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When Rap Music Had a Conscience: The Artists, Organizations and Historic Events that Inspired and Influenced the Golden Age of Hip-Hop from 1 Paperback – March 29, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her introduction, cultural anthropologist McQuillar (Rootwork: The Folk Magick of Black America) reflects on contemporary urban youths' "reluctance to reflect on the broader world around them, their obsession with non-action (except when it comes to partying), and their fierce determination not to deal with the past." In particular, McQuillar is concerned about young African-Americans unfamiliar with the politically conscious rap produced by acts like Arrested Development, Public Enemy and X-Clan during the 1980s and '90s. Most of the slim volume, however, covers the symbols and byproducts of mainstream hip-hop culture. For instance, McQuillar devotes a chapter to films like Boyz n the Hood and Do the Right Thing, making a connection between these films and conscientious rap lyrics that's tenuous at best, and all the weaker for McQuillar's lack of lyrical examples. In fact, there are few examples of rap lyrics included, an oversight that's hard to miss amid McQuillar's cumbersome prose. What at first seems like a those-were-the-good-old-days diatribe makes a good point, in that contemporary rap is largely fixated on "ass, guns, cars and jewels," with almost zero concern for social or political issues; unfortunately, McQuillar doesn't present a solid case.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Three questions for Tayannah Lee McQuillar

What comes to mind when you think about rap music? If you've been paying any attention to the high-profile rap releases of the last decade, it wouldn't be surprising if that question compelled thoughts of violent lyrics, booty-filled videos and images of decadence and materialism. But as Tayannah Lee McQuillar points out in her book "When Rap Music Had a Conscience," in stores on April 10, it wasn't always that way. McQuillar's book is a celebration of the "Golden Age" of hip-hop (defined therein as occurring between 1987 and 1996), when artists like Public Enemy, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest were able to carve out a space for themselves with their thoughtful, political music. The book isn't just a look back, though; it's also a lament over the current state of rap music, which the author views as tipping too heavily in the direction of the "gangster" and "crass materialism" and away from the progressive values of the golden-era rap she holds dear. McQuillar took time out from her teaching job in New York to speak to Salon about the new book.

The majority of any popular medium tends to be of low quality and morally questionable. Why is it particularly problematic for mainstream rap to be that way?

Because it leads to a criminal mentality in the youth. I teach in an alternative high school and see the effects of this music every day. As adults we can watch gangster films -- "The Sopranos," any violent material -- and acknowledge that it's a fantasy, but I think that people forget that children are children and they take this stuff to heart. I have students come in every day -- it could be someone who's very bright -- but they have to pretend to be a thug. It's sad. A lot of kids think that keeping it real or proving their manhood means a rite of passage where they're either exploiting their own community by selling drugs or exploiting the women in their community -- all the stereotypes you see in hip-hop today are what these kids are trying to live out.

But how closely can we draw causal links between rap music and criminal behavior?

There are definitely other circumstances. I want to be clear that I'm not saying that rap music causes any of these behaviors -- this is something that's in the culture. Art is a reflection of the culture at large. If there's misogyny or sexism in society, it will be reflected in the music. The problem is not that rap music causes these behaviors but that there's no balance anymore. I'm not that old, but when I was growing up we had rappers that were talking about the same exact things that people are talking about now -- girls, cars, killing your enemies -- but we also had artists talking about other things and they were played on the radio too. That situation doesn't exist anymore. So no, I'm not blaming rap music, I'm just calling for a balance like there was in the late '80s and early '90s.

It's hard to know how your message resonates beyond the black community, and given that white listeners make up a large portion of the market for gangsta rap, what has to happen for record companies to be motivated to stop pushing that style of rap?

The thing is, black people have always set the trends in the United States. We're the epitome of cool -- it's always been that way. So if black people don't see gangsta rap as cool anymore, if they see it as played out, then even the white kids won't be interested. Right now, the point is that gangsta rap is cool, it's masculine, it's hip. Where that will change is when black kids say, "Hey, you listen to that? That's over." That's when white kids will stop buying it too. -- Salon.Com


Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (March 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560259191
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560259190
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,490,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When I started reading this book, I felt a little displaced, I was not completely aware of some of the names or events being introduced. But being a fan of music, I was anxious to find out how and where rap/hip-hop launched its presence.

Rap music was initially to be a tool, which would give voice to inner-city youth. But as rap evolved, the original goals were sacrificed to embrace a form of expression with more of a street culture. It created space, if you will, for crass commercialism in the form of sex and violence with little sense of concern for the community. As a result, pimps, hos and four letter words have engulfed the lyrical content of mainstream rap music for over a decade. With the advent of a more visual society, videos with overtly-masculine young men, fast cars, pseudo naked girls, and 'bling-bling' have added fuel to the negative connotations by fans across the globe.

WHEN RAP MUSIC HAD A CONSCIENCE is a look back at how a group of talented, educated, and idealistic youth viewed their surroundings and explored why things were the way they were. Ms. McQuillar takes a look at certain political events, movies, and literature that emancipated some of the original rap artists. With her extensive research, she hopes this abstract history will do several positive things: remind fans of a time when black communities were captivated by the original 'mic' rappers, when rappers had a message worth hearing, and when revolution, not impudence, was the cry. With a well-rounded list of artists, suggested things to read, listen to, and view, this is an engaging book.

I hope this book will ignite interest in and create dialogue about this part of rap music history. --Tayannah Lee McQuillar

Reviewed by aNN
of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a child of the 70's and coming of age in the 80's (born in 1970) I was pleased to be taken down memory lane by the Author as I was both reminded and informed of events that helped shaped my thinking as I grew up a member of the 'Hip Hop' generation. However, I do think the Author could have done a more thorough job by being more detailed as to how the events actually shaped the songs and videos of the conscious era. Examples of lyrics from certin songs would have gone a long way to prove the Author's point and substantiate her research. Nonetheless, it was still a good read and at least a starting point for the serious student of Hip Hop. Brother J's intro was a very nice touch and right on time.
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Format: Kindle Edition
rap music today is some of the worst music ever created. Often it just uses a machine to make the sounds. Any attempt at originality is lost and buried by idiotic pro gang junk lyrics. But it wasn't always like that. What now is a musical joke once had relevance and even a sense of true fun to it. THis book goes back to the early days of rap to explain this And it's a well written book.
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This book is about artists, organizations, and historic events that inspired and influenced; the "Golden Age" of Hip-Hop from 1987 to 1996. It also speaks about a time when Rap Music wasn't about banging or blinging.
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