At the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, writing about hip-hop is at an interesting crossroads. On the one hand, we continue to see a wealth of fine academic writing published by scholars in fields as diverse as cultural studies, musicology, and women's studies; on the other, we have noticed a dramatic decline in the quality of popular writing about hip-hop, much of which has succumbed to crude street language in an attempt to increase readership. This kaleidoscope, by turns overly pedantic and gratuitously coarse, creates a conundrum as hip-hop struggles to define—and redefine—itself.
This article distinguishes three categories of writing about hip-hop—works by academics, works by journalists and cultural critics, and works by hip-hop's devotees—and discusses a handful of significant publications written between 1988 and 2008. This twenty-year written history of hip-hop is considered through a variety of lenses, with the hope that the various points of view might illuminate new directions for hip-hop's chronicled future.