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The world of hip-hop is always about ‘realness’ as artists use their artistic skills to show what really happens in their surroundings and how those around them interpret these issues. In his book ‘Hip-hop Revolution: the culture and politics of Rap’ Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, appreciates hip-hop and confronts the myths associated with the cult of authenticity where people want to associate with this hip-hop culture by adopting certain characteristics associated with hip-hop performers such as how they walk, talk and express themselves.
He addresses in this book, the positive role the hip-hop culture has played in the American society while overlooking the negative stereotypes that have been associated with hip-hop as just empty noise of angry youths just complaining about their problems and situations instead of doing something about it1.
In a society that is dominated by negative stereotypes in regard to race and gender and artists trying to express a sense of how they perceive real issues about race, class and gender, how does Ogbar manage to bring out the revolution that has been experienced in the world of hip-hop.
He tries to answer this by answering questions such as what it means to be real as viewed by the artists and whether truly hip-hop is disintegrating the American society. This will be addressed in this book review as we look at how the author represents his views, interpretations and research about the hip-hop culture2
The book description
In this book, Ogbar explores the lyrical world of rap and displays their struggle to identify what reality is to them, and where they belong in the class, race and gender categories and how this reality is viewed by the society in America which has not been kind at all to this genre of music.
Ogbar who has been born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, California and has studied history and African American studies, have explored the negative black images that are associated with rap and the artist’s historical and political awareness.
He has gone on to display the realities of wide spectrum rap categories such as gangsta rap represented by 50 Cent, conscious hip-hop of Mos Def and ‘underground ‘ variety of artists such as Jurassic 5 and the Roots3.
He strives to face the impression that is widely held in the American society that hip-hop is anti social and dangerous due to the crime focused lyrics, antisocial messages and the politics of racial words such as “nigga” presented especially by black youths.
This he does by presenting these artists views about their music and what it means to them and society and its place in the society4.
Ogbar represents this book with an insider love for the culture having had numerous contacts with these artists, and in his role as an adviser to many student organizations such as Black Students Association, Break dancing club, United Men of African Descent and other community organizations, majority of who are followers of the hip-hop culture.
This does not, however, obscure his role as a scholar who represents views, research and interpretations with a scholarly detachment. These two aspects makes him draw reality about popular myths about black education achievements, civic involvement, crime and sexuality in the way that has not been done before about this lifestyle that so many people in our society love to hate5.
Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar writes his book, Hip-Hop Revolution: The culture and Politics of Rap with a passion of person who deeply feels this culture while at the same time criticizing it as a detached scholar in order to bring out the real issues.
He arranges his book in a thematic manner with each chapter trying to address the major arguments surrounding rap music and hip-hop culture. He addresses the dialogues on race to a major extent the gender issues and the ideas of realness in regard to reality in his chapters.
His themes address the expanse of the debates surrounding them rather than their depth but all the same illustrate the narrowness in which blackness is interpreted in reality. The lack of depth in these themes is seen by some reviewers as leaving vital holes in this discussion as one critic6.
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The Hip-Hop Revolution: The culture and Politics of Rap work starts by drawing a parallel between hip-hop and other types of racial cultural creations in the United States of America, thereby showing their unmistakable link with the earlier creations of black studies as it is indicated7.
In Chapter one, Ogbar describes the history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries popular works of art including the emergence of jazz, rock and roll and the 1970s cinemas which displayed the extent of black exploitation and finally the growth of hip-hop in mid 1970s in New York City8.
These are the issues that created the hip-hop culture at its basics bringing to life “the real nigga” impression as it is described in9. This eventually became a very successful commercial and financial sale figure across all racial divides. This is not described in deeper details but the author clearly outlines it was behind the successful marketing of hip-hop (p. 41).
This actually saw many of these rap musicians become very successful and popular not only in America but all over the world as people wanted to identify with the black youths who are making their world better despite everything, meaning history of racial segregation and its resultants social problems.
Ogbar dedicates chapter two and three to race and gender respectively. In chapter three, he talks about politics and issues associated with the racial sentimentalities such as the use of the word “nigga.” In this dissection, Ogbar says that non-black MCs use or disuse of the word “nigga” in their art is now being dictated mainly by the black people10.
He discusses the use and commercialization of these expressions as the coming together of black agencies to give a black label authenticity to hip-hop. He gives a look at the Latino, Asian American and white MCs, but Potter says that in this part he fails to dig deeper in the first two instead focuses on rushing out at white MCs.
He says that there is a sort of solidarity between blacks and Latinos where uttering such words as “nigga” by a Latino MC is accepted by black audiences11. Here, Ogbar contradicts Rivera’s study about the relationship between African Americans and the Puerto Ricans who states that, these relationships are always strained.
Ogbar does not go into details about the Asian American artist in hip-hop considering that they are not popular in this genre of music. One wonders how they represent themselves in this kind of art that is largely seen as ‘black’ in a society that looks at it in this narrow perspective let alone being accepted by its followers as real.
