February 06