David Foster Wallace: Signifying Rappers Rap and Race in the Urban Present



E the rap genre s possibilities it s usually content issues the musical mugging of classical precursors or the wearying self consciousness of the rap itself that best alienate mainstreams help eep this riparian genre so insulated dammed not for freshParts of the book are really dated but that is to be expected Again this was perhaps the first lengthy analysis of rap to get some sort of traction Yes it was written by Ivy League educated white yuppies But don t cast stones unless you read it There are shortcomings to the book but it is worth the read overallIt isn t very easy to find a copy it has long been out of print My local library has it luckily But since you read all the way to the bottom of this review here is a link in which you can read the sampler in toto First off I had no idea David Foster Wallace was into hip hop second never would have guessed he d write about it and with his lawyer buddy either lucky me my buddy Dave owned the book and insisted I check it outIt was dopewhyDFW is a self purported outsider in 1990 trying to understand something he is passionate about and as he shows in writing the book while a grad student has the academic chops to parse out a genre just coming into it s own At the time of writing there was not generally a lot of active investigation of the scene beyond it s transitive and shallow base reflections of lyrical content on Black America So what you get here in signifying Rapper is a long essay written in tandem with another acolyte also an outsider trying to understand what rap is about and how mainstream media is missing the pointLike all music writing 20years later it is a bit dated but for what it is at the time of it s writing it is g damned insightful many points still resonate and were prescient in retrospectFor two friends who started a project listening to rap and drinking beers trying to discuss what was happening with this at the time only decade old form they have come up with a pretty lasting record of what was what in the 1990 s era rap sceneAccordingly I gave a 4 stars def It was made to fail born to be co opted and subsumed into the junky ferrywake of media s coaching David Foster Wallace Signifying Rappers Rap and Race in the Urban Present My relationship with RAP started out a little funky I remember hearing Ice T s Girls LGBNAF on a 9th grade biology trip to Southern Utah Sony Walkman shared in the back of the bird bus A bunch of white prep school Jay McGraws Life Strategies for Dealing with Bullies kids from suburban Utah with no tangible idea what the ghetto urban or underprivileged was like experimenting with early RAP excess to pubescent abandon Fast forward a year I m living in Izmir Turkey getting a letter mailed 12 around the world from a friend and girl referencing said trip with LGBNAF stamped all throughout Letter is discovered and read by Father Father demands tonow what LGBNAF means There is no way in HELL to explain to Father while driving in Asia Minor what that ICE T song meant in Moab or what it means in the here and now The result of this failed explanation is I can never hear Journey s Greatest Hits the abumn I was listening to in the car as my father was interrogating me without thinking of Ice T strange mental ebbs and flows Now fast forward two decades watching my wife watch Ice T on Law Order SVU It is all just a little trippy weird convergences of RAP Journey Turkey and crap television all fighting for meaning in my memory The world IS indeed a DFW essay But like my diet Dr Pepper left outside overnight or a green pear eaten too soon this book hints at DFW s later genius without uite delivering the thing you want It over promises and under delivers on the what why and wherefores of RAP It is almost exactly what you would expect an overwritten book about rap put together by a young tired genius who hasn t yet found his literary voicemojo and his college roommate to be like Anyway it was genius in parts smug in parts dated in many many sections angry and alienated through out and still despite all its flaws it moved me and was worth the money And as Lil Wayne never gets tired of telling me only money make me move this review is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I d never amount to nothin to all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustlin in front of that called the police on me when I was just tryin to make some money to feed my daughters and all the goodreaders in the struggle DFW is the new HST Yeah I said it Ok so Wallace is the better writer but Gonzo Journalism with a Nabokovian vocabulary it is nonetheless And who would disagree other than those zealous DFW fanatics and isn t Legally Sane kind of weird to get so obsessive about an author like that unless that author is Vladimir Nabokov who many of younow I consider my personal lord and savior why we don t have holi. S and language in the first book to seriously consider rap and its position as a vital force in American.

