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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 I am arguing that there clearly was a complex interaction between the imposition of Reaganism (public philosophy) and Reaganomics (economic policies) and the explosion of gangsta rap with its symbolic

emphasis on “bling bling” and mad consumerism, misogyny and the exploitation of women,

underworld criminality and thug life, and crack cocaine and other drugs.



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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Seneca Turner's Thoughts upon Revisiting Hip Hop

A Rejoinder Beyond Either/Or Thinking

By Floyd W Hayes, III

April 28, 2009


If [Black] music can be seen to be the result of certain attitudes, certain specific ways of thinking about the world (and only ultimately about the ways in which music can be made), then the basic hypothesis of this book is understood.  The [Blacks’] music changed as [they] changed, reflecting shifting attitudes or (and this is equally important) consistent attitudes within changed contexts.  (Amiri Baraka) LeRoi Jones, Blues People


Gospel in church and blues in juke joints....Public oratory and the dirty dozens.  Motown and the rougher, funkier Stax.  The division between the respectable and funky stuff has existed throughout African American history.  Most Americans rooted in African American cultural experience have sophisticated relationships with both the sacred and the profane in black culture—or with their secular corollaries, the respectable and the rough. Imani Perry, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop

Back in the day, were we napping when Oscar Brown, Jr., Gil Scott-Heron, and the Last Poets were rapping?  Were we caught off guard when hip-hop culture and rap music exploded on the USA’s politico-cultural scene in the late-1970 and then spread around the world in the years thereafter?  The “we” to whom I refer are those of us Black American elders who grew to womanhood and manhood in the 1950s and 1960s, or before.  As Seneca Turner says, we listened to “the cool cerebral sounds of Bird Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Milt Jackson, along with Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, the Motown sounds and others….”  I surely was caught off guard!

Here again was the process of intergenerational disconnect taking place full speed.  In its inception, hip-hop culture and rap music represented a new generation of cultural and political critics, speaking on behalf of unwanted urban residents suffering continuing crises of economic exploitation, political oppression, and cultural domination.  Significantly different from past socio-economic conditions when class dynamics were more fluid, the emerging postindustrial-managerial economy of the 1970s seemed to be witnessing a growing permanency of impoverished class conditions. 

The new Black popular culture, which was a combination of Black American and Caribbean cultural contributions (forged in the flames of Bronx, New York, and Kingston, Jamaica), reflected these changing circumstances on the urban scene.  But the irreverent tone, language, and image almost seemed to overshadow rap artists’ linguistic dexterity and critical messages.  To many of us who had grown up fighting for Black liberation in the late-1950s and 1960s, the new sound seemed different, yet familiar—attractive, yet repellent.  Initially, it was difficult to grasp the meaning of this emerging generational sound; therefore, many of us dismissed it.  We denied its significance.  But that disposition had to change.  It had to change because the new contained vestiges of the old.  Didn’t hip hop and rap rise from the ashes of the 1960s?

Sometime in the late-1970s and early-1980s, I discovered the new irreverent popular cultural expression that young urban Black folks referred to as hip hop.  I began to notice their strange-looking dance moves called break dancing.  Simultaneously, it seems, I became aware of all kinds of writing and drawing on unusual (and often illegal) surfaces and places, such as homes, grocery stores, professional buildings, bridges, trains, and sidewalks.   Here outlaw artists used aerosol spray to inscribe their rebellious graffiti messages.  And there were young urban musical technologists, who used worn out turn tables and records to scratch out a new sound.  Calling it “sampling,” many rappers recorded their verses over old-school music.  As in the past, the dialectic between old and new remained constant.

Accompanying the new sound were new urban poets from the Caribbean and the USA who, like Gil Scott-Heron, Oscar Brown, Jr., and the Last Poets, spit out thought-provoking rhymes on subjects like “Fight the Power” and “Cop Killer.”  The new groups of rappers had outlaw/outsider names like Public Enemy, or Niggaz with Attitude—and later, Coup and Immortal Technique.  Gradually, I became aware of this new generation of creative and rebellious artists, who were rappers like Afrika Bambataa, Grandmaster Flash, KRS-One, and DJ Kool Herc.  But what was I supposed to make of monikers like RUN-DMC, DMX, Ice-T, Ice-Cube, LL Cool J, Snoop Dog, De La Soul, Sister Souljah, Fugees, TLC, Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, or MC Lyte?  But I could understand such names as Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu.

No longer were there recognizable (to me and many in my generation) group names like Jazz Messengers, Modern Jazz Quartet, Temptations, Supremes, Impressions, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Isley Brothers, or O’Jays.   No familiar individual names like Billie Holiday, Joe Williams, Nina Simone, Horace Silver, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, or Chaka Khan.  No Ohio Players, Kool and the Gang, Funkadelic, or Prince.  Not even Earth, Wind, and Fire!   Yet, it is important to remember that many old-school musicians selected new names, such as Ahmad Jamal, Yusef Abdul Lateef and Sun Ra; and there was a Duke, a Count, and a Pharaoh.  Hence, creative group names and individual name changes are not fundamentally new cultural phenomena within the Black artistic tradition.

