R&B Rhythm & Business: The Political Economy of Black Music
Edited By Norman Kelley (Akashic Books, 323 pages, $15.95)
While there are numerous black music histories out there, few deal with the political and economic implications of how the music industry treats black talent. Norman Kelley, in this collection of essays by a variety of writers, aims to shed light on the topic and help readers and music lovers see the economic sins committed against black artists. Although some of the book's contributors adopt a softer tone, Kelley's work particularly combines an astute academic quality with a 60s-style radical fervor. Featuring a dialogue among rappers such as Lord Finesse and Mr. Dave, as well as Rap Coalition founder Wendy Day, "How Not to Get Jerked!: The Hip-Hop Elementary Roundtable" especially serves Kelley's mission. This essay is basically a how-to piece, a must-read for any musician aspiring to work in the urban genre. Kelley put this book together as both a statement and guide for black musicians. While at times his manifesto seems too forced, the resources the text provides are unmatched and incredibly useful.
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
By Jeff Chang (St. Martin's Press, 546 pages, $27.95)
Modern historians' rush to cover the hip-hop movement and its roots has accelerated lately, with the genre reaching its 30th anniversary. By tackling such a hot subject, music critic Jeff Chang had his work cut out for him. One thing that elevates Chang above the competition is that his history is by far one of the most comprehensive to date. From the streets of the South Bronx to the slums of Jamaica, Chang explores every root he can unearth and displays an amazing knowledge of artists, their influences and smaller movements within hip-hop history. Detractors may fuss over Chang's tendency to write in a dry, academic style. Perhaps this is the concession one makes when covering popular subjects in an intellectual way. Despite the textbook vibe, Chang has assembled a massive amount of history, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this book used in university classrooms.
Hold My Gold: A White Girl's Guide to the Hip-Hop World
By Albertina Rizzo and Amanda McCall (Simon & Schuster, 213 pages, $12.00)
Phony columns, tacky quizzes, false exercises -- everything here is laced with an ironic humor that gets old within the first 20 pages. It seems as though Rizzo and McCall sought to "clown" the hip-hop world, and while it coaxed a few laughs at first, I ultimately found myself questioning the gray lines the authors cross. I'm not saying they are intentionally racist, just that some of the humor here is stereotypical enough that it bordered on modern-day minstrelsy. How many jokes can you make about rims and Cristal before your shtick plays itself out? This team of white girls certainly make enough missteps in Hold My Gold to cross the line into bad humor.
The Rough Guide to Heavy Metal
By Essi Berelian (Rough Guides Ltd, 416 pages, $24.99)
Pop music is so intertwined and complicated today, unless you're a music geek, you need a reference book to keep track of your favorite genre. The Rough Guide to Heavy Metal is exactly that. Containing an A-to-Z index of metal bands, history and facts, the guide is like a VH1 special with less lame humor. You get the basics on the bands, with albums listed to provide a convenient buying, downloading and listening guide. Everything is written geared toward beginners, so hardcore metal fans would find the book lacking insight. However, all readers will be able to settle doubts about the actual title of the Scorpions' first album for a Rock Jeopardy round. If you're wondering whether it's Action or Lonesome Crow, both are right. Happy headbanging.