
and so on and so forth.
This does not happen in hiphop music. There
is no special collector’s edition of KRS-One classics, or of
the rap produced on the West Coast before and after the L.A.
rebellion of 1992, for instance. There are no best albums of all
time series, with expert commentary to substantiate the claims.
No best deejay compilations, no music from Brooklyn, no music
from Queensbridge, no music from the Bronx, from Houston, from
The non-collaboration and non-cooperation
factor in hiphop culture can be blamed completely on the U.S.
academy. Nobody has ever prevented an academic from getting a
grant to buy a thousand hiphop recordings and then taking the
next six months to just listen and take copious notes, studying
closely the commercial hiphop market.
Instead, the academic writing on hiphop has
been mainly about social issues, such as the content of rap, the
sociology of it, or censorship issues. And then there are all
the books that are industry insider type stuff. An academic
would have to study all this material, but in all events the
fact is that the industry stuff heavily outweighs the academic
writing. This cannot be said about jazz.
It’s a very short step from here to the
conclusion that it’s because the makers of hiphop music are
neither from Julliard nor the projects, but, rather, from
African American working-class communities of the U.S., from KRS
and the South Bronx, Pete Rock from Mount Vernon, Sadat X from
New Rochelle, to Queen Latifah from South Orange, Chuck D from
Brentwood, so on. The academics are not afraid of the
ghetto—in fact, they have a long history of systematically
investigating the ghetto and its so-called “sociopathologies.”
The academics are afraid of the working-class, not the ghetto.
It was not until the arrival of Eminem that
this finally became clear to everyone. The academics flocked to
Eminem because he is white, but what they found is a different
story. Eminem is from the white working-class of Detroit, and
when an academic stops to study the white working-class of
Detroit, as they then did, they find poverty and despair, and
when they wonder why this is they figure out it’s because
Detroit is being racially resegregated. “8 Mile” is
Eminem’s originary political symbol: it represents the root
cause of American working-class political weakness and
suffering: the endurance of white supremacy. There are already
more interesting books on Eminem, Detroit, and rap music than on
all the great artists of New York combined.
So if the academics went to the African
American working class, like they’ve gone to Eminem’s white
working-class of Detroit, what would they discover?
One thing is that African Americans of the
post-civil rights movement generation are treated socially no
differently than the black folk still trapped up in the
projects: this is the re-imposition of white racial oppression,
or resegregation. And then the academic would be struck by the
enormous record collections, all the books and ideologies, and
the fact that many famous rappers have PhDs for parents, social
workers and teachers and librarians, skilled mechanics and
trades people. And they would find the specific methods of
making hiphop music, and this is the most important thing, in my
This is the kind of writing we’re building
on now, but, lacking a solid academic position from which to do
it, the progress is slow going, arduous and completely unfunded.
In this spirit, I propose several “wars of position” in
hiphop musicology that we could make, and reject a few others.
The first to reject is the critical theory
essay anthology. Enough already. Nobody reads them anyway. The second to reject is the bio-pic, the
focus on the industry and its social scenes. We have plenty of
good ones already. The third to reject is the social issue book
or academic sociology article, showing that hiphop comes from
poverty and oppression, that it is a real music and culture, and
so on. We know that already, too.
The fourth to reject is the whole way of life
argument, in which graffiti writing, deejaying, lyricism,
beat-making, and breakdancing are treated like a holy trinity—breakin,
bombin, beat-making/mcing. This culturalist musicology is by far
the best of the four standard approaches but it should be
attempted only after first establishing the hiphop episteme.
The first work that advances the episteme is
the study of a specific period or genre of hiphop music. When
Amiri Baraka started his work on blues and jazz in the early
1960s, which produced the classics Blues People and Black
Music, this is exactly what he did. He focused on a distinct
style of jazz, in the case of Black Music the explosion
of hard bop in the mid-1960s, and in the case of Blues People
the complex transition from country blues to city blues.
Following Baraka’s approach, the
musicologist of hiphop might focus on the period of the early
1990s when there was an explosion of college radio programming
devoted exclusively to underground hiphop music. This produced
epic freestyle battles that then produced an outpouring of
successful tapes, albums and CDs. For instance, Columbia
University’s college radio station featured during the 1990s
the monumentally important Stretch Armstrong Show hosted by
Bobbito Garcia, which directly enabled the success of groups and
soloists like the Artifacts, Showbiz & AG, Black Moon, Craig
Mack, Jeru, and Mobb Deep.
Their albums are not the greatest ever but
the music is highly advanced aesthetically. The individual album
tracks re-engineer aesthetically an authentic freestyle studio
environment. For example, on Jeru the Damaja’s 1993 album The
Sun Also Rises in the East, the beats are strictly for live
freestyle rhyming; thus there are no choruses and no catchy
loops and hooks. Listening to that album today is probably close
to what Baraka and other critics felt listening to Art
Blakey’s "Blues March" or Pharaoh Sanders’ "Astral
Traveling" back in the 60s: a new style was being born and
an older one ruthlessly attacked. Baraka called the hard bop
artists jazz music’s "private assassins," and the
same kind of argument could be made about the underground
rappers of the early 90s, who coined the term "hardcore
The second work of the hiphop episteme is to
treat the music through the tools of formalism. How does KRS or
Rakim or Nas conceive their arrangements? What is the process of
rhyming over beats, metrically, and syntactically? Included in
this research project would be also a study of deejaying. Here
there are many areas of study: live deejaying and deejay
battling; the transition from radio deejaying to studio
deejaying to advanced mixing and producing—and all the
The third work is canon formation. What are
the best albums? Who are the most important lyricists? Who are
the major beat-makers and producers? Why are we studying Nas,
KRS, MC Lyte, Kool G Rap, the Large Professor and not these
other artists? What are the criteria for teaching a seminar on
the poetics of hiphop? How would an artist such as Wise
Intelligent be taught alongside 50 Cent or Lil Kim?
