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The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama Hardcover – June 1, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1ST edition (June 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199895406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199895403
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.8 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The Dozens is a profanely sacred history lesson that vacillates between monster one-liners and carefully articulated deep thoughts.... your only plausible tour guide, capable of illuminating both the blunt simplicity and fraught complexity, the cheerful frivolity and deadly severity of it all." - Rob Harvilla, Spin Magazine

"The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama is like yo mama - short but thick, a good trick, and easy to get all the way through." --Harper's Magazine

"The author's affection and respect for this strange, unheralded current of folk culture shine through every word of his book." - Washington Post

"A lively and engaging history of the oral insult game.... Wald is a respected historian of American music and has authoritatively mastered (and clearly summarizes) the vast research on the Dozens." - San Francisco Chronicle

"This impeccably researched study of the classic black insult game may be the funniest work of serious scholarship ever published--and the one that will give newspaper reviewers the most trouble, since virtually every paragraph of is studded with obscenities of the highest possible voltage. That said, The Dozens is a superlative piece of work, which won't surprise anyone who's read any of Elijah Wald's earlier books. If I ran the world, I'd give him a MacArthur." --Terry Teachout, ArtsJournal

"The dozens is the most ephemeral and most contextual of the black verbal traditions, hence the hardest to get a handle on. The origins of blues, toasts and dozens, even the sources of the names are all lost in time. But after reading Elijah Wald's superbly researched and splendidly written book, no one will have any doubt what this important tradition is and means." --Bruce Jackson, author of "Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me": African-American Narrative Poetry from the Oral Tradition

"Fascinating and groundbreaking all the way through." --Buffalo News

"This book-length study of sexualized insults makes for colorful reading and will appeal especially to anyone interested in forms of cultural expression that are considered obscene or subject to censorship." --Library Journal

"This has got to be the dirtiest scholary book ever!" --Susan McClary, author of Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality

"A pleasure to read from front to back, and Wald's vast knowledge of blues repertory allows him to make connections between songs themselves and between blues and other genres that employ the dozens. The many quotations from dozens exchanges make for colorful reading (Wald himself censors nothing), Wald's prose is consistently entertaining, the pace is brisk without sacrificing detail, and the breadth of sources ensures that every reader will come away with new information." --Sandra Jean Graham, The Bulletin of the Society for American Music

About the Author

Elijah Wald is a musician and writer who has toured on five continents and written thousands of articles for newspapers, magazines, and album notes. His ten published books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, and The Blues: A Very Short Introduction. He has taught blues history at UCLA and won multiple awards, including a 2002 Grammy.

More About the Author

For information about Elijah Wald, his books, his recordings, his other writings, and so forth and so on, visit

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By IslandWriter on June 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A warning is in order for Elijah Wald's new book on the dozens, and I don't mean for the "obscene" language throughout. Beware the temptation to do the fast-food lunch thing while trying to read at the same time -- believe me, you will just crack up and end up snorting soda through your nose.

Wald is best known as a music historian -- in my opinion, his "Escaping the Delta" is the best blues book of the past twenty years -- so this book is, to a certain extent, new territory for him. Of course, the tradition of the dozens has connections to music history including jazz musicians' cutting contests and the battles of hip-hop culture, and these connections helped to pique Wald's original interest in the subject. But that's just the starting point -- the book explores (at hilarious length) not just the African-American tradition of ritual insults but its counterparts in other countries and throughout history. Don't think you'd be interested -- too esoteric? You'd be wrong.

You'll find yourself fascinated by topics in which you may have had no previous interest, partly because it's just funny stuff, but partly because Wald is a genius at this kind of thing. I consider him a sort of "stealth scholar," presenting extremely well-researched material (the details are all there in the end notes if you want them) but in a very informal and entertaining way. It's as if Christo were to drape a pyramid with sari silk -- you know there's a solid and enduring structure under there, but the surface is colorful, textured, always flowing.

Even if your interest in African-American music and history is fairly casual, I feel certain you'll enjoy "The Dozens." (And, of course, so will yo' mama.)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Johnson on September 21, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you are an African American that grew up with a larger number of other African Americans, it is a good possibility that you played the "Dozens". Your verbal and listening skills had to be honed in order to survive the verbal attacks and counter with your own. Elijah Wald does an excellent job of providing a fantasy, rich, tantalizing, funny, and nasty history of the Dozens. If you are prude or one that is easily offended, a note of caution before reading. However, if you are willing to take a verbal risk you will find yourself laughing out loud and at the same time you will be astounded with the brutal and guttural language used to describe someone's mother, father, sister, brother . . .
I tip my hat to Mr. Wald for doing such a wonderful job helping many of us better understand the nature of the "Dozens". If you are a teacher or someone that works closely with African American youth, you will better understand the language and taunts that you often overhear, but come away with the thought that these kids are crude and rude. If you are so willing, reading Mr. Wald's book will provide you the knowledge to use the "Dozens" as teachable moments in writing, language, debating, and life. Enjoy the read and the laughs!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very scholarly and enjoyably written book on a subject rarely presented. Fascinating.
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1 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. Dreyfus on September 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The history of "the dozens" keeps a readers attention for the first 50 pages, after that it's more of the same third grade "dirty words." "The Dozens" sounds like male locker room babble, but it made me sad to hear the misogynistic verbiage directed at the mothers and sisters of men so disenfranchised themselves. Don't ease into it. Read the first three chapters the rest is too depressing.
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