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Where You're at Paperback – 1 Aug 2004
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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.
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.
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!