I Am Hip-Hop: Conversations on the Music and Culture

Article excerpt

I Am Hip-Hop: Conversations on the Music and Culture. By Andrew J. Rausch. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2011. [xvi, 213 p. ISBN 9780810877917. $29.95.] Discographies, bibliographies, index.

I Am Hip-Hop collects twenty-four interviews conducted by Andrew J. Rausch with a variety of figures from hip-hop culture, including emcees, producers, DJs, and writers. The majority of those Rausch interviewed came to prominence during the so-called "golden age" of hip-hop (roughly 1986-93), and many of the conversations concern this era: setting the record straight on disputed or only partially known historical events, detailing the complicated early beginnings of the hip-hop business world, and assessing the legacy of music from this time period. Snagging interviews with figures such as Big Daddy Kane, Chuck D (of Public Enemy), Daddy-O (of Stetasonic), Eric B. (of Eric B. and Rakim), Kool Keith (of the Ultramagnetic MCs), Sadat X (of Brand Nubian), and Shock G (of Digital Underground)-all among the most prominent hip-hop artists of the late 1980s and early 1990s-has to be regarded as something of a coup for Rausch, but the book is lacking in several key aspects that limit its usefulness to scholars and its appeal to hip-hop fans.

The interviews are arranged alphabetically, beginning with producer 9th Wonder and Boston emcee Akrobatik and ending with Young MC. While this alphabetical arrangement can lead to an interesting thought experiment (what would a history of hip-hop look like in which Chuck D is put on the same level as the relatively obscure poet and author Michael Cerelli? Why don't we pay as much attention to the people deeply influenced by hip-hop as we do to the "great men" of hip-hop history?), it also makes it difficult for the reader to make comparisons or think more broadly about the content of each interview. A more considered grouping of the interviews-putting artists who have collaborated together; making separate sections for DJs, producers, emcees, and writers; or placing interviews with common themes next to each other-would have been beneficial to the reader.

Unfortunately, this alphabetical arrangement is symptomatic of a larger problem with I Am Hip-Hop: not much thought or effort seems to have been put into considering how this book will be read and used. The introductions to each interview are perfunctory and only offer straight biographical facts without advancing any interpretations of the interviews that follow. Readers gain little insight into why these interviews are important, why Rausch chose to interview these particular figures for inclusion in this book, and what the most interesting aspects of these interviews are. Scholars looking for information about a particular topic will have to page through the entire book, as the index includes only names of artists, songs, and albums-not themes like sampling or influence. The book seems less like a unified whole than a collection of isolated thoughts about hiphop, some mundane and some profound.

The book is also weakened by a lack of input from any of the most popular current figures in the contemporary hip-hop scene. Artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Nas, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Eminem, Soulja Boy, and Nicki Minaj are referred to throughout the text (often in disparaging terms), but these artists themselves are not interviewed by Rausch in this book. Doubtless this is a problem of access, as these artists are typically not willing to be interviewed for works that are unlikely to materially benefit them through increased exposure and publicity. But their absence is felt all the more because of what Rausch wants to accomplish. He closes the book's introduction by suggesting: "Maybe instead of criticizing today's hip-hop music we should take more time to analyze it and appreciate it for what it is rather than admonishing it for what it isn't" (p. xv). But little analysis or appreciation of contemporary hip-hop takes place in the book, least of all by artists or figures prominent in that scene. …