Enter your mobile phone or email address
By pressing "Send link," you agree to Amazon's Conditions of Use.
You consent to receive an automated text message from or on behalf of Amazon about the Kindle App at your mobile number above. Consent is not a condition of any purchase. Message & data rates may apply.
Follow the Author
All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America Hardcover – June 19, 2008
The Amazon Book Review
Book recommendations, author interviews, editors' picks, and more. Read it now.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
- ASIN : 1592403743
- Publisher : Gotham; 0 edition (June 19, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 186 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781592403745
- ISBN-13 : 978-1592403745
- Reading age : 18 years and up
- Item Weight : 1.01 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.78 x 0.77 x 8.56 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,597,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
"Um, hey, kidz. Uh, do you ever feel like your parents just don't understand you? Let's hear what the Fresh Prince and D.J. Jazzy Jeff have to say about that!"
I just can't subject my students to that.
I'm also uncomfortable with the notion that we should substitute Jay Z for Shakespeare in the urban English classroom, the tacit assumption being that urban kids can't relate to the latter. Hm. Meanwhile, the suburban kids are learning the Western canon as well as the rhetoric they need to succeed in the current culture. That seems like a pretty raw deal for the urban kids, in my opinion. Plus, who are we to decide for them whether or not they can relate to Shakespeare?
I've always been interested in this debate, which is why I added this book to my wishlist. While McWhorter doesn't deal at length with education, I still found his premise to be relevant to my concerns as a teacher. He argues that hip hop is most effective as an art form and not as a platform to discuss politics. He stresses repeatedly that his issue is not with the vulgarity of rap, but rather its inability to usher in a revolution for the black community in the way that the Civil Rights era did. (He reminded me a bit of Neil Postman meets Lisa Delpit). Throughout the book, he analyzes the lyrics of both popular rap and underground, "conscious" rap, demonstrating that the lyrics do not reflect a thoughtful understanding of the needs of the black community, do not engage seriously in debate and are mainly about asserting a certain attitude rather than fighting the real fight for change.
The book is very engaging (even funny at times) and McWhorter's writing style is truly winning. I'm not sure I'm convinced by everything he puts forth; I would love to hear his opponents' counterarguments. But, even still, the book is a worthwhile read that provides food for thought. I enjoyed it.
This is the thesis of John McWhorter's "All About the Beat." Hip-hop mlght be good music, but it makes for empty political commentary. It is time, McWhorter says, to treat hip-hop as what it is and not more than what it is.
Before buying this book - and if you are interested in the subject, you really should pick it up - we need to be clear on what this book is NOT. The book is not dissing hip-hop. It is not a conservative screed decrying the lack of family values in hip hop. It is not arguing that hip-hop is ruining the fabric of society. It's point is simply that hip-hop music, often touted as political commmentary laced with a beat, is nothing of the sort; it is music that OCCASIONALLY TRIES (and fails) to be political commentary.
McWhorter first focuses on the 'big' rappers - 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, et. al. - and, not suprisingly, finds this music virtually bereft of any real political statement other than "f... the man!" Next, McWhorter focuses on the "conscious" rappers - Mos Def, Common, the Roots - and finds that while their lyrics may be more about positivity than the thug life, these rappers still offer only very surface-level "political commentary." Rather than, "f... the man," these rappers say essentially the same thing in more tidy and seemingly thoughtful words - "rebel against the machine," perhaps.
McWhrter's strongest point, at least to me, is the idea that what passes as political commentary in rap is so light that it would not, and should not, be seen as political commentary at all. Let me quote directly from McWhorter on this score:
"Yet people apparently see great drama in young black men of humble circumstances knowing something about current events. The quiet assumption is that for a white person, being an intellectual means making points sustained with argumentation, and possibly writing it down. But a black person is intlelectual if he or she just says the names of W.E.B. Dubois and Malcolm X in a rap." (loc. 961)
What some say is "political commentary" in rap is usually just mention of some current social ill, civil rights, or big words like "manifest." Through some sustained analysis of supposedly deep rap lyrics, McWhorter demonstreats this phenomenon again and again; any "political message" in rap music is generally confined to a few lines, inordinate amounts of vagueness, and compulsive emphasis on moaning problems rather than spitting solutions.
So, why did I give this book 4 stars rather than 5? To be honest, a large reason was that McWhorter's points are so obvious, that I kept wondering why a book was written on it at all. Aside from about 5 scholars (Michael Eric Dyson being the most prominent), I don't think that many folks take seriously rap - or ANY form of music - as astute political commentary. While the book was a fun read, and the analysis of rap lyrics fascinating, it is still a book written to counter a handful of ivory tower academics.
This brings me to my next point. I REALLY would have liked to see a chapter or section comparing rap's present situation to that of 60's protest music, which somewhow was considered political commentary. What, if anything, makes the two situations different. (My guess is that the music of the 60's, like rap, can be called political commentary only in the sense that it contained sprinkles of rageing lyrics that managed to tap into people's anger, but could not really be seen as sustained political analysis.) It REALL would have been nice to see a section exploring this, though, because I suspect that the scholars that want to see rap as a potential political art-form probably model this desire on hopes that it will recreate what 60's folk was to the hippie generation.
All in all, this is an interesting book, even though its scope is a lot smaller than some will expect. Those who hope for a screed against rap as art will be very disappointed, as will anyone expecting a dissertaion on rap's supposed immorality. McWhoter confines himself to a much narrower thesis, and makes it forcefully.
I enjoyed reading it, I just wished he used other hip-hop artists too, such as Camp Lo and Blueprint. I feel like he attempted to use known artists, and didn't invite the reader to explore.