The Hip Hop Wars

(Perseus Books)




A lot of people like to blame hip-hop for society’s ills. More
than a decade ago, Tipper Gore led congressional hearings about how bad gangster
rap was for the United
States. In 2002, Bill O’Reilly encouraged
viewers to boycott Pepsi for their sponsorship of rapper Ludacris, because
O’Reilly thought Ludacris’ lyrics were a crappy example for children everywhere
– and Pepsi would go on to drop Ludacris because of it. And in 2004, students
at Spelman College,
a historically black women’s college in Atlanta,
protested rapper Nelly’s performance on their campus after his video for song
“Tip Drill” showed him swiping a credit card through a girl’s butt.



So to say that hip hop is dead – or at least gets a bad rap
from modern society – isn’t an understatement, and it’s a phenomena that Tricia
Rose explores in The Hip Hop Wars, a
collection of various essays about “what we talk about when we talk about hip
hop – and why it matters,” according to the book’s cover. The book, which Rose
describes in her preface as an attempt to “arm young black men and women, and
everyone else, with powerful critical tools so that they can expose and
challenge the state of commercial hip hop,” mainly discusses the problems with
modern hip-hop and how it has been manipulated both by critics and by artists,
capitalist decisions that “not only dumb down the music but minimize fan
knowledge and constrain the conversation as a whole.”



And Rose has done her homework. Each chapter, which range
from discussing whether hip hop causes violence, actually reflect “ghetto
culture,” hurts black people, destroys America’s values or demeans women, holds
immense amounts of research, such as a variety of pertinent quotes from artists
and critics at the beginning of each chapter and numerous details about hip-hop
drama through the years, from negative criticism by Ronald Reagan back in the
‘80s to a description of the whole Don Imus “nappy-headed hoes” thing in 2007.


Yet the book’s main downfall is its inherent preachiness:
While it is essentially a tell-all of what hip-hop has done wrong in the past
decades, it sometimes reads like a laundry list of ills and makes it seem like
everyone and everything related to hip-hop is negative and demoralizing.
Granted, this is Rose’s inherent thesis, but it can be tedious to read, making The Hip Hop Wars not a book to read
straight-through but instead one to be taken in small doses. When read in that
way, however, it’s an interesting, somewhat enlightening look at the criticisms
against hip-hop, the culture surrounding the genre and what Rose thinks can be
done to change both for the better. You may not agree, but hey, that’s your


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