Rap decoded

A few peeks over Murdoch’s paywall to see what Will Self made of Decoded by Jay-Z and The Anthology of Rap edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois:

“I well remember hearing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message for the first time released in the United States and the UK in 1982, it charted here in August and got some airplay for a while before dropping out of earshot (although Stateside it went platinum in a month). At the time I had an early-adopting friend who earnestly assured me, while wearing a capsleeve T-shirt, that this was the shape of things to come. I didn’t think his taste in singles quite as laughable as his singlet, but nevertheless disputed it. However, nigh on 30 years later he’s been more than vindicated, for if any genre of popular music can claim to be a global soundtrack it’s rap, and if any popular art form can be said to have been genuinely influential on mainstream culture then it’s hip-hop.”

“What makes Jay-Z’s story quite so engaging is his acute self-awareness of the issues involved, when he trots shop-worn analogy between drug-dealing and other pernicious forms of capitalism you listen, because he has had frontline experience as a crack dealer himself, as well as becoming another sort of entrepreneur. And when he details the terrifying near-decimation of his father’s generation that was wreaked by the drug, and the links between the crack epidemic and the corrupt financing of the Iran-Contra arms deals facilitated by the Reagan Administration, you listen as well, because Jay-Z isn’t blethering about conspiracy, but bearing witness to a chain, the links of which
he has minutely observed.”

“But ignorance is a great prophylactic – so long as you keep it on – and now these two intelligent and considered works have divested me of my prejudicial latex, I feel nothing but grateful to have been allowed to come up close and personal with such an astonishing body of inventive, subtle and assured lyrical work. I’m not prepared to assert that rap lyrics equate in quality to this or that part of the established poetic canon – such arguments are self-evidently factitious, song lyrics exist vitally only in a Gestalt that comprises music as well, whether they’re penned by Cole Porter, Bob Dylan or Jay-Z – but what I can sign up to wholeheartedly, is that far from being a derogation of African-American lyricism, rap may be its apogee.”