Where You're at Paperback – 1 Aug 2004
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|Paperback, 1 Aug 2004||
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It presents a variety of interesting socio-cultural issues without being pedantic, and best of all, the author is very unapologetic about making the book strictly his own -- his quest for his truth, his answers, all situated within possible truths and answers that may exist for other people.
For someone coming from the other side of the mythical music border (I know, I know, metal has grass-roots in hip hop) this book was an amazing read, and has offered me an inside glimpse into this genre that has heightened my respect and admiration for it even more. Just think what it could do for you -- a hip hop head!
He pieces this book together very well, and its organization is a testiment to his skill as a writer and journalist.
I noticed a weak point in that the repetition of thequestion and answer of "what hip hop is" in almost every paragraph and chapter, if you have an issue with what it is, or a personal concern that is regarding it, you maybe more interested.
His span of the globe also has a kind of import to his thesis that he doesn't really explain (why give as much time/space to French and African hip hop, for example, in what I found was a very slender volume.) OK, I'm from the West Coast and the focus on NYC got a bit tiresome too.
Partway through the book I also realized that if I started reading this knowing it would be more about business and economics I wouldn't feel this little trace of disappointment.
I don't want to make it seem like it's a bad book, because it really is good. The guy knows his stuff, and the references to lyrics, songs etc. flow along really well as you're reading. I wish there were more people writing about hip hop, their experiences with it and history of it. I've already started a list of tracks I want to from this book!
There is a kind of problem with writing about hip hop without being a lyricist- especially in a musical genre that is so self-parodying and self-critizing. You just get bogged down in pretension or stiffness, maybe. But it usefully opens a dialogue about/on issues of sellout music, the underground, and the media. He is pretty self-conscious though of who is and how he appears to those he interviews, which at the same time displaces me, as a reader, even more than I usually am in approaching the culture/music.
One great part was the use of ebonics to lower/raise the speaker in certain situations- a white exec saying "yo dawg" (oh the number of times I have experienced this!) and a black kid responding "yo dawg" - has reverse effects on each speaker. The white exec gets to be "hip" the black kid gets to be shot down.
The book follows a pretty set formula. Neate will travel to some city (he goes to New York, Tokyo, Johannesberg, Cape Town, and Rio) starts each section by providing some background about the history of hip-hop in the region and how it has evolved. The portions where he explains the lyrical and musical nature of the global variations are some of the most interesting parts of the book, such as how Brazillians seem to be far more amenable to overtly political music and the derivative nature of a lot of Japanese hip-hop. He will then proceed to interview several underground artists or activists associated with hip-hop who generally emphasize positivity and eschew the mainstream. Then he goes to a club or two and describes his surroundings. This methodology clearly prevents the book from being very comprehensive in scope, though Neate did seem to do his homework on the history of each city's respective hip-hop scene and I wish he went more in-depth on describing the sounds of global hip-hop. I haven't listened to a ton of hip-hop from outside the US, but in general I have noticed that it is almost impossible to find an artist from outside North America that "sounds" American, and not just due to an accent or language barrier. Furthermore, hip-hop is a largely verbal genre and thus no one in North America is regularly exposed to (non-Psy) hip-hop from other continents. As a result, Neate is really covering unknown territory (to me anyway) when he discusses aspects of each city's hip-hop music. But the author spends most of his time outlining the social and racial aspects of the genre in each city while making sure to take time to cast a disdainful eye towards the shallow nature of the country's more mainstream artists. While Neate states that his intends his book to be a snapshot of what hip-hop was like in parts of cities, I think it may have been better if he tried to give a more comprehensive overview and focused more on the macro than the micro within each city. Some of the individual interviews didn't feel like they really added much to the book. While the book is ten years at this point, if anything I found this to be a plus as it presented a reminder of the state of the genre in 2003 (apparently Fabolous was bigger than I remembered).
Though knowledgeable, Neate can be a rather irritating tour guide throughout the book. I understand why he includes his personal experiences with hip-hop in the introduction, but I felt that he injected too much of himself into the book in other sections, such as when his girlfriend gets groped at Japanese club. Perhaps it his insecurities regarding his UK citizenship or his race, but something compels Neate to constantly drop random unnecessary hip-hop facts to establish his hip-hop bonafides. He assiduously footnotes every musical reference he makes and his prose is ridden with irrelevant parenthetical musings (how dare he!) And its not like the fun trivia tidbits I include at the end of my reviews. It is far more didactic fare like when he notes how to delineate an "emcee" from a "rapper." I get a similar feeling of "this author really feels like he needs to establish his credibility and knowledge of the genre" with a lot of Pitchfork's rap reviews. It's not too pleasant. He also can be prone to some rather absurd theories, such as how Shrek is actually an allegory for eminent domain where a "negroid" ogre is forced to leave his lovely but ramshackle swamp dwelling by an uptight white guy and how Enron's collapse was a result of the company's failing to "keep it real."
