Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More Books by Black People You Should Be Reading (and a few words about hip hop)

As I mentioned last night, the PBS documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes featured a number of critics and historians whose work I really enjoy. You'll probably enjoy them too.

Jelani Cobb
He's a history professor at Spelman College and was one of the most vocal supporters of the young women there when they spoke out against the portrayal of black women in hip hop music. His latest book is called The Devil and Dave Chappelle. Don't you want to read that?

Mark Anthony Neal
He's a professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke. He works primarily on black popular music, which he argues functions as vernacular theory in black culture (which is the same thing I argue about African American literature, but he sounds much smarter than I do and has published five books. I try hard not to hate him). His latest book, New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity, is a wonderfully insightful and passionate call for a new blueprint for black masculinity that doesn't keep black men locked in the soul-killing box of homophobic, misogynist, patriarchal, violent, hypermasculinity. It's a great read.

And a few words on hip hop: in the last three days I've seen and heard a number of talk show segments dedicated to the ills of hip hop. Paula Zahn' show tonight featured a poll--Hip Hop: art or poison? (Uhh, can't it be both? As a woman, I find Kanye West's "Golddigger" ["I ain't saying she's a golddigger/But she ain't messing with no broke nigger"] kinda insulting. But it's also a really, really good song.) We all seem really eager and willing to discuss all that's wrong with hip hop, very ready to chastise these artists for their misogyny and homophobia and glorification of violence. Yet, we don't seem to get that worked up about those same issues elsewhere in our society. Is misogyny particularly wrong when it comes from black men? Do we care about homophobia only when black men are doing the gay-bashing? As both Tim Wise and Michael Eric Dyson said on Paula Zahn's show, there is a lot to criticize in hip hop, but we shouldn't let that distract us from the larger issue, namely that things like sexism and homophobia (and racism) are systemic in our culture. And, I would add, let us not forget that 50 Cent and Nelly don't represent the whole of hip hop. To see some alternatives, check out Dave Chappelle's Block Party, a concert film featuring some of hip hop's finest.


jmsloop said...

I'm wondering, given your comments about Neal's book, if you've read Todd Boyd's H.N.A.C.? In my mind, Boyd has made some of the strongest arguments that we look toward hip hop as, not only vernacular theory, but also the location to look for "updated" civil rights politics (I know that's not the way Boyd would want me to putt it, but it gets to the heart of the matter). Anyway, thoughts?

Conseula said...

I have read parts of Boyd's H.N.I.C. and other works. And I think he's right about the "updated" politics. Both he and Nelson George (who writes a lot about the "post-soul" era) have been right to assert that we have moved into a different era of African American history and American racial politics. The paradigms of the civil rights era don't necessarily help us understand or speak to our current moment. Hip hop seems to be the place where we can most visibly see the concerns and questions of this era playing out. Neal's work, though, is particularly interesting to me because he does academic work on black cultural productions (as I do)and I envy his critical skill. His book Soul Babies is one of my favorites.

Gunfighter said...

You might also want to try "Ghettonation", by Cora Daniels.

I disagree with Dyson... as I do on most issues, but, there you go, one gunfighter's opinon.