Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Black Music Month

Today, I did a presentation on hip hop at Penguin for Black Music Month. About a dozen employees attended including my editor Kara. I don't know how much the people in attendance follow hip hop, but they were a sophisticated bunch (sounds like the title of Parliament joint, doesn't it?) Usually when I do my opening exercise -- a word association game using the term hip hop, I usually get the names of people and things having to do with commercial rap music. P. Diddy. Bling. Violence. While some of those usual suspects were mentioned, this group also offered some more positive associations. Turntables. B-boy. Expression.

Then I did a bit of Hip Hop 101, describing the four primary elements (at least from the perspective of purists such as myself) and their roots in African diasporic cultures, providing some statistics on the social, political and economic conditions of the South Bronx that gave rise to hip hop subculture, and linking rap music -- especially socially conscious rap music -- the Black Arts Movement. To highlight that last point, I play Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (update the names, and damn if that joint's still not relevant.) I wanted to follow that with Sarah Jones's brilliant Your Revolution, but I had a hell of a time attempting to convert my MP3 into a WAV file that I could burn onto a CD that would play correctly. At minimum, I quote a few lines, explain that it's a feminist response to misogynistic rap lyrics as much as it is an ode to Gil Scott-Heron (whom Sarah respectfully refers to as a "proto-rapper" at the opening of the track), and inform them that the ludicrous FCC had the audacity to call the song obscene and fine stations for playing it when now kids getting dressed for school can hear the word bitch uncensored at eight in the morning on Hot 97.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to do this. How many authors are invited to do a presentation at the publishing house and meet some of the people who help bring their books from paper to bookshelf? I even got a sneak preview at the upcoming NAL sampler (a monograph-sized book that excerpts the first chapter of five to six novels that the imprint will release during the summer including Picture Me Rollin' and Electa Rome Parks's Almost Doesn't Count. The sampler's hot, and I hope to have a some copies to give away at appearances. When I get them, I'll be sure to post what are the other upcoming NAL novels included.

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