Black, Blanc, Beur: Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture in the Francophone World. Edited by Alain Philippe Durand. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002. [xviii, ?50 p. ISBN 0-8108-4431-1. $49.50 (hbk.); ISBN 0-8108-4430-1. $24.50 (pbk.).] Illustrations, index.
On his scooter, Roger Chamberland was crossing Quebec's bridge, as he did every evening on his way back home from the university. Suddenly, he had a flat. He fell and died in a coma a few days later. Chamberland's contribution to this collection of essays on Francophone rap music was his last one, but not his least. By helping to bring Quebec's rap music a little more to the fore, he was able to attain one of his academic goals, a goal shared by all contributors to Black, Blanc, Beur: to relate "the emergence and growing notoriety of rap music and hip-hop culture in France and the rest of the Francophone world" (p. xiii), as the book's editor, Alain-Philippe Durand, simply puts it. "But why did a book as important as this take so long," asks Adam Krims in his foreword to the book (p. vii)? "Never mind," he answers; the book approaches rap in a refreshing way: "Far from the shopworn notion of hip-hop as quintessential urban guerrilla practice, the [ten] essays collected here allow for subtle mappings of the intertwined structures of urban form, cultural production, class, and ethnicity" (p. viii). Another contributor, Andre J. M. Prevos (1948-2002), author of the first essay, died just before the publication of the book, and it is dedicatecl to his memory.
Of course, academics studying hip-hop culture have mostly focused on the American scene. But this situation is gradually changing, as demonstrated by recent studies by Tony Mitchell, Andy Bennett, or Krims himself: Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop outside the. USA, ed. Tony Mitchell (Middletown, OT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Andy Bennell, "Hip hop am Main: the Localization of Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture" (Media, Culture, and Society 21.1 : 77-91); Adam Krims, Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). This collection is the first book in English devoted entirely to Francophone rap, and as such aims at filling an important gap. But does it? In many respects, yes, even though some essays just skim over the subject-an almost unavoidable characteristic of such collections-without really addressing some of the fundamental questions related to the construction of cultural identities, or even to the musical mechanisms underlying rap in a Francophone context.
For example, while Prevos's opening chapter, "Two Decades of Rap in France: Emergence, Developments, Prospects," offers a rather thorough survey of the development of rap in France-with a long enumeration of the most important French rap artists, complemented by a useful discography (pp. 20-21)-the effort is potentially not that telling for most English-speaking readers who might know only a little about France's social context and contemporary history. Indeed, the chapter only briefly describes the French banlieues, "these popular suburban areas of French cities" (p. 3), often referred to by local Parisians as the ale. True, we get an idea of how the youth groups living in the banlieues are organized (pp. 3-4), but very little about the political and economic factors that have led to the emergence of such tense, isolated, concrete-block areas in the first place. Similarly, while we find some revealing discussion concerning rap groups from Southern France, and especially Marseilles (pp. 12-13), not much is said about the condition of Arab immigrants in the area since the Algerian war, and the difficult relationship they have with either French locals or the returning French-Algerian immigrants. Only in an editor's note to the last essay do we find a reference to pieds-noirs, those "French nationals who settled and remained in the former French colonies of North Africa, especially Algeria, until these countries gained their independence in the 1960s" (p. …