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Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Music & Culture)

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From its beginnings in hip hop culture, the dense rhythms and aggressive lyrics of rap music have made it a provocative fixture on the American cultural landscape. In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Tricia Rose, described by the New York Times as a "hip hop theorist," takes a comprehensive look at the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and s From its beginnings in hip hop culture, the dense rhythms and aggressive lyrics of rap music have made it a provocative fixture on the American cultural landscape. In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Tricia Rose, described by the New York Times as a "hip hop theorist," takes a comprehensive look at the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and styles of this highly rhythmic, rhymed storytelling and grapples with the most salient issues and debates that surround it. Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History at New York University, Tricia Rose sorts through rap's multiple voices by exploring its underlying urban cultural politics, particularly the influential New York City rap scene, and discusses rap as a unique musical form in which traditional African-based oral traditions fuse with cutting-edge music technologies. Next she takes up rap's racial politics, its sharp criticisms of the police and the government, and the responses of those institutions. Finally, she explores the complex sexual politics of rap, including questions of misogyny, sexual domination, and female rappers' critiques of men. But these debates do not overshadow rappers' own words and thoughts. Rose also closely examines the lyrics and videos for songs by artists such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, Salt N' Pepa, MC Lyte, and L. L. Cool J. and draws on candid interviews with Queen Latifah, music producer Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, dancer Crazy Legs, and others to paint the full range of rap's political and aesthetic spectrum. In the end, Rose observes, rap music remains a vibrant force with its own aesthetic, "a noisy and powerful element of contemporary American popular culture which continues to draw a great deal of attention to itself."


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From its beginnings in hip hop culture, the dense rhythms and aggressive lyrics of rap music have made it a provocative fixture on the American cultural landscape. In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Tricia Rose, described by the New York Times as a "hip hop theorist," takes a comprehensive look at the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and s From its beginnings in hip hop culture, the dense rhythms and aggressive lyrics of rap music have made it a provocative fixture on the American cultural landscape. In Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Tricia Rose, described by the New York Times as a "hip hop theorist," takes a comprehensive look at the lyrics, music, cultures, themes, and styles of this highly rhythmic, rhymed storytelling and grapples with the most salient issues and debates that surround it. Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History at New York University, Tricia Rose sorts through rap's multiple voices by exploring its underlying urban cultural politics, particularly the influential New York City rap scene, and discusses rap as a unique musical form in which traditional African-based oral traditions fuse with cutting-edge music technologies. Next she takes up rap's racial politics, its sharp criticisms of the police and the government, and the responses of those institutions. Finally, she explores the complex sexual politics of rap, including questions of misogyny, sexual domination, and female rappers' critiques of men. But these debates do not overshadow rappers' own words and thoughts. Rose also closely examines the lyrics and videos for songs by artists such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, Salt N' Pepa, MC Lyte, and L. L. Cool J. and draws on candid interviews with Queen Latifah, music producer Eric "Vietnam" Sadler, dancer Crazy Legs, and others to paint the full range of rap's political and aesthetic spectrum. In the end, Rose observes, rap music remains a vibrant force with its own aesthetic, "a noisy and powerful element of contemporary American popular culture which continues to draw a great deal of attention to itself."

30 review for Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (Music & Culture)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Pete

    A pioneering work in the scholarly research of hip hop. I still refer to it constantly, as does just about anyone in the field. One of the finest passages, I think, is her discussion of sampling practices - especially those of Public Enemy - as a postmodern composition device that preferences sounds and ideas to musical notes. It might change the mind of anyone who thinks making hip hop music is simple or mundane.

