Adam Mansbach 2008

Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing 


And It Don’t Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years
Edited by Raquel Cepeda
Faber & Faber/368 pages

Hip-hop’s expansion from a Bronx-based artform to a global force is the cultural story of the last quarter-century. No other music in American history has so explicitly centralized politics, or become so central to politics. No other music has been so quickly adopted by the academy, or so thoroughly exploited by film, television and advertising. Hip-hop is the lingua franca of American youth, and – for better or for worse - the primary public space in which dramas of race, class and gender are played out.

Most crucial to hip-hop’s takeover is the urgency of the culture itself – an urgency that has dictated the means of expression since hip-hop’s birth. A typical rapper packs ten times as many words into a song as a singer does. Why? Because he feels he has to. Graffiti, hip-hop’s visual artform, is inherently public and intrinsically illegal. Even breakdancing and DJing, the other two of the ‘four elements’ cited as pillars by purists, are collage-based, party-oriented, and obsessed with movement and evolution. Hip-hop is constantly pushing toward the future; in its early days it learned to repurpose technology – spraycans, turntables, records – and now technology, like fashion and marketing and politics, is desperate to stay abreast of it.

Today, the Hip-Hop Vote is fervently organized and courted. Twelve years after Bill Clinton attacked rapper Sister Souljah on the campaign trail – sending a coded message that despite his Arsenio Hall appearances and empathetic bearing, he was still willing to put young black people in their places – the Democratic Party has flipped the script. Wesley Clark quotes Outkast; John Kerry professes a dubious love of Tupac Shakur.

Hip-hop journalism has evolved alongside the culture and, like jazz writing and rock criticism, become an artform in itself. Throughout its existence, hip-hop has been constantly embattled: attacked by outsiders for its alleged lack of musicality, its inducements to violence, its unreconstructed capitalism, its misogyny. Debate within the hip-hop nation has touched on many of the same points: devotees’ dismay with the direction the culture has taken has been consistently high since the beginning of the vapid, materialistic P. Diddy era. Today, it is entirely possible to be a hip-hopper who doesn’t listen to rap anymore – to love the culture’s essence so much that you refuse to deal with its current, diluted manifestation.

And It Don’t Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years does an excellent job of tracking both hip-hop’s development and hip-hop journalism’s increasingly strident critiques. Editor Raquel Cepeda’s anthology begins with pieces by noted critics Steven Hager and Nelson George. Their contributions are representative of the ‘discovery’ era of hip-hop journalism, when established scribes struggled to sell pieces about the burgeoning New York culture to skeptical magazines.

Capping the book’s 1980s section is John Leland’s seminal 1988 Spin interview with Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. At the time of its publication, Public Enemy was perhaps the most important group in the world, and Chuck was trying to weather a storm of controversy over the group’s militant image. Sixteen years later, the interview still crackles with tension and importance, a relic from the days when hip-hop’s foremost figures were unabashedly political, and journalists asked them tough questions.

And It Don’t Stop’s 1990s section illustrates the two directions hip-hop journalism took as rap gained national prominence, magazines like Vibe and The Source sprang up to cover it, and the career hip hop journalist was born: the celebrity profile and the reflective essay.

Although some of the former seem dated, they are important artifacts of a time when hip-hop journalism was all about access: how close the writer, and thus the reader, could get to the artist. Standout profiles include Selwyn Seyfu Hinds’ wide-angled piece on The Fugees return to their native Haiti, Robert Marriott’s interview with elusive microphone deity Rakim, and Danyel Smith’s profile of Foxy Brown – a piece as famous for its aftermath as its content, heralding as it did the lamentable era of disgruntled artists starting fights with critical-minded journalists.

The 1990s’ essays stand up even better. Joan Morgan’s piece “The Nigga You Love To Hate” explores the conflict between a love of hip-hop and a hatred of sexism. It presages much journalism to come, both in its intermingling of the personal with the analytic, and its technique of using an album as gateway to a think-piece. Greg Tate’s essay on A Tribe Called Quest’s disappointing fourth album is music criticism at its most thoughtful, and a revealing glimpse at a devoted writer increasingly disgusted with what hip-hop has become. Hilton Als and Charles Aaron contribute insightful meditations on race and co-option – proof of the depth and breadth of analysis hip-hop is capable of provoking. The book’s shorter 2000 section offers equally compelling pieces, including a fed-up-with-self-exploitation-posing-as-feminism Lil Kim review by Cepeda herself.

Although Cepeda’s selections are superb, they are drawn from surprisingly few sources; of the thirty pieces in And It Don’t Stop, twenty-three were originally published in Vibe, Spin, The Source or The Village Voice. While all of these are important outlets, it’s a shame that none of the fine independent magazines of the 1990s are represented. Ego Trip, Stress, On The Go, Rap Pages, International Graffiti Times and Rap Sheet were all crucial, and their writing was often edgier, funnier and closer to the street than that of their corporate competitors. By the same token, with the exception of Sasha Jenkins’ piece on the death of graffiti writer Spek and Sally Banes ‘80s piece on breakdancing, the non-musical elements of the culture are given short shrift. Nonetheless, And It Don’t Stop is an entertaining, thoughtfully-compiled journey through hip-hop journalism, and a valuable addition to any hip-hop bookshelf.

Adam Mansbach’s second novel, Angry Black White Boy, or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay, will be published by Crown in March 2005.


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing