- Writing the Future of Black America: Literature of the Hip-Hop Generation
Daniel Grassian, the author of Hybrid Fictions: American Literature and Generation X (2003) and Understanding Sherman Alexie (2005), offers another view into contemporary literature with his 2009 publication, Writing the Future of Black America: Literature of the Hip-Hop Generation, a study of a culturally-inscribed literary movement in America during the 1980s and 1990s. Grassian situates Writing the Future of Black America in the wake of era-defining works such as Bakari Kitwana's The Hip-Hop Generation (2002) and other "hip-hop scholars" who link Afrocentrism's politics with hip-hop's urban narratives, lyrical boldness, and social protest (3). As well, Grassian incorporates the opinions of seminal African American cultural critics such as Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Bill Cosby who acknowledge the "gulf between the civil rights generation of African Americans . . . and the hip-hop generation" (1). Having thoroughly recognized prevailing ideas on and of the hip-hop generation, Writing the Future of Black America breaks new ground in studies of African American literature by promoting eight African American writers who have come of age during hip-hop music's rise to prominence—Trey Ellis, Jake Lamar, Colson Whitehead, Paul Beatty, Danzy Senna, Allison Joseph, Terrence Hayes, and Suzan-Lori Parks. By virtue of their unique responses to the literary, political, and cultural milieu of the past thirty years, these authors help to define a genre of literature that distances itself from postmodernism and "Generation X" writing, as well as from preceding traditions of African American literature.
Grassian's introduction describes hip-hop as a reasonably inclusive and fluid concept that has shifted from being a "medium of social protest, as it was more so in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to more of a big business promoting toughness and hedonism" (5). Yet for Grassian's purposes, hip-hop's popular tropes of violence, materialism, and authenticity are less important than its adaptability to individual artist's aims. Grassian argues that these eight authors of the hip-hop generation commonly address the question of "what [to] strive for or aspire towards individually and collectively for the African American community," now that "race, discrimination, and prejudice in contemporary America" are "increasingly complex" and differ from the difficulties previous generations faced (17). Grassian does not suggest, however, that these authors subscribe to a set literary identity or bind themselves to generalized aims. Rather, he takes pains to explore each author's success in what hip-hop critic Tony Boyd would describe as "honoring one's [own] convictions" and "keepin' it real" (qtd. in Grassian 10).
As the title of his book suggests, Grassian's most exciting goal for Writing the Future of Black America is promoting writers who can influence younger generations of authors and readers, whose own labels will likely continue to defy strictures of identity and who will be in a position to "counteract inequalities, prejudice, and racism" (183). [End Page 198]
In light of the hip-hop generation's potential for re-identification and reassessment, Writing the Future of Black America's importance rests in its timeliness. Specifically, Grassian claims that these eight authors represent and depict the "intersection point between academics and street life"—a point at which the degrees of success for urban youths and the intensity of racial tension vary (182). At a time when mainstream films such as Dangerous Minds (1995), Finding Forrester (2000), Freedom Writers (2007), and Precious (2009) oversimplify the academic-street life intersection by too often depicting the successes of urban youths as contingent upon the efforts of white liberals, Grassian's book is indispensable in current scholarship, as are the authors he promotes.
In the chapters devoted to individual hip-hop generation authors, Writing the Future of Black America places each author in an ongoing trajectory of academic-meets-street aestheticism that addresses a nebulous concept of race through diverse fictional, poetic, and dramatic forms. The chapter on Trey Ellis, author of "The New Black Aesthetic" (1989...