But Seriously, Folks
With its Basquiat cover and footnoted text, Signifying Rappers: Rap
and Race in the Urban Present might tempt the browser to lay down
cash money for (ahem) "the first serious consideration of rap and
its position as a vital force in our American cultural
consciousness." Don't do it. The analysis is adequate to ignorant
to barmy, and whenever the authors--Mark Costello an attorney and
jazz fan, David Foster Wallace a philosophy grad student and writer
of highbrow pomo "fictions"--get near a fact, it hangs its head in
shame. Their revelation that "almost all established rock critics
. . . tend to regard serious, ever new, non-crossover rap as
essentially boring and simplistic, or as swaggering and bellicose
and dangerous" will astonish the voters who made Public Enemy and
De La Soul winners of the 1988 and 1989 Pazz & Jop Critics' Polls
(and high finishers in Rolling Stone's more conservative tallies).
I presume both acts qualify as serious and ever new because both
appear in the pencil-necked discography (which proceeds directly
from Run-D.M.C.to Raising Hell--there was one called King
of Rock in between there, fellas). Costello says his "favorite rap ever"
is an "untraceable 5-minute cut" he taped off the radio with an
"inscrutable chorus" about a "Honeychild." Er, that wouldn't be
Ice-T's "The Hunted Child," would it? B side of "High Rollers,"
later on Freedom of Speech? Nah, it's his favorite. Surely he cares
too much to have missed anything so obvious.
Rap and Race in the Urban Present
By Mark Costello and David Foster Wallace
Village Voice, 1990