Significantly, what initially and uncritically appeared as intergenerational disconnect, in many ways, represented/represents the modernist problem of either/or thinking.  However, hip-hop culture and rap music symbolized/symbolize Black expression of postmodern popular culture that exists beyond the confines of the either/or dialectic; rather, the postmodern moment embodies cultural and intellectual complexities, ambiguities, and uncertainties of the both/and dynamic.

As I became increasingly familiar with hip-hop cultural and rap music in the mid-1980s, I heard the voices of bourgeois Black folks, screaming about rap’s harsh language and misogynistic lyrics.  Rappers spit out bitter and raunchy rhymes.  But are they fundamentally different from the raunchy lyrics that blues women and men sang back in the 1920s and afterwards?  That music differed from the Black church’s gospel music, and religious people back then labeled urban blues the devil’s music.  We all know this! 

Back in the 1950s, when I was in junior high school, several of us would sneak over to a friend’s home when parents were absent and listen to records that contained the profane jokes of Pig Meat Markham or Redd Foxx.  We also played the dozens on the playground.  We became verbally dexterous! Yet, by the 1980s, many critics of hip hop culture and rap music seemed to have forgotten the days when they ran free as youths.  When they listened to and expressed their own forms of raunchy discourse; many elders still think they can rap.  But the contradictions between Black sacred and secular music—that is, between respectable and raunchy cultural expressions—have long existed in the USA, as the above-quote by Imani Perry indicates. 

What initially caught my attention was rap music’s critical and irreverent political critique of America’s culture of domination.  Pieces like “Fight the Power” and “Cop Killer” resonated strongly with my social and political outlook.  Urban cops, as agents of the local state, kill Blacks at will, knowing that there will be few, if any, consequences.  Indeed, I always have deeply resented cops and the (il)legal order of urban community terrorism they enforce (see my essay,Urban Police and the Order of Community Terrorism).  Therefore, I saw early rap artists as courageous young critics of the sorry urban conditions in which they and others had to live.  But rap music also portrayed few images of romantic love than past Black musical expressions.  Both female and male rappers depicted images of near mutual pain, conflict, and even hatred.  Additionally, the music expressed Black anger, rage, and resentment of youth that seemed to go beyond that articulated by the Black Power generation of the late-1960s.  Hip hop and rap represented the mean streets, and resulting anguished existence, of urban Black America.

With the onset of the 1980s and the rise of the Reagan regime, hip-hop culture and rap music seemed to shift from critical political perspective to the projection of capitalist greed and underworld criminality.  What many critics of hip hop and rap overlooked was that the transition in Black popular culture modeled the gangster Reagan regime’s shift to ultra-right wing politics of capitalist greed and criminality, as the Iran-Contra conflagration resulted in the US government’s involvement in the urban drug epidemic of crack cocaine, as the late award-winning journalist Gary Webb exposed in a series of articles in the San Jose Mercury News (see his important book, Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion).  This is not a cause-and-effect perspective, but I am arguing that there clearly was a complex interaction between the imposition of Reaganism (public philosophy) and Reaganomics (economic policies) and the explosion of gangsta rap with its symbolic emphasis on “bling bling” and mad consumerism, misogyny and the exploitation of women, underworld criminality and thug life, and crack cocaine and other drugs.  Perhaps it is proper to argue that hip hop’s outlaw cultural image was co-opted by and reflected the larger society’s rogue culture.

Significantly, the drive toward a political economy of mega-profits continued into the 21st century, as hip-hop culture invaded America’s high culture: the movie industry, together with the high fashion and urban clothing industries.  Mass media and marketing, professional sports and athletic culture, educational culture and public intellectuals, television programming and pulp fiction, and political management and policy entrepreneurship—all of these institutions have been overtaken by the hip-hop aesthetic.  Several hip-hop cultural figures became financial moguls in the ongoing Age of Reagan.  Indeed, a number of rap artists even emerged as right-wing political conservatives.   However, the politics of capitalist greed and unbridled self-interest began to falter as scandals like the fall of Enron in 2001, presaged the capitalist crisis that would come less than a decade later during the disastrous reign of George W. Bush—the worst president in US history.

What does the Obama election suggest about the Black popular culture of hip hop?  Clearly, the hip-hop generation also is a high-tech generation, born into the Digital Age of computers, e-mail, cell phones, Blackberries, ipods, etc. This is the generation of YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, eBay, Wikipedia, Twitter, etc. (see John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives).  There is no doubt that the political activism of young Blacks (along with young people of other nationalities) constituted a major driving force that put Obama in office.  Even though many older people questioned this possibility, the hip-hop generation became politically active!  With Obama’s messages and image exploding all over the Internet, the new generation employed the new technology in order to organize and galvanize the youth vote.  To be sure, the new president has maintained the use of his Blackberry.  In the contested and changing terrain that hip-hop culture inhabits in America, in cyberspace, and throughout the world, Barack Obama has become the first high-tech US president.