  2. 5 out of 5

    James

    ENG393: JAMES HARDEN, TIANNA BUTLER, HARRISON CORWIN, ANNALEE KWOCHKA For some, the world of hip hop may be difficult to navigate through the various images it portrays, dense lyrical work, and bass thumping beats. Very few individuals have the skills to breakdown the components of hip hop and get to the heart of what makes this musical genre a successful and widely embraced culture. Tricia Rose’s Black Noise is an insightful book that provides an array of in-depth research and commentary on wha ENG393: JAMES HARDEN, TIANNA BUTLER, HARRISON CORWIN, ANNALEE KWOCHKA For some, the world of hip hop may be difficult to navigate through the various images it portrays, dense lyrical work, and bass thumping beats. Very few individuals have the skills to breakdown the components of hip hop and get to the heart of what makes this musical genre a successful and widely embraced culture. Tricia Rose’s Black Noise is an insightful book that provides an array of in-depth research and commentary on what makes hip hop, hip hop. Rose thoroughly discusses the origins of hip hop, the various elements of the culture, the politics involved, and even examines women’s roles in Hip Hop. Very few people know about the historical roots of Hip Hop as a movement. In Black Noise, Rose sets the tone for this informative book by framing the origins of Hip Hop as a voice for the oppressed. Rose states, “ Rap music is a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America” (Rose 3). Beautifully interweaving the culture of the Caribbean youth and African American youth, with the beginnings of DJing, graffiti as the pulse of New York, and the widespread dance craze of b-boying and b-girling, Rose introduces her readers to the core of hip hop. Rose does a great job of incorporating specific hip hop heavy hitters of the early years like Run DMC and Whodini into her work and contextualizes them within that time period and their impact on music. The book also provides younger readers, who may not have been heavily into hip hop when the book was first published in 1994, with detailed descriptions of MCs and their songs that were making waves during that time. However, Rose at times tends to rush through the origins of b-boying, and graffiti rather quickly, focusing mainly on the MCs. While it is understandable that the main concern of a book about hip hop would be about the MCs who brought it to life, Rose could also go deeper into the importance of graffiti then and now, as well as b-boying then and now. Rose’s second chapter in Black Noise provides the reader with a contextual history locating the cultural and societal factors that led and shaped the growth of hip hop during the 1970s and 1980s. Following in the footsteps of other musical scholars, Rose traces the historical rise of the four major types of African American music (the blues, jazz, rhythm and blues and rap) to historical conditions linked to the larger political and social character of America (Rose, 23). For Rose, the process of urban deindustrialization in the 1970s and the postindustrial urban landscape in the 1980s were integral in the formation of hip hop culture. The gradual loss of federal funding towards social services for cities across the country as well as the decline of industrial factories led to crippling effects across urban areas, especially affecting minority communities in these areas. New York particularly felt the effects of the nationwide economic decline. The city’s bankruptcy, combined with disastrous city policies and deteriorating neighborhoods, fostered a sense of abandonment amongst Black and Latino communities. Hip hop emerged as a source of cultural identity in a “hostile, technologically sophisticated, multiethnic, urban terrain” (Rose, 34). Utilizing different platforms, such as breakdancing, rapping and graffiti writing, urban youths fostered a new identity within this urban landscape. The chapter continues by focusing categorically on the different ways in which graffiti, breakdancing and rapping existed stylistically, forming cultural identities. While Rose does an admirable job tracing the methodology of each platform and attempting to tie each together, it is questionable whether or not individual artists were truly multilateral in their accumulation of a hip hop identity. Although the emergence of hip hop cannot be discussed without tying in graffiti, breakdancing and rapping together into a broader movement, there was most likely a separation of spheres in terms of artistic expression that ought to be discussed and acknowledged. Moreover, the diversity of each category, especially graffiti is exceptionally important in understanding its growth internationally. Regardless, Rose’s second chapter illuminates the social conditions that shaped and fostered hip hop into an urban cultural movement. Rose also explores the cultural contestations through lyrical analysis of the critiques in rap music. She eloquently addresses issues of institutional and ideological power over rap music, including the responses from artists and fans to these external constraints over rap. She does a wonderful job of elucidating the hidden politics within insurance policies, pubic space policing of rap fans, media coverage of violence at rap concerts, and rappers’ collective responses to the media’s interpretations. Her evaluations of elements that merit resistance to rap maintain validity even today. She brings attention to the perception and construction of young African Americans as dangerous and threatening and in need of policing, using anecdotal experiences to illustrate the denigrating approach of oppressors to control and regulate open spaces of black youth and minorities. She also gives the readers insight into the exclusionary business practices of venue owners and insurance companies that deny bookings to rap shows on the premise of negative images and stereotypes depicted in society. All of this is to say that Blacks cannot be let to roam free and Rose speaks to the dehumanizing nature of this policing. She further delves into the one-sided mystifying view of Blacks in places like the media and the detrimental misinterpretations of rap by scholars and critics. For instance she raises the issue of the “black on black crime” label that is often a term relayed in the news but often distorts the view of crime as some innate by-product of blackness. Consequential to this racial grammar, Rose enlightens us of how the Stop The Violence movement, modeled after KRS-ONE’s song, was off base from the rapper’s original intention since it did not redefine the problem but instead subjected to constraints of “self-destruction” ideology without considering the external economic, social, and institutional factors burdening marginalized Blacks. Her analysis of the external factors limiting the expression of rap and influencing its perception is well-rounded and promotes critical thought of hip-hop as a product of the environment it arose from. Finally, in chapter five of Black Noise, Bad Sistas: Black Women Rappers and Sexual Politics in Rap Music, Tricia Rose examines the complicated dialogue between black female rappers, male rappers, and the rest of the music industry. From a relatively impartial standpoint, she considers the ways that “black women rappers work within and against dominant sexual and racial narratives in American culture.” Rose highlights three key themes in this discourse, all in dialogue with both male rappers and with broader social conversations: heterosexual courtship, the importance of the female voice, and power in women’s rap and black female public displays of freedom (both physical and sexual). Although Rose’s analysis of this conversation is both thorough and insightful, the context and time period that she discusses is rather out of date (the book was published in 1994), and the conversation has changed somewhat in almost twenty years.

