by S. Craig Watkins
Avoiding the easy definitions and caricatures that tend to celebrate or condemn the “hip hop generation,” Hip Hop Matters focuses on the fierce and far-reaching battles being waged in politics, pop culture, and academe to assert greater control over the movement. At stake, Watkins argues, is the impact hip hop will have in the lives of the young people who live and breathe the culture.
The story unfolds through revealing profiles, looking at such players as Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, widely recognized as America’s first hip-hop mayor; Chuck D, the self-described “rebel without a pause” who championed the Internet as a way to keep socially relevant rap music alive; and young activists who represent hip hop’s insurgent voice. Watkins also presents incisive analysis of the corporate takeover of hip hop; the culture’s march into America’s colleges and universities; and the rampant misogyny that undermines the movement’s progressive claims.
Ultimately, we see how the struggle for hip hop reverberates with a larger world: global media consolidation and conglomeration; racial and demographic flux; generational cleavages; the reinvention of the pop music industry; and the ongoing struggle to enrich the lives of ordinary youth.
Beneath the glitz and glut of mainstream hip-hop, there's an underground movement of "conscious rap," political angst and an anticapitalist ethos that would make even Bill Gates throw his hands in the air. That conscious rap is what Watkins, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, champions in this solid book. It's an ambitious attempt to cover a culture that began in the late '70s and is now an almost universal influence on global youth. Watkins wisely chooses to focus on what has not been said-like that it was a 43-year-old woman who produced hip-hop's first hit, "Rapper's Delight," or that hip-hop lit is one of the fastest-growing markets in book publishing. He tells his version of hip-hop's history in lyrical prose, often mirroring the rhythms and wordplay of the music he's discussing. He doesn't assert an overt thesis, but it's clear he believes that the more conscious, political hip-hop (think Common instead of Fifty Cent) is what has the potential to revolutionize youth, and by extension, America. This is undoubtedly a book for fans, but it is also an intriguing look at how hip-hop has become part of a universal cultural conversation. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
S. Craig Watkins is associate professor of radio-TV-film, sociology, and African American studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Representing: Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Paperback: 295 pages