15 March 2008

Where You're At: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet, by Patrick Neate

I almost quit reading this book after the first 30 pages. The author seemed like an annoying, somewhat arrogant jerk who didn't know shit about hiphop. His writing style seemed pretentious and self-indulgent, and I wasn't having it. But I kept going, and I'm SO glad I did, because in the end, it turned out to be an absolutely fantastic, fascinating book on hiphop around the world and, more generally, the phenomenon of globalization, especially as related to cultural production, as well as one of the best examples of academic writing for a mass audience that I've ever seen. Highly, highly recommended, even for people not particularly interested in hiphop.

Neate investigates hiphop as a global phenomenon, travelling from his home in England to New York, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Rio, and including reflections on France and Italy as well. One could think of his project as an attempt to understand what hiphop _means_ to the people in these places, which involves in-depth inquiries into their socioeconomic, cultural and political histories. He is to be applauded for the brevity and clarity with which he conveys these histories, as well as for his total openness about his own limitations. The book is equal parts personal reverie and hard-headed analysis, and it's a highly appealing combination. One of the things that I really appreciated was the way in which he engaged with various social theorists - rather than simply name-checking them, he actually reflects on their ideas in fascinating ways. And best of all, I think, he does it in a manner that both academics and the average reader can follow and appreciate. In other words, whether or not you're familiar with Appadurai's writings on globalization on not, you'll understand the points that Neate is making, and if you are, you'll actually find yourself reflecting on Appadurai from a new, invigorated perspective. For indeed, it's ultimately globalization (and its discontents) that takes center stage in this text, and hiphop is one way in which to explore it, because it's both a part of it and a critique of it. And the book is not only an analysis, but also a kind of manifesto - it certainly contains a call for action and a belief in the possibility of change.

Oh man, such a phenomenal book.

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