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The Hip Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture.

by Bakari Kitwana, Basic Books, May 2002 $24.00, ISBN 0465-02978-7

Today, there are a slew of books about what is now being called the "hip hop generation," that segment of the population who came of age with the evolution of rap music. There are two problems with most of these books: first, their authors lack a true connection with the subject and are so mired in theoretical ideas that they do little more than commodify what they claim to analyze. The second involves tapping hip-hop youth culture and trying to digest it for an older academic audience, which usually doesn't have the same interest in the subject as the typical Source reader or MTV viewer. Luckily, The Hip Hop Generation gets it right.

Journalist Bakari Kitwana makes a concerted effort to identify just who this generation is, what they have in common, and why, indeed, the culture is in crisis. Kitwana's interest is in addressing the crisis facing black youth, and he recognizes that there is no getting around hip hop in the process.

The author spends much of the first part of the book defining the generation--born between 1965 and 1984, and he even makes distinctions according to rappers, noting that Kurtis Blow fans and Lil' Bow Wow fans aren't the same age, but may share the same roots. The book is less for the hip-hop generation, but more for an older generation--baby boomers, perhaps--to provide them with a foundation to help reconnect with their children.

The book takes a close look at class, unemployment and racism as exercised by the police, the "gender divide" and other social challenges facing black youth in the post-segregation era. Kitwana also observes the work ethic of this generation juxtaposed with its fierce desire for wealth and "bling-bling" materialism.

The author's take on the prison industry is brilliant, including naming corporations that benefit from inmate labor. Add the disparity in drug sentencing and an explanation of how and why hip-hop culture touches so many black youth, and the crisis becomes more apparent. Kitwana is successful in balancing critical analysis with practical, everyday observations about this generation. That balance has produced a book that is accessible to every generation.

It's hard to ignore the fact that Kitwana spent several years as an editor at The Source, which has long been considered the bible of rap music and urban merchandising. His criticism of rap artists may not be easily reconciled given his past association with the magazine. Still, that takes nothing away from the book, which is both a powerful and an enjoyable read. The Hip Hop Generation has more than enough information, but more importantly, it provokes real discussion between today's hip-hop youth and their elders. The crisis can't be resolved before it's even recognized.

--Tracy Grant is the author of the upcoming novel Chocolate Thai.
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Grant, Tracy
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
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