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Prophets of the HoodProphets of the Hood

Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop

Imani Perry

Narrated by Emil Nicholas Gallina

Approximately 9 hours

Unabridged


Downloadable edition:

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Book published by Duke University Press


At once the most lucrative, popular, and culturally oppositional musical force in the United States, hip hop demands the kind of interpretation Imani Perry provides here: criticism engaged with this vibrant musical form on its own terms. A scholar and a fan, Perry considers the art, politics, and culture of hip hop through an analysis of song lyrics, the words of the prophets of the hood. Recognizing prevailing characterizations of hip hop as a transnational musical form, Perry advances a powerful argument that hip hop is first and foremost black American music. At the same time, she contends that many studies have shortchanged the aesthetic value of rap by attributing its form and content primarily to socioeconomic factors. Her innovative analysis revels in the artistry of hip hop, revealing it as an art of innovation, not deprivation.

Perry offers detailed readings of the lyrics of many hip hop artists, including Ice Cube, Public Enemy, De La Soul, krs-One, OutKast, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Tupac Shakur, Lil’ Kim, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Method Man, and Lauryn Hill. She focuses on the cultural foundations of the music and on the form and narrative features of the songs—the call and response, the reliance on the break, the use of metaphor, and the recurring figures of the trickster and the outlaw. Perry also provides complex considerations of hip hop’s association with crime, violence, and misogyny. She shows that while its message may be disconcerting, rap often expresses brilliant insights about existence in a society mired in difficult racial and gender politics. Hip hop, she suggests, airs a much wider, more troubling range of black experience than was projected during the civil rights era. It provides a unique public space where the sacred and the profane impulses within African American culture unite.

Imani Perry is a Professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University.

REVIEWS:

Prophets of the Hood is the most comprehensive and intellectually original study to date of hip hop as a complex and innovative literary narrative form. Written with a refreshing blend of savvy critical rigor and brave and imaginative narrative verve, Imani Perry’s study is an impressive analysis of late-twentieth-century American popular culture.”

—Daphne A. Brooks, Princeton University

“Imani Perry has written the most subtle and nuanced treatment of hip hop that I know. Her complex view of hip hop as black democratic space subject to prophetic utterance and mainstream cooptation is powerful. Her call for the local engagement and global vision of the underground to revitalize hip hop is compelling. Her seminal work should silence all naive or ignorant trashers of this vital cultural form!”

—Cornel West, Princeton University

“Imani Perry’s Prophets of the Hood is an extraordinary and brilliant book. Eschewing a rigid division between the ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ in hip hop, she takes the discussion of rap to new depths and greater heights with a probing analysis of the poetic and political dimensions of the art form. With lucid explanations, crisp writing, and sharp analysis, Perry has managed to actually say some very important things in a strikingly fresh manner. With the storytelling skills of Nas, the passion of Tupac, the lyrical dexterity of Lauryn Hill, the verbal mastery of Talib Kweli, and the conceptual acuity of krs-One, Perry has produced a stunning, magnificent work of art.”

—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur





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