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 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.



Hip Hop CDs

Straight Outta Compton (Priority, 1988)  /  Ghetto 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 & Hip Hop

Todd Boyd, The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop (2003) / Sharif Responds to Todd Boyd / Is Hip Hop Really Dead?


Brian Cross, It's Not About a Salary... Rap, Race and Resistance in Los Angeles: Rap, Race, and Resistance in Los Angeles (1993)


Tricia Rose, Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994)


Russell A. Porter,  Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (1995)


Bakari Kitwana, The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African American Culture (2003)


Imani Perry,  Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (2004)

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The Staying 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 conference Lehman


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 in response.

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 Atlanta. 

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 view.

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 hiphop." 

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 variations.

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 the albums.

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.

Jonathan Scott 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 Community—November 2011

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.RL

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#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
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#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

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#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
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#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

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#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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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 World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Related files: Poor White Boys and the Future of Hiphop   Graffiti Takeover   Hip Hop Profanity Misogyny and Violence