Days celebrating his birth Some other dude co wrote this book and he made a few errors in recapping rap s history but whatever no one cares about the non DFW parts anyways So on to that that half of the book is less about rap and about why white folks like him love rap which isn t really what I signed up forbut as you d expect he also touches on some very interesting ideas of culture in general and there were some parts I probably didn t fully grasp because I ve not read the necessary amount of Derrida needed to fully comprehend Chuck D and neither I imagine has Chuck D Why did I read an outdated book about rap music written 20 years ago Why does anyone do anything really OK this book was so much fun to read So much nostalgia but not so much from the ubiuitous DFW pop culture reference as from these old rap groups themselves and how The Source magazine is uoted with the authority it held at the time this book was written I loved The Source back when the only records that got five mics were Illmatic and the Chronic and it actually still meant something but this book was also very creepy and weird in the way that that book you read in 4th grade about heroin addiction published in 1971 was creepy Even Considering all the awesomeness of DFW arguing that rappers are the ultra yuppies worshiping at the alter of electronic self and scratching as the ritualized mutilation of technology and rap s seeming vapid materialism is actually a post postmodern human urge towards complement of what s been lost viz The Fall and of course all that violence is simply a metaphor for I Shadowspell Academy know not what and all sorts of other deep shit I m too tired to even try to summarize at 7am on a Sunday morning when I haven t been to sleep yet and whonew rap was so heavy influenced by Plato Milton and Marx etc I m still forced to automatically deduct a minimum of two star for having to read some over educated white guy explain what the words def and ill mean Certainly worth a read if you like rap music and DFW but I think you need to be fond of both to want to read this A month s worth of free votes for anyone who gets both of these references To claim your prize please send your answer toKristen Rco Ocean Records 134 Warren StreetRoxbury MA 02154I believe at one point he might of actually said pure Horatio Algers Only a few glimpses of the future writer DFW would become but reading them is like saying hello to a long lost friend Two Harvard bound white dudes aware of their status as middle class Harvard bound white dudes write on a musical movement for working class black people and apologise for being middle class white dudes writing about a black movement etc Their self awareness does nothing to diminish the cooler than thou dude we are so street tone of this book which is now 23 years out of date culturally and the usually endearing traits of DFW s non fiction here seem to irritate using initials instead of forenames endless dash inflicted phrases that word up tone No Sorry Even DFW and his lawyernovelist friend whose intro replicates the streetwise cool dudeness in 2013 cannot save this little mistake This was put out by Ecco Press formerly of Hopewell NJ before DFW s first book came out early nineties He and Mark Costello do a sort of Run and DMC Tip and Phife passing of the essayistically flowing mic and you can bet who s mos def I read this in 1997 and still remember the part where they dress as rappers or less to try to infiltrate the hip hop scene of Boston s rough neighborhoods and everyone thinks they re narcs so no one talks to them until they return dressed uber nerdy like scientists from Harvard or less like they ve got to exaggerate their roles DFW makes a good point that all this rhyme writing even if it doesn t pay off in terms of XXL gold might eventually help land the rhymist a copywriting job or something like that one day he comes down hard on the side of hip hop lyrics as legitimate poetry compared to preciousnesses read by twelve academics of paste Absolutely worth a read Find it cheap online mos def Some interesting observations embedded in extremely young man pretentiousness I love me some extremely young man pretentiousnessFor people like myself DFW completionists I mean That s the only highly problematic feature of mine you have to share to be interested in this particular book Other problematic features such as a proclivity for the aphorisms of Jordan Peterson or the work of Lionel Shriver welcome but not necessary P It s very interesting to see what two smart Harvard mother fuckers had to say about rap music in it s toddler stage 26 years after the fact It was such a good history lesson not only on the music but the cultural phenomenon surrounding the music Police brutality Supply Side Reaganomics the broken promises of. Culture Brilliantly written with great wit insight and in your face energy Review of Contemporary Ficti.

