In his book, All About the Beat, New York Times bestselling author John McWhorter gives a detailed account of why hip hop cannot be the political machine to spark a well-needed revolution within Black America. He argued that while hip hop is one of the gr
He said that while some artists may lace their lyrics with the occasional political jab, it does nothing to solve the issue they are pointing out. Like, for example, in reference to rapper Tupac’s song Brenda’s Got a Baby and the Notorious B.I.G.’s tribute Miss U, McWhorter said, “Brenda has a baby%uFFFDand so, what do we do to prevent more Brendas from having more? Biggie missed his friend. So what do we do to make it so that fewer Biggies miss fewer friends?” Hip hop offers no “plan for action.”
McWhorter has a valid point, but his book is written from a standpoint that assumes that all hip hop listeners expect something greater than music. Who is to say that there should be a “plan for action?” Most hip hop artists don’t consider themselves activists or revolutionaries; they are merely using their craft to start a dialogue about issues that affect them and their communities.
And this dialogue is what ignites others to take action. The author further proved his point by dissecting various artists’ song lyrics, like KRS-One, Ice Cube, dead prez, and The Roots, and giving a count-for-count explanation of why the lyrics aren’t very proactive when it comes to creating change. In addition to that, he mentioned historical instances to put perspective on the “revolution” then and now.
Though at times the content seems rehashed and some of the statistical information is a bit outdated, overall All About the Beat is a well-written work that puts a new viewpoint on hip hop and, in a way, inspires readers to become the force that McWhorter feels the music lacks.
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