  3. 4 out of 5

    sarah louise

    Uh-mazing. Everyone should have as nuanced and valued an understanding of rhythm and repetition in rap/hip-hop as Tricia Rose. Any given aesthetic taste aside, the cultural value of the music and the expression of continuity and fluidity/change is utterly fascinating, meaning-making.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Karie

    A very engaging book. a must read for any hip hop/ cultural studies junkie (which I am)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Anyone who loves hip hop and wants to more abuot the controversial history- this book is a good start.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Petty Lisbon

    I thought this book gave an in depth look at the cultural background and reputation of rap music in the early 90's. There were a lot of interesting things I learned (like the development of graffiti, urban decay in New York City, the big power outage of the 70's, early production techniques) but some of the chapters about oral tradition just went on and on. I enjoyed what she wrote about institutional prejudice about rap music (such as insurance companies dropping venues that would book rap conc I thought this book gave an in depth look at the cultural background and reputation of rap music in the early 90's. There were a lot of interesting things I learned (like the development of graffiti, urban decay in New York City, the big power outage of the 70's, early production techniques) but some of the chapters about oral tradition just went on and on. I enjoyed what she wrote about institutional prejudice about rap music (such as insurance companies dropping venues that would book rap concerts and journalists inflating fights during concert reviews) and the chapter about women in rap was well done.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shenard Robinson

    Overall good review of Hip Hop. A dense read that is not for the faint of heart but for those interested in the intersectionality of culture and blackness in America and how one defined the other.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Gacoca

    this book is very great

  9. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Martin

    A quite selective yet insightful read on rap culture.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mojidi

    This book is definitely terific.

  11. 4 out of 5

    ralowe

    this book was a genuine pleasure. it's a seminal text. i have a disagreeable habit of avoiding these. it was worth it. (it not un-often is. go figure.) she goes through most of all the big issues that people were having in the 1990s: sampling, misogyny, violence, commodification, racism, etc. it's finely written. it's full of all the hopefulness you'd expect opening a new terrain of inquiry, inaugurating critical rap studies and all. sure toop and hebidge were before her, but black studies often this book was a genuine pleasure. it's a seminal text. i have a disagreeable habit of avoiding these. it was worth it. (it not un-often is. go figure.) she goes through most of all the big issues that people were having in the 1990s: sampling, misogyny, violence, commodification, racism, etc. it's finely written. it's full of all the hopefulness you'd expect opening a new terrain of inquiry, inaugurating critical rap studies and all. sure toop and hebidge were before her, but black studies often makes use of rose. there's a sense of gender balance, women writing about hip hop culture. it feels right. you see a horizon and can imagine the healing of expression, a kind of aesthetic justice. i liked that she made me feel like an asshole by not knowing the details of what dre did to dee from pump it up. it makes me appreciate tim dog's diss more; this is then checked by her noting allowing the reader to lose sight of tim dog's own misogyny. this holds things in a critical place, a useful place. something in the way she wrote caused me to be willing to trust her with where she was going. maybe it helped that i was on her side going in. she acknowledges the contradictions in the desperately necessary critical voice that rap is. i was especially appreciative of how she held the space of this contradiction as what can be taken more broadly to be the black condition when she critiques the "Stop The Violence" movement-- the agency/structure debate. she observes how it fails in deriving from the prior KRS-One track, where he more deftly displays the cyclical workings of violence. this is such a lovely read!!!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Natalie S.

    The best book to read if you want to know more about hip hop's history and biggest challenges. The chapters on hip hop as resistance (Prophets of Rage) and hip hop's history of seizing urban spaces (All Aboard the Night Train) were incredibly revealing. The narrative Rose tells is comprehensive, easily understandable, and oftentimes poetic. The book was, however, published in 1994 and desperately needs a new volume. Then again, I also haven't been exposed to much analysis of 80s/90s hip hop, and The best book to read if you want to know more about hip hop's history and biggest challenges. The chapters on hip hop as resistance (Prophets of Rage) and hip hop's history of seizing urban spaces (All Aboard the Night Train) were incredibly revealing. The narrative Rose tells is comprehensive, easily understandable, and oftentimes poetic. The book was, however, published in 1994 and desperately needs a new volume. Then again, I also haven't been exposed to much analysis of 80s/90s hip hop, and watching Queen Latifah/MC Lyte/Public Enemy music videos was really entertaining. Delving into hip hop's history is so revealing. It always leaves me frustrated at how far the genre has deviated from the narratives of resistance and empowerment that hip hop once engendered, and how (if?) we can progress past the misogyny, racism, and violence that dominates American radio waves today.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    This is a brilliant book, despite some elements that I disagree with. Rose has clearly been immersed in hip hop for decades, and this 1994 book is often called the best book on hip hop. Despite being very much of its time, its wide acclaim is easy to understand. While specific to black cultural discourses (one wonders what a book like this would look like had it talked more about Latino/a involvement in hip hop), the book's refreshing focus on political economy--supposedly lacking in American Cu This is a brilliant book, despite some elements that I disagree with. Rose has clearly been immersed in hip hop for decades, and this 1994 book is often called the best book on hip hop. Despite being very much of its time, its wide acclaim is easy to understand. While specific to black cultural discourses (one wonders what a book like this would look like had it talked more about Latino/a involvement in hip hop), the book's refreshing focus on political economy--supposedly lacking in American Cultural Studies--as well as its heavy use of theory made accessible and the depth of research on everything from technology to gender to debates on hip hop as music make for a very fascinating read. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Zali