Ogbar dedicates most of his discussion on this chapter on how white MCs try to fit in the hip-hop culture with all its stereotypes. He concludes that, they manage to negotiate this rough terrain amid responses of ‘intolerable violation’ and gives an example of Eminem in his early performances which he used words such as “nigga” but they eventually become accepted amid grudgingly12.
On the gender front, Ogbar discusses the good and bad images of women in hip-hop,13 by showing the perceptions people have on female MCs who display an image of either extreme soft femininity of ‘tom boy’ picture who wants to be like the boys in this trade 14.
The hip-hop culture brings out a diverse category of women who either are performers, actors or models for the hip-hop culture, but in all this women have to face strong force to contend with in marketing themselves as rappers15. This is all glued to the society’s perspective of the whole culture. Ogbar has been criticized by Johnson for his apparent oversimplification of this topic in his discussion.
Johnson says that he fails to look at the uncertainties that come with video modeling for women and its implications and he also fails to answer the question of whether it has the potential to result into its future.
It is also true that he would have at least given some insight into how these women are faring, and whether like their male counterparts a sign of success exists for them and whether we can look at women in hip-hop as viably marketable.
He could also have given examples of their struggles to be accepted into this culture and their insight into the society’s view of them as a lost cause or women who want to be like their male counterparts instead of celebrating femininity in their works.
Ogbar calls his fourth chapter in his work “Rebels with a cause: Gangstas, militants, Media, and the Contest for Hip-Hop”16 to show the misunderstandings that the society has about this form of art.
The society displays an unfounded moral panic over hip-hop according to Ogbar, while all this time what it should address is the culture war and hypocrisies highlighted by this art. Hip-hop has raised a lot of attention mainly not because of the issues addressed but because of its supposed contribution to the downfall of today’s youths due to the indecency it displays.
While Ogbar chooses to say that it is a culture of war and a lack of willingness to understand on the part of the society, I find some of the rap songs really deserving of the society’s wrath due to the content of the rhymes and videos that they contain.
Vulgar language and dances, however, blind the society, can easily corrupt the youths especially those that have other underlying social problems. 17Ogbar, however, uses statistics to argue his point on the influence of hip-hop on youths by citing increasing graduate degrees, drop in teenage pregnancies in the last two decades and increased political awareness among the youths.
Here, he wants to challenge the view that black youths are passive and uncritical listeners to national issues affecting them. Again, Ogbar fails to link clearly these statistics to the influence of rap music and the irony of their critics can also not credit bad influence of rap on the social problems the youths have been having18.
The last chapter, “Locked Up: police, the Prison Industrial Complex, Black Youth, and Social Control”, Ogbar discusses the changing trends in the lyrics of rap music.
He offers a strong criticism about the stories that portrays blacks as cop killers, but fails to look at the underlying issues in violence not only between the police and blacks but also those involving blacks and blacks19. He discusses the protests on court cases involving blacks and the role of black music labels in putting pressure on such cases as they involve blacks and police officers.
He says this trend of rap creations changed to black people killing other black people and eventually the focus was shifted to the prison environment, but still talks about the gangster code of honor20.
This has had the impact of society changing the focus on social political debate in regard to the realities that black people face, as these forces change. In this chapter Ogbar demonstrates how the social political changes in America are looked at within the confines of black stereotypes as portrayed in hip-hop culture and that is how revolution has occurred21
The book in a wider context
While Ogbar represents a lot of experience about hip –hop culture in this book, he gives a somehow one sided story, on the artists and their fans point of view, and fails to do an analysis of what a cross sectional group of people may view this culture.
He does not also seem to remove himself completely from the play of the lyrics of rap music and the truth it represents. He focuses on what the artists say in the lyrics and fails to look at the production on its whole. What the artists say in their music may not be what they are.
While it is true that the gangster rappers may be forced to live their work due to the demands of their fans and the culture itself, and the fact that what they sing is the real situation, it still has a lot of room for creativity and play.
He gives an example of such rappers who grew up in the lower income bracket and families in the inner city slums but, now live in fairly stable families and neighborhoods and have college degrees yet their rap presentations are those of gangsters.
An example of this outside Ogbars book is Snoopy Doggy Dog, who is doing really well but still his music has gangster connotations. However, it would be paradoxical if Ogbar was to imply that these rappers cannot be some other people in the society while at the same time doing their gangster raps and this is where lyrical analysis really brings problems.
This is the reason some scholars have gone beyond lyrical analysis to focus on field work, archival research and critical cultural analysis of impacts of hip-hop22.
Ogbar manages in this book to give an overview of the development of rap music and hip-hop culture especially in the last fifteen years.
This brings to life the expressions and experiences of a particular group of young people in our country, who through rap music express their views on a wide variety of issues ranging from congressional hearings, controversial artists, cultural issues and conflicts and political issues with boldness and incisiveness.
