Michael Eric Dyson on Hip-Hop

The boyfriend is a Michael Eric Dyson fan. We always mean to attend his book signings at the Shrine of the Black Madonna down here in Houston, but never seem to make it. As I continue with my reading of Hunting in Harlem—it is taking a minute because I have been on an endless journey through the South—I offer you an excerpt of Dyson’s latest book provided by the Today Show website. Also be sure to go to Dyson’s website to read Jay-Z’s introduction for the book. I’m sure you’re thinking exactly what I am. Is a non-fiction book intro written by Jay-Z really worth reading? Again, find out for yourself by checking Dyson’s site.

In the meantime, let’s continue to wonder what titles are on Jay-Z’s book list. I can only imagine. And if you don’t read many books (for whatever reason), is it justifiable for you to write introductions for them? I’m just saying. Nas did Dyson’s outro and he’s a reader (although 50 cent dissed him for it). Jay-Z on the other hand…

PRELUDE – Hip Hop and Its Critics

“Sir, please turn around and face me,” the Hartsfield-Jackson airport security employee directed me.

As I complied, he continued to methodically search me at the security checkpoint. This tall, taffy-faced figure barely out of his youth reminded me of my son. As I caught his eye when he frisked my outstretched arms, he whispered to me while maintaining his professional demeanor.

“Man, I really feel your work on Pac,” he gently stated, referring to my book Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur. “Plus, I’ve seen Thug Angel and Tupac Vs. [two documentaries on the slain rapper in which I’d participated], and you be puttin’ it down.”

“May I please place my hands on your chest since my detector went off?” he quizzed me more formally without missing a beat.

“Sure, no problem,” I replied. “That’s where my suspenders are. And I’m glad you like the work.”

“Fo’ sho’, fo’ sho’,” he said as he effortlessly slid back into his vernacular voice. “I’m just glad to know that somebody from your generation cares about Pac and hip hop, and takes the time to listen to what we’re saying.

“All right sir, I’m finished. You’re done. But could you do me a big favor?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

The young man retreated to a portable booth tucked away at the end of the security line and fetched a dog-eared paperback copy of my book. His action was all the more remarkable because there was a long line waiting as he handed me my work.

“If you don’t mind, please sign this before you go.”

I was moved by his heartfelt compliments. He was eloquent proof that not everyone in his generation is illiterate, destructive, and materialistic. We weren’t in school, and he wasn’t reading my book for extra credit. Like the best students, he read for passion, and for the pleasure and pursuit of intellectual stimulation. He read because he wanted to better understand his life, his world, and why this music mattered to him the way it did. He wanted to find inspired ideas to explain his feelings. Most importantly, he seemed hungry for a sign that intellectuals and older folk understand the importance of hip hop. He also wanted to know that his culture hasn’t been blanketed by contempt or smothered by undiscriminating enthusiasm. And his delight in me taking Tupac seriously was an unspoken nod to the fierce crosswinds in which hip hop is presently caught.

There are some, like jazz great Wynton Marsalis, who dismiss hip hop as adolescent “ghetto minstrelsy.” Critics like Marsalis see rap as little more than ancient stereotypes wrapped in contemporary rhymes. Other prominent observers, such as social critic Stanley Crouch, claim that the deficits of hip hop blare beyond the borders of ugly art to inspire youth to even uglier behavior. Crouch contends in his column for the New York Daily News that hip hop’s “elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans.” It’s true that those who fail to wrestle with hip hop’s cultural complexity, and approach it in a facile manner, may be misled into unhealthy forms of behavior. But that can be said for all art, including the incest-laden, murder-prone characters sketched in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear. It makes no sense to stop critically engaging an art form or cultural movement because some kids think it “cool” that 50 Cent got shot nine times. (Read more…)

One of Dyson’s previous books is Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and Natural, Racial, and Economic Disasters, but you won’t find USA Today make any mention of it in a recent article. I guess you can’t mention every Katrina book in a one-page article, right? Must not be important enough. So they’d say. Enjoy the video clip.

Before you go, I’d like to give a shout-out to someone who just started up a blog of their own. I recently fussed at him for not updating it often enough, but still be sure to check out Education Noir. You might learn something.

Happy reading ya’ll.

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