As a teacher of art and literature, when I
ask myself these questions I realize what an atrocious shape
we’re in. It’s like Baraka is always saying about our
struggle: it’s Cisiphysian, pushing the rock up the mountain,
it falls down, and then doing it all over again.
I’ll conclude with a description of one
course I recently designed and taught. As I alluded to in one of
the examples I’ve given, the college radio rap upsurge in the
early 1990s produced a distinctive hiphop aesthetic, termed the
hardcore aesthetic by its practioners and fans.
The first phase is listening to the product
that was eventually mass consumed. I like Jeru’s “Come
Clean” track, or Biggie Smalls’s “Unbelievable.” These
tracks came straight from the live freestyle environment of the
early 90s. Eminem’s 8 Mile, which he had a large part
in writing, visually animates this environment to great success,
and most students have already seen it. So students can easily
make the connection between the real freestyle context and the
commercial tracks they eventually heard on the radio and then
purchased, black-market or otherwise.
This leads to the college radio environment.
Who are the major players of this movement? Then to a
presentation of a live freestyle session. To me, it doesn’t
matter if you play Supernatural vs. Craig Mack or MC Serch of
Third Base vs. El the Sensai of the Artifacts. Then there is the
reading. There are interviews with Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito,
for example—there is Bobbito’s own column in Vibe,
excellent fanzines like Ego Trip, etc. This helps bring to life
the essence of the real musical environment.
Students can then write on their own
preferences. No social history, just students writing about why
they think Sadat X is the greatest freestyle rhymer, and so on.
They have to describe his lyrical technique, analyze the beats
he picks out, etc. In school, this is called music appreciation.
In terms of classroom management, if the
course meets two days a week for an hour and fifteen minutes,
the first fifteen minutes can be used to introduce the topic,
for example, the Stretch Armstrong show at Columbia and
freestyle rhyming. Play a track, and then ask students to write
down the distinctive elements of the rhyme style. I transcribe
the lyrics so they have them in front of them.
Other class sessions follow up on this first
level of discovery by having students go out and find old CDs.
In NYC, this is simple. The textbook costs for the course are
about $60 dollars worth of classic hiphop CDs.
Students have a list of 40 albums, from the
late 1980s and early 90s, to choose from. They range from PE’s
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to
Biggie’s Ready to Die, De La Soul’s Three Feet
High and Rising, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers Show,
Queen Latifah’s All Hail the Queen and MC Lyte’s Light
as a Rock. The list is organized alphabetically.
The second part of the course is looking
closely at the whole album concept. How do we read a hiphop
album? Like a novel? Like a painting? Like an opera? Like a jazz
concert? Because it is very different than any conventional
studio album, where the hits come before the live performances.
With hiphop from the late 80s and early 90s, the live
performances on college radio or at a rap show come far before
There is a vocabulary that goes along with
this unique moment in hiphop: terms like “show and prove,”
“street credibility,” “staying on point,” ‘frontin’”
“add on to the cipher,” and so on that come directly
from the live freestyle environment. For example, “show and
prove” has many meanings but in the live freestyle environment
it refers to a person who claimed to be a rapper but in live
competition stammered, stuttered and couldn’t stay on the
beat, or who ran out of ideas within 30 seconds. The freestyle
environment is the testing ground, which assures an advanced
aesthetic, because of the intensity of the competition.
But then there are the whole albums such as
Gangstarr’s Step in the Arena, Tribe’s The Low End
Theory, KRS’s By Any Means Necessary, Brand
Nubian’s One For All, the Main Source’s Breakin
Atoms, and MC Lyte’s Lyte as a Rock, that were
composed without direct reference to the live freestyle
environment, but were made during the rise of freestyle rhyming.
Here arises an important relation between lyrical competition
and musical cooperation.
The final paper is a treatment of one facet
of hiphop music and culture produced during the late 80s and
early 90s—roughly a five-year period. Students have special
topics, such the relationship between college radio and the
whole album concept. What are the differences between freestyle
music and concept albums? What is the relationship between the
two? Explain, using specific examples.
To carry out some of these basic tasks, the
academic needs to locate the fanzines and the tapes of the great
live radio freestyle battles. This requires grants. Once the project is started, it’s easy to
arrange a writing and musicology course on hiphop, because, like
jazz, the artifacts of the culture are some of the most advanced
forms of artistic consciousness and social history that we have
available in our society.
is Assistant Professor of English at Al-Quds University
in Abu Dees, the West Bank, and the author of
Socialist Joy in the Writing of Langston Hughes.
posted by 16 November 2005
The President’s Agenda and the African American
Note: One should take a
careful look at the phrasing in the above presidential appeal to
the "African America Community." It is not an "African American
Agenda" by the President but a "President's Agenda." It is
always when it comes to black Americans about Mr. Obama than
about black American communities.
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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered
the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It
By H. W. Brands
In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign. The Economy
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Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
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The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
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Ancient African Nations
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
24 February 2012