Monday, April 19, 2010

#BookReview: When Rap Music Had A Conscience: The Artists, Organizations and Historic Events that Inspired, Influenced the Golden Age of Hip-Hop from 1987 to 1996 - Tayannah Lee McQuillar

Remember when rap was real? I do. It was back when I could take a dollar to the penny candy store and buy a pickle, two bags of pumpkin seeds, a pack of apple Now-n-Laters, an apple stix & a chick-o-stick. It was also a time when I could leave home at 9 a.m. on my bike, check in around noon and head back out until 8 p.m. (must be home before the street lights even think about coming on) and my mother didn't have to worry.

The first rap I ever heard was Rapper's Delight and I was hooked. When Run DMC hit the scene I learned all the words to It's Like That and even formed a dance crew with the other girls in the neighborhood. Never mind that we weren't old enough to go to any of the parties around the way, we practiced with an unbridled intensity in hopes that one day the spotlight would be on us and we'd get our turn to shine. And oh my gosh, when Afrika Bambattaa's Planet Rock came on at the skating rink? You couldn't pull me off the floor!

While a lot of today's rap music leaves much to be desired, Tayannah Lee McQuillar presents us with When Rap Music Had A Conscience in an effort to remind us that at one point, there was a message in the music. When Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released The Message they brought an awareness of life in the inner city to citizens of the world. KRS-ONE kept the ball rolling through the late 80s/early 90s, along with Public Enemy. So when did rap change? I can't pinpoint it. I won't blame it on NWA, Ice T and gangsta rap, though it would be easy to do so. I just know that there was a shift between the time I graduated college and came back a year later for homecoming. The freshmen were unlike anything I'd seen before and the music made me cringe.

Now I can't say that today's rap lyrics don't bring an awareness, but the difference is a glorification of a lifestyle that is slowly, but surely, killing our communities. There are beacons of hope within the rap world and for every Gucci Mane, there's a Common. For every Plies, there's a Mos Def. And it's not to say that even the most conscience of rappers don't occasionally slip, Common's Go makes me squirm just a bit, but their overall focus isn't the objectification of women, drugs or drive-bys. A quick read, anyone that's a fan of hip hop will certainly enjoy the trip down memory lane with this book. So in the words of the movie Brown Sugar, when did you fall in love with hip hop?

(90s B-girl in full effect)

Published March 2007

What did you like about this book?
I loved taking a trip down memory lane with the author.

What did you dislike about this book?
Some of the sections included in the book didn't necessarily fit with the overall theme of the book. For example, a section on movies from that era would have been appropriate if the soundtracks had included rap from that time period. Instead, the list included any black movie made during that era.

What could the author do to improve the book?
Some of her dates and backstories are questionable. A little more research could easily fix that.

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