Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don't Have Bruises.
This debut book is the latest installment of note in the effort to chronicle and legitimize hip-hop music and culture. Lewis, a former editor at Vibe and XXL (his work has also appeared in publications ranging from The Nation in Rolling, Stone), is one of the more important critics and observers of the genre. He demonstrates beyond a doubt with this work that he is a very talented writer. His prose is lucid, engaging and at times, approaching the poetic. Yet his book functions better as separate pieces than as a coherent whole, perhaps because it was written around three stories that had appeared in print in some form previously.
Part memoir, part chronicle and part celebration of a culture that still must defend its existence, or at least not its commercial appeal, Lewis's book weaves the story of a boy born in the Bronx in 1970 with the music that grew and spread from that same borough nearly contemporaneously. Lewis begins with the widely trumpeted belief of late that hip-hop, as a dynamic art form and a force for change, is dead, then reveals how the process of writing the book changed his mind about it.
He finds evidence that the music's founders and early torchbearers, artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and KRS-One, are, in his view, creating institutions that will ensure hip-hop's ability to galvanize the disenfranchised and spur social and political activism for years to come.
Yet by overemphasizing the positive aspects of the music, Lewis suffers from the tendency of the fanzines he once wrote for to valorize that which is good in the music while engaging in apologetics when addressing its more unsavory trends, like its incessant--and arguably growing--misogyny, and its sometimes relentless glorification of violence.
Without question, hip-hop has a rebellious and transgressive posture, but Lewis does not prove that it currently holds a program for--or the promise of--social or political action. Still, as a contribution to the ongoing discussion of hip-hop's importance and its legacy, Lewis's book is an admirable contribution.
Alex P. Kellogg is a writer living in Massachusetts.
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|Author:||Kellogg, Alex P.|
|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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