Saturday, October 18, 2008


As a graduate student pursuing my Masters in Literature, I read quite a bit, but I don't have much time to read a lot of books by choice. That being said, when I do pick up something by choice to read in addition to my constant required reading, the book's really got to grab me. DEFinition: The Art and Design of Hip-Hop does all that and a bag of chips. When I first read about it, I was excited. When I got a copy and actually thumbed through it, I flipped my lid! Seriously, if you're into hip-hop, be it old skool, new skool, or whatever, this book is going to seriously engage you.

The book is compiled by legendary hip-hop designer Cey Adams with help from Bill Adler (formerly of Def Jam Records and Rush Artist Management), and documents the cultural legacy of hip-hop music. Perhaps more than any other musical genre, hip-hop's effects have transcended musical boundaries, racial boundaries, and even international boundaries. Once thought of as an illegitimate audio-rip-off of other "real" music, hip-hop has proven its creativity, power, and staying power.

The book is divided up into chapters, each dealing with a different aspect of how hip-hop has altered the world we live in. Some subjects include grafitti (which some would consider a complementary visual art form to hip-hop's audio), cars (Pimp My Ride anyone?), sneakers (tell me you don't remember Run-DMCs' Adidas!), and fashion. Russell Simmons kicks it off with a foreword and then each of the chapters opens with an introductory essay written by a range of contributors, followed by pages and pages of images connecting to the subject. And although the word count is much lower than the overall count of 192 pages that the book includes, the images are just as attention grabbing and thought provoking as the accompanying essays.

I haven't made it through the book yet, as I'm savoring all of the images one by one. I'm hoping to return to it and write future posts as I work my way though it, sharing the quotes and images that seem most powerful for you to read, view, and ponder. That being said, I want to start with a quote from the foreword in which Russell Simmons starts out by saying the following:
"When I was a young man, The Cosby Show was one of the few depictions of African-American life on television. I always thought it was a great show, but there was so much about my life and the lives of my family and friends that it left out. In contrast, working with rappers was very satisfying to me because I knew that the average African-American was more like LL Cool J that Dr. Huxtable" (8).
I'll leave you with that quote and a few tracks to listen to. The first is an old skool jam that I can remember first hearing on a mix-tape that a friend cooked up for me: Joeski Love's Pee Wee's Dance. If you listen to it, you're of course required to do the accompanying dance! Forget how it goes? Check it out:

The Champs - Tequila : 50’s Rock ’n’ Roll • Whole Lot of Shakin’

And now for a brand spankin' new track from People Under The Stairs' new album Fun DMC. It's a block party, BBQ, beer drinking inspired collection of twenty tracks and the following cut, Party Enemy No 1, samples the above mentioned Joeski Love track.

People Under The Stairs - Party Enemy No 1 : Fun DMC

Getting back to my original topic, absolutely positively check out DEFinition. I'll drop some more quotes, along with images, in the future. In the meantime, pick up a copy for yourself and hit me back with your thoughts:

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