    "...Black culture in contemporary America", en effet ce livre est très afro-centré ! En même temps, c'est annoncé dès le début, on est pas surpris. Sans cesse décrire le hip-hop et la musique rap comme des produits inhérents à la culture et aux traditions afro-américaines, c'est réducteur à la fin ! Oui on est d'accord, mais PAS QUE ! Situer cette caractéristique, non sans importance, dans le temps ne serait pas de trop... les temps changent. Le hip-hop aussi. Par ailleurs, on notera que Rose dép "...Black culture in contemporary America", en effet ce livre est très afro-centré ! En même temps, c'est annoncé dès le début, on est pas surpris. Sans cesse décrire le hip-hop et la musique rap comme des produits inhérents à la culture et aux traditions afro-américaines, c'est réducteur à la fin ! Oui on est d'accord, mais PAS QUE ! Situer cette caractéristique, non sans importance, dans le temps ne serait pas de trop... les temps changent. Le hip-hop aussi. Par ailleurs, on notera que Rose dépeint parfaitement bien l'histoire du hip-hop (et de ses éléments) dans l'Amérique postindustrielle des années 70. Ca rattrape les premiers faux-pas. En fait, on ne sait pas si Rose est historienne ou sociologue... ou les deux ? À vouloir tout traiter, on passe à côté de l'essentiel.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Theon Hill

    Rap music persists as a misunderstood genre in American culture. In this valuable text, Tricia Rose attempts to uncover the shroud of mystery that surrounds the controversial form of expression. Although this book dates back to 1994, Rose's thoughts remain pertinent to contemporary discussions of the role of rap music within American culture. Specifically, I found her thoughts on the historical, sociological, political, and economic contexts from which the rap music emerged to be be particularly Rap music persists as a misunderstood genre in American culture. In this valuable text, Tricia Rose attempts to uncover the shroud of mystery that surrounds the controversial form of expression. Although this book dates back to 1994, Rose's thoughts remain pertinent to contemporary discussions of the role of rap music within American culture. Specifically, I found her thoughts on the historical, sociological, political, and economic contexts from which the rap music emerged to be be particularly insightful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A very academic book about rap culture in the mid 90s. As a rap fanatic this book held interest for me but the language and ideas are complicated and unless you are interested in hip hop culture this is not for you. Essentially this is a college level text about rap but also African American culture in contemporary America. Each chapter covers separate ideas so it is possible to dip in and see if this is a book you may be interested in reading.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    Honestly I think that this is a good book in the context of the early to mid 1990s. But because it was published in 1994, I felt like it misses so much. I kept wanting explanations or an examination of hip hop culture in the later 1990s at least. I'd be interested to read a subsequent book about the changes over time that brought us to contemporary rap. This book is about to be 20 years old, I'm sure someone has written about all that by now.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Charissa

    This book would be interesting if it would stop trying so hard to be academic. If I have to read another paragraph which dissects the hip hop music of the streets into neat little post-modern segments and ideas I'm going to have to spork someone. Good god, shut up and dance already.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    Just haven't been in the mood for the academic...

  20. 4 out of 5

    secondwomn

    Clear, concise, and still relevant. Rose packs a lot into this seminal work.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Changed the way I look at hip-hop outside of the "Stuff White People Like" sub-genre.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lo-zo Avz

    An eye opening contextualization of rap music. READ IT!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Malik Gaither

    i love how it describes the scene of hip-hop and rap culture. it is very in depth and i just love the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    J_D

    4 star. If you are looking for a early study about Hip Hop culture, then this is your book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    need to give it a deep read later but this is good stuff.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Natasha Robinson

    this bok keeps you going about life that we have no idea about and it makes you really wonder what is going on

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Available now on Kindle as well! http://www.amazon.com/Black-Noise-Cul...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Good read, but a little too academic for my taste. I did learn a few things on hip hop and the highlights were the evaluation of women in the genre.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Steven

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brian Carnell

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