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Reviewed by:
Rabaka, Reiland. Hip Hop’s Amnesia: From Blues and the Black Women’s Club Movement to Rap and the Hip Hop Movement. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012.
White, Miles. From Jim Crow to Jay-Z: Race, Rap, and the Performance of Masculinity. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2011.

Since its development as a response to and extension of disco culture in 1970s America, rap music has become perhaps the most visible dimension of African American culture into the twenty-first century. Scholars wishing to interrogate contemporary African American culture are increasingly met with a critical mass of hip hop scholarship, works that centralize this culture within a web of competing voices seeking to articulate the place of rap music and hip hop culture within the academy. Reiland Rabaka’s Hip Hop’s Amnesia: From Blues and the Black Women’s Club Movement to Rap and the Hip Hop Movement and Miles White’s From Jim Crow to Jay-Z: Race, Rap, and the Performance of Masculinity both in their own way contribute to and expand the conversation on rap and hip hop’s cultural, aesthetic, political, and social value. Employing the language and critical techniques of rap artists, White and Rabaka “sample” histories of American popular music and political activism, demonstrating “that American culture itself would be impossible to imagine without the black presence ever-residing at its margins” (White 1). Here echoing the words of Ralph Ellison, and elsewhere constructing a staggering lineage of African American luminaries from Ma Rainey and Jelly Roll Morton to W. E. B. Du Bois and bell hooks, these writers interrogate and reconstruct the history of African American popular culture and music. Through their efforts this forgotten or ignored history comes to have immediate and radical implications for an academic, as well as a more general, audience. Both writers deepen an appreciation for rap music by foregrounding the historical and cultural forces that have shaped the current generation of rap artists and their consumer base. While pursuing somewhat different ends—White focuses on rap’s construction of black masculinity within so-called “hardcore” rap, while Rabaka offers an expansive reading of the genre’s history—their work nevertheless emphasizes historical context as the primary catalyst for any understanding of hip hop as cultural phenomenon. Through this focus both works examine the at times tenuous if not outright reductive role white producers and artists have played within a primarily African American cultural product. To this end, each of these works ambitiously seeks to demonstrate how understanding rap music and hip hop culture’s history invariably allows a more nuanced understanding of hip hop’s present and future. [End Page 474]

Surveying the larger historical contexts for rap’s emergence and inception, Rabaka’s Hip Hop’s Amnesia effectively accomplishes the ambitious project of charting the political, aesthetic, cultural, and social origins and precursors to what he terms the “hip hop movement.” He privileges this term, rather than “hip hop generation” or the more limited moniker “hip hop culture,” emphasizing instead the concomitant influences of the various fields listed above on the music itself. Yet, even within an historical span that covers everything from the black women’s club movement of the late-nineteenth century, to the rise of “hardcore gangsta rap” in the 1980s, Rabaka maintains that this is only the first of a two-volume series on the “historical amnesia” of contemporary hip hop culture. The second volume, tentatively titled The Hip Hop Movement, will complement Hip Hop’s Amnesia’s primary focus on the first half of the twentieth century with an approach situated within the latter half of the century and respond to the political and social realities facing rap music in “Obama’s America” (xviii). Within his current publication, however, Rabaka provides a counter-balance to what he terms the “amnestic analyses” produced by hip hop scholars lacking the specific historical knowledge to understand how rap music (un)consciously participates within a larger discourse of politics, culture, and social rights extant within the African American experience since slavery (3). Hip Hop’s Amnesia, then, responds to not only the forgotten histories ignored by the cultural producers...


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pp. 474-477
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