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And so but Costello s contributions weren t sooo bad but only once you ve gotten over that preface which was not the thing I wanted to read The book itself is perhaps unnecessary given that its reputation that which you ve already heard about it via the usual paths of literary rumors and second hand opinions will serve you just fine for just about everything you need except for the technicality of reading everything published under the signature David Foster Wallace It s a nice piece of crusty vault literature perhaps comparable to the terribly uninteresting Joe s series released by Mr Zappa s estate There will be no doubthopeful only that we won t have anyone reconstructing his pornography project of the same time period as Rappers CoincidenceBut so too you Anna Del Contes Italian Kitchen know all this already the book is dated Not just in the ridiculous Summer of 89 manner of a Bryan Adams song which ll really make you ashamed to be Canadian but not just in the manner of rap s half life being about 438 weeks and who really cares about pop music like products from 24 years prior Is it relevant Are pop products ever relevant Well Dave wants to always argue that pop products are always relevant because younow we watch a lot of TV and this is the shape of our world Back to datedness Dave s thinking here is also dated He ended up doing much better in later non fic and his thought here sounds rather un unpacked not worked up and through into full articulateness his sentences at times not worth parsing because a who cares about rap from 1989 and b there s little new here that Dave hasn t said better elsewhere and c Dave s pet project of being self conscious of being self conscious is at least as old as Hegel and I ve already long ago moved onto Vollmann s fiction and non which has solved all of Dave s serious fictional and non problems by simply not assuming that they were problems in the first place If you get tired of hearing about Dave and Mark scratching their heads about white ids looking in from outside into the hermetically sealed world of rap just drop it and pick up one of Bill s whore books or perhaps his Poor People or but just get your head out of your ass M Costello and DF Wallace wrote this sampler on rap before the genre exploded and as they wrote If you re reading this in print it s already dated71They pass the written mic back and forth throughout the book with short essays propelling the narrative with M for Mark and D for David Sometimes they respond in a footnote to the other s essay Those familiar with either author can glean the distinct voices offeredAlthough both MC ipunitials intended DFW seem to have let this work whisper in the background of their popular or accessible offerings you really get the sense in reading the book that it was a highly interesting topic to them They address the obvious uestions of intellectual yuppie love wrt rap with self reflective digressions but I was pleased with many of the arrived conclusions It s at the distinctively pop cultural bregma where common sense polarities like art vs politics medium vs message center vs margin conjoined and must cohabit that even an enthusiastic white establishment cog s try at some objective aesthetic appreciation of rap runs agroundAgain this was written in the 1989 1990 era Keep in mind this was before Snoop and Dre BIG and 2Pac or NaS and Wu Tang were commonplace rappers Dr Dre was still in NWA and Tupac was in Digital Underground LL Cool J is still in his heyday as are the Beastie Boyswho are pretty severely dismissed almost altogether which I disagreed with for the most part Public Enemya longtime favorite group of mine is mentioned often as does Schooly D whose track Signifying Rapper is dissected and essentially glorified not the least of which is the title of the treatise Run DMC Def Jam Erik B and Rakim also get mentioned Ironies abound of course as ironies must when cash and art do lunch Walk This Way is an unwanted reunion of 80s black street music with part of its rich heritage as that heritage has been mined and mongrelized by Show Biz If this is desegregation then shopping malls hold treasureThey also discuss DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince which is a highlight in the book for a few reasons First it mentions a sampling of the I Dream of Jeanie theme song and juxtaposes an episode of that show which was syndicated on the night of the Tampa Riots offering a po mo imagining of the actual riot spilling out into the episode exposing the stark truths and falsities of entertainment and Real Life Secondly it has a few throwaway sentences about the group having a TV show which is funny because that actually happened and Will Smith is famous than I Dream of Jeanie nowadays If the formal constraints outlined throughout this sampler are what help limit and defin. The author of Infinite Jest and his co writer discuss rap and popular culture power money racial politic.

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David Foster Wallace worked surprising turns on nearly everything novels journalism vacation His life was an information hunt collecting hows and whys I received 500000 discrete bits of information today he once said of which maybe 25 are important My job is to make some sense of it He wanted to write stuff about what it feels like to live Instead of being a relief from what it fe