Books in Brief: Nonfiction
BETWEEN GOD AND GANGSTA RAP
Bearing Witness to Black Culture
By Michael Eric Dyson
Oxford University Press
Michael Eric Dyson is one of a fast-growing group of black essayists who set themselves the thankless if rarely unprofitable task of pondering the nation's fast-growing racial crisis. Like most of them, he is an academic whose career in letters is based more on his insights than on raw literary ability. His strength is his deep-seated sympathy for the black urban poor. In Between God and Gangsta Rap, a collection of pieces previously published in Spin, The Christian Century and other publications, Mr. Dyson is most effective when recalling the kind of hard life few of his counterparts know from the inside. A teen-age father who grew up in the Detroit that inspired Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues" and worked many factory jobs on an educational journey that ended at Princeton, Mr. Dyson is an ordained minister as well as a communications professor at the University of North Carolina. His frequent comments on popular culture rarely reach deep but have the virtue of promulgating truths that ought to be more obvious than they are -- for instance, that gangsta rap is both noxiously sexist and a calculated offense against a complacent black bourgeoisie. Significantly, however, the most impressive piece here, a celebration of the Baptist preacher Gardner Taylor, shows off Mr. Dyson's area of special expertise.
New York Times Book Review, Dec. 10, 1995