This boldness surrounds the need to talk about prominent controversies about race, class and gender. This controversy is displayed very well by male artists such as Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and 50 Cents whose origins in poor, urban environments are the real controversy. If one does not display these three bones of contention their being “real” is questioned23.
Ogbar says in a later interview with a library website, Rorotoko that he got inspiration for this book from his experience and love for hip-hop since he was young, he tried rapping and break dancing while at the same time, he did hip-hop graffiti tagging. This is expended as he eventually became a scholar of history especially in the field of African American studies and hip-hop.
Major criticism for his works on rap music and its influence on the society has been on the influence of its violent and vulgar lyrics on the youth especially the African American youth.
He uses raw data from government agencies to show that in 2005, black youth high school graduate rate was record high despite their being highest consumers of hip-hop even though they are not majority consumers of rap music24. He also cites the 2006 educational achievement gap between blacks and whites being the narrowest of all time and this trend has been maintained.
He also gives statistics of the dropping cases of teenage pregnancies with the 2005 being the lowest in history. In the civic awareness and participation, he says that the 2002 midterm elections saw the number of black 18-29 year old youth voters being highest among the white, Latino and Asian American in the country. In terms of crime, he cites the 2004 ever low black homicide rates at its least from 1940s25.
The major problem as Ogbar says, facing African American people is the prison industrial complex which has the highest number of inmates than in any other country. African American forms the majority in these prisons making up nearly half of those incarcerated.
In regard to this, the last chapter is devoted to discussing the stories that emerge from these institutions which are better represented through hip-hop and show how they affect not only black people and their families but also on the whole society.
This is demonstrated in the art form through rappers posing behind bars, playing music videos in prison environments and making hip-hop magazines available in prisons. The main aim of this chapter as Ogbar states is to offer new perspectives on the discussions on the culture of hip-hop and show the main aim of the book itself which is to focus on the main debates in the public domain26.
Ogbar says that his main aim of the book is not to engage those in the hip-hop debates, he wanted to give voice to the center of the debate; the rappers who eloquently criticize those involved in the maligning debate of hip-hop. The book looks at the hip-hop groups and what their views on the culture, and what the reality of life is.
It gives space to groups such as Jurassic 5, Roots and Mos Def who has developed their own standards on what hip-hop is all about and which is far from other commercial rappers such as Lil Wayne, 50 Cent and young Jeezy. All these contribute to the discussion of what social issues are to them.
Ogbar, in this book explores the culture and politics of hip-hop debate while at the same time giving a wide historic context and use of references from other works to present his analysis. He looks at rappers who have made a mark in the society while at the same time being successful and their contributions.
He also looks at the policies, activism, race, gender, class and intellectual contribution to the hip-hop culture. This is presented in a manner that is easy to understand for all people in order to gain a deeper understanding of what really this is, and its diversity in the American society.
This will also give those who do not understand hip-hop and understanding into the range of expressions among rapper artists. Ogbar, also gives an account of history that is geared towards drawing a parallel between Harlem renaissance that happened in the 1920s and the hip-hop revolution which he hopes will be used in the exploration of gender, class and race issues in future.
This is also gives a good exploration of the historical debates focusing on African Americans on the socio-economic and demographic fronts in the last forty years especially in regard to young people.
This, however, does not go down criticized as by some scholars say that he should move from lyrical analysis due to its limitations to include field work, research and analysis of cultural aspects touching on hip-hop and its impacts.
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1 Perry, Imani. Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (USA: DukeUniversity Press, 2004) 40.
2 Romano, Renee. The civil irhts movement in American memory (United States of America: University of Georgia Press, 2004) 11.
3 Cobb, William. To the Breakof Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetics (New York: New York Universtiy Press, 2006) 102.
4Forman, Murray and Mark Neal. Thats the joint: the hip-hop studies reader (United States of America: Routledge, 2004) 43.
5Potter, Russel. Spectacular vernaculars: hip-hop and the politics of postmodernism (New York: SUNY Press, 1995) 25.
6 Forman and Neal 17.
7 Bynoe, Yvonne. Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip Hop Culture (USA: Greenwood Press, 2006) 186.
8 Ogbar, Jeffrey. Black Power: Radical Politics and African American Identity (USA: JHU Press, 2004) 89.
9 Anderson, Elijah. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000) 18.
10 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009)152.
11 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 153
12 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 66.
13 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 103.
14 Perkins, William. Dropping Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture (USA: Temple University Press, 1996) 205.
15Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 98.
16 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 103.
17 Rabaka, Reiland. Hip Hop’s Inheritance:From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement (United States of America: Lexington Books, 2010) 12.
18 Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America
(Music Culture) (United States of America: Wesleyan, 1994) 14.
19 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009)153.
20 Ogbar, Jeffrey. On his book Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. (Washington: University Press of Kansas, 2009) 156.
22 Anderson 29.
23 Rose, The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop–and Why It Matters 19.
24 Romano 24
25Forman and Neal 49.
26 Potter 20.