One group "seeks countercultural flash" through hip-hop and focuses on "the ways African-Americans are different from white people. Where to begin? Probably with Tanz's assertion that Negro "carries with it an air of respectability, dignity, old-school nobility. Perhaps if he'd tested the word's ability to evoke such halcyon days by bandying it about his Brooklyn neighborhood, the resultant collection of incredulous stares and bruised body parts would have caused some rethinking.
In order to bolster the legitimacy of "Wegro," Tanz links it to a series of public people, implying their approval. He claims that author and activist William Upski Wimsatt is "one of hip-hop's best known Wegroes," then recruits actor Danny Hoch, and finally states that author Bakari Kitwana has profiled dozens of Wegroes and sees in them "the dawning of a new reality of race in America.
Most objectionable, though, is the way a construct like "Wegro" reveals Tanz's inability to perceive blackness as anything but a foil for whiteness: something to study not for its own sake, but only as a lens through which to examine the souls of white folks.
Consistently absent from "Other People's Property" is the kind of multifaceted conception of blackness that would allow the project of defining white hip-hoppers -- their motivations, ironies, and impacts -- to move beyond simple formulations about appropriation, voyeurism, and identity. Tanz, an editor at Fortune Small Business, toggles between personal reminiscence the tortured relationship between his whiteness and his love of hip-hop serves as both a point of entry and a leitmotif , punditry, and quite capable journalism.
His shadow history maps a whimsical path across hip-hop America. Stops include a breakdancing class in tony New Canaan, Conn. Tanz's prose is lively, and he situates his subjects aptly within the larger context of hip-hop's history, but his insights are seldom striking.
Dancing around white America's embrace of hip-hop
He chronicles the various reactionary forms that white relationships to hip-hop culture take, but there is little here that is new. Tanz can chronicle the contributions of Norman Mailer, Carl Van Vechten , and Al Jolson to our understanding of white cultural crossover, but has little to add beyond the kind of handwringing about white incursion that has long been de rigueur.
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He's correctly worried about hip-hop , and the power of white kids to ruin it through ignorance, earnestness, and economic sway, but the book never pulls back to consider the larger stakes. But don't get it twisted: Tanz sees hip-hop as text more than as sonic phenomenon or, for that matter, stone groove.
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It's freaky, equally in love with Western philosophers such as Jean Baudrillard and the classic albums from hip-hop's golden era. In a very hip-hop effort to get his shine on, the author mashes up his prose, cutting in and out of reportage and confessional styles. The flourishes of philosophical debate are as boldly gratuitous as rapper Jim Jones ' "Ballin'. The minor phenomenon of so-called nerdcore rap is the point of entry to Tanz's concerns about hip-hop and black culture.
As a young white kid with what came across to me as socialist leanings, he wants hip-hop to end well. He doesn't want it just to be another instance of husking freed slaves of their culture. Tanz seems as if he knows how the movie's going to end.
source site His cultural critique pretends that the tens of thousands of friends and family and plain ol' talented people who have lifted themselves out of poverty through hip-hop's extended industrial influence don't exist. The only recurring shortcoming of Tanz's book is that the author behaves as though Jay-Z's latest dalliance with corporate culture never happened.
He's very good on break dancing, analyzing the iconic movies "Flashdance," "Beat Street" and "Breakin' " in one piece, keeping the essay from turning into what might otherwise have been like a glossy magazine profile of a poignantly marginal break-dance crew. The juxtaposition between those box-office successes and the street culture that spawned them says loads about the corporate media's complicated relationship to hip-hop.
Yet we're also taken on a tour of New York's hip-hop historical spots and uneasily reminded that hip-hop couldn't wait to sell out. Tanz is all torn up about this quest for lucre, and he looks for redemption, or at least the assurance that some critic's not going to call him a "cracker" when his book comes out.
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His is a thoughtful, surprisingly un-bummeristic journey, full of fake Canuck G's, Eminem, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," Wisconsin "churban" radio station programmers, Caucasian homeys who rhyme about computer code, Three 6 Mafia at the Oscars and the always-available Bill Adler. Hopelessly self-obsessed, Tanz's personal nonfiction dabbles a bunch in issues of who has claim to hip-hop, but is ultimately focused on one of hip-hop's most unusual qualities: its alleged inaccessibility to white people, even those who really love it, like Tanz.
As a colleague from the music industry recently told me, hip-hop takes a toll. And it's "Other People's Property's" moral excavation of the music and its culture that keeps Tanz likable.
Related Other Peoples Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America
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