Though it has an interesting concept, Where You're At ultimately fell flat for me due to its overly academic nature and what I saw as an overemphasis of social and racial components of hip-hop rather than musical ones. If you are really into sociology and racial identity especially in countries such as Brazil and South Africa then you might like this book more. I suppose a good bit of my disappointment with the book resulted from the fact that it's subject matter didn't really conform to my expectations.
Observations/Interesting Things Learned
I was worried that Neate would spend the bulk of his time in New York interviewing obscure rappers and "hip-hop activists" who while providing legitimately helpful services to the community would not be able to provide much insight into any of my favorite hip-hop albums. And he certainly meets a lot with the former in all five cities. But New York was the one city that actually featured artists I have heard of and I kept my fingers crossed that some of them might show up on his pages. Neate actually gets to pay a visit to the Definitive Jux record label in lower Manhattan, responsible for releasing some of the best underground hip-hop of the 21st century from acts like El-P, Cannibal Ox, and Aesop Rock. Aesop and El are even in the building when the author comes by. Unfortunately, El-P seems to do nothing but sleep on a couch and Aes is similarly laconic. While EL-P is a pretty stocky guy who probably doesn't take especially well to having his sleeping habits disrupted this was still the most disappointing part of a book that I didn't really enjoy all that much.
Big L's posthumous album The Big Picture actually went gold, something I was not aware of. This achievement was considerably tainted in my eyes when the book goes on to explain that Rawkus records bought the album back from stores in order to inflate its sales numbers.
According to Neate, France is the second largest market for hip-hop music, or at least it was at the time the book was written in 2003. The country also has a music bureau whose sole purpose seems to be creating an overseas market for French musical product. I couldn't imagine it being that difficult to sell foreign folks on Air or Daft Punk but I hope for the sake of all hypothetical Bureau Export employees that they consider Celine Dion outside of the organization's jurisdiction.
I was always afraid that even with all the weird I books I read I would go through live having never seen the phrase "white Mozambican ska band" in print. Thanks to page 118 of this book I can scratch that one off the bucket list.
Maybe this is old hat for those who had already graduated pre-school before the end of South African apartheid but I found the pencil test to be one of the more absurd government policies I ever read about. Used to determine race in the country, (South Africans can be seen as either white, black, or colored, a concept that Neate spends a lot of time with in the book) the test consisted of sticking a pencil in the hair of child with questionable race. If the pencil stayed in their hair they were considered "colored" while if it fell the ground they were considered "white." Ridiculous.
First off, know that this review comes from a Hip Hop culture insider. I was born when Hip Hop began and have lived it my entire life even now making it my profession. I say this to draw a contrast between the other reviews I've read here and to establish a basis for my primary criticism.
My main beef with this book is that it is written by a non-Black, non-Latino Englishman living in England. This is significant in my opinion because it is like reading a book on Chinese Folk Dancing written by a Swede living in Sweden. Most of the insight felt like listening to a foreigner who watches "Baywatch" explain California surf culture.
Frequently throughout this book you hear foreigners complaining about the state of Hip Hop in America. Again, this felt to me like listening to people complaining about the decline of a foreign TV show they watch. However, their (including the author's) perspective often suggested that somehow Hip Hop has some independent existence other than what America creates. For example, in an interview a gentleman in South Africa says, "The way I feel? I think American hip-hop's played out. That's why it's our time to shine." Going to back to my earlier illustration, can you imagine a Swede saying that Chinese Folk Dancing is played out or now it's time for Swedish Chinese Folk Dancing to shine?
Hip Hop is an American art form created primarily by American minorities and expressive of their unique socioeconomic experiences. Other countries can appreciate our art form, they can imitate our art form but unless they are in America experiencing life as we do, they cannot CREATE our art form. This is glaringly evident by the fact that everywhere in the world the author went the "Hip Hop heads" he found were wearing American sports gear, using Black American slang and reciting American cultural history as if it were their own.
International Hip Hop is a culture of admiration and imitation. It cannot be anything else. As such, how credible is a book on Hip Hop, which many times throughout its pages asks and tries to answer the question "What is Hip Hop?", written by someone who is watching its creation from another country with its own unique experiences and perspective?
To be fair, the author speaks of his many travels to the States. However, I can't imagine ever writing a book on something native to the UK unless I had really spent a significant amount of time living in and contributing to the culture from the inside. Even then, not being a native, I would still have to speak as an admitted outsider.
My bottom line then is, if Patrick Neate had written this book saying, "I write this to express what Hip Hop looks like to the rest of the world" I would have given it 5 stars. To add to my previous example, that would be a book an American Hip Hop artist such a myself could never write. I could never express how a foreigner sees Hip Hop.
So rename this book, "How the world experiences the American Hip Hop Phenomenon" and I'll help him promote on the next book tour.