The problems with Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop? Where do I start? That the only references to female MC’s are 2 sentences about Lauryn Hill, and one reference to Mc Lyte, Roxanne Shante, Sha rock, and Jean Grae? That there are no-count em-no references to Queen Latifah, Salt and Pepa( or Spinderella), The Mercedes Ladies or TLC? Or that his choice in hip hop is so throughly modern, as in his slavish defense of lil Wayne at a time where millions of black people aren’t interested in defending him?
No, the one that sticks out for me is that Bradley is eager to defend the use of metaphor in Lil Wayne’s music and eager to excuse his proclivity for threatening to shoot a pregnant woman in the stomach. Early on he recognizes that the lyric’s he’s defending are vile, but asks the reader to excuse them in the context of society, and find ” the meaning that extends beyond the offensive surface”. Like so many comfortable, educated thirty something hip hop acedemics, Bradley wants the world to recognize every bit of his culture’s humanity without granting a bit of humanity to anyone else. His defenses- to paraphrase what george orwell once said of Auden’s spain– are written by someone who Death, Crack, trauma and Rape are at most words; a brand of amoralism only possible of you are the kind of person who is always somewhere else when someone is killing a loved one, destroying a community with drugs, sexually assaulting a woman, or tormenting a tortured, tortured people.
In a sense, the marriage of mainstream hip hop and mainstream academia is a perfect one in it’s toxicity. Both are populated by a majority of men who like their horror core ( Roth, Mailer, Seidel, Baraka) (Weezy, eminem, rick ross, and now kanye) will stop at nothing to defend it, and will stop at nothing to castigate anyone who tells them otherwise. Their union in Book of Rhymes follows in both traditions in that it is a love letter to something that so many people hate: less an intellectual exercise than a highbrow example of the psycho sexual masculity that has plagued liberalism from Cleaver to Clinton’s 08 primary. it is not only-to paraphrase Orwell again- “playing with fire without even knowing the iron is hot”, it is kindling the damm fire.