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Another Response to Young Black Male (or Hip Hop) Culture

Charles Johnson on the meaning of Obama—What’s changed is the ability of a majority of Americans to feel that race is irrelevant in their election of the president. What’s most important, as demonstrated, is their trust in the person and that person’s intelligence and professionalism.

That doesn’t mean that American society still isn’t saddled with racial misunderstanding. I came across an Obama doll somebody had done during the primaries [that] was basically a monkey with a tail and big ears, and they took it off the market quickly. Maybe 50 years ago they wouldn’t have had the pressure to take it off the market. There’s still someone who’s going to do something ignorant like that.

We can’t say we have a color-blind society at this moment because we do not. If you look at our English department where I’ve taught for 33 years, I’m the only black faculty here out of about 50 people. I think they recently hired a young woman who I haven’t met yet, so there may be two of us.  .  .  .

So they do have a problem. And we have far more black females graduating from college and getting master’s degrees and PhD’s than we do black males. And there are terrible figures. One out of nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 are either in prison or on parole — somehow controlled by the criminal justice system.

There are lingering problems, and I’m sure Obama is acutely aware of all of them. And he can’t solve them. What he has to do is solve the economic problem, first and foremost, which affects everybody. If people don’t have jobs, you have a serious problem. If you lose your job, then you’re going to lose your home because you can’t make payments. There have to be jobs so people can pay their bills.

But there are deeper problems that affect the black community right now. I talked about women who are black who are doing better professionally than males. Seventy percent of professional black women are single. A black woman professional who reaches the age of 40 has five times the likelihood of remaining single than her white counterpart. A female professional doesn’t want a man who doesn’t have an education or a job. They look at the Obamas with tremendous admiration. They’d like to have a Barack in their lives just like Michelle does as a professional black woman.

But you do not solve that problem until you solve the problem of 70 percent of black children being born out of wedlock and 50 percent of them being raised in fatherless homes. You do not solve these problems until you solve the problem of the black family and its dissolution, and because the families dissolve the communities dissolve.

It’s a problem of young black male culture. I know what it is. August Wilson knew what it was, and we had to figure out how we were going to deal with it, so we didn’t wind up dead at 20 years old or in prison or with a criminal record. It’s a matter of the choices you make. As you have people in your life that you admire, like my dad, my mom, then you have a different direction you might take.

Obama gave that talk on Fathers’ Day last year at a church in Chicago about better parenting and black responsibility. He was basically taking a page from the playbook of Bill Cosby, and Jesse Jackson was furious with him and got caught on the air saying he wanted to cut [Obama’s] nuts off for talking down to Ns, and he used the N word. So we [need] more honesty and not illusions.

One of the things that has to be addressed seriously is the dysteleological behavior in black male culture. At a community college in the South three young black women asked me “Mr. Johnson, what’s wrong with these young black men?” I said, “I know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what the solution is.” They were so frustrated.  .  .  .

They were seeing guys who just want to get over and get laid. They were seeing guys who do drugs or sell drugs. They were seeing guys who didn’t have their values, like valuing an education. They wanted guys they could feel good about, but they didn’t have that, which is sad.

I have talked about that in many essays, and people don’t want you to talk about it. King would talk about it, and people would say, “You’re airing dirty laundry. Don’t talk about that. Talk about what the white man is doing to us. Talk about the external problem, not this internal problem.” King said, “You have to have a battle waged on two fronts. One is the external battle to get rid of the things that keep black people down, segregation and [those issues], and one is the internal battle to raise our own standards.” He said, “You don’t win this war unless you have the battle on these two fronts because one supports the other.”

You look at Obama and have to ask, if you don’t want this guy as the first black president, who do you want? The guy’s a Harvard graduate, the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. And he’s excellent. And that’s King’s point. We have to be excellent. We cannot afford to be mediocre. And if that’s the case, you beat down any argument a racist can come at you with [because] it’s obviously a lie in the case of Obama or Michelle or any of the people he’s drawn to his orbit.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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What This Cruel War Was Over

Soldiers Slavery and the Civil War

By Chandra Manning

For this impressively researched Civil War social history, Georgetown assistant history professor Manning visited more than two dozen states to comb though archives and libraries for primary source material, mostly diaries and letters of men who fought on both sides in the Civil War, along with more than 100 regimental newspapers. The result is an engagingly written, convincingly argued social history with a point—that those who did the fighting in the Union and Confederate armies "plainly identified slavery as the root of the Civil War." Manning backs up her contention with hundreds of first-person testimonies written at the time, rather than often-unreliable after-the-fact memoirs. While most Civil War narratives lean heavily on officers, Easterners and men who fought in Virginia, Manning casts a much broader net. She includes immigrants, African-Americans and western fighters, in order, she says, "to approximate cross sections of the actual Union and Confederate ranks." Based on the author's dissertation, the book is free of academese and appeals to a general audience, though Manning's harsh condemnation of white Southerners' feelings about slavery and her unstinting praise of Union soldiers' "commitment to emancipation" take a step beyond scholarly objectivity.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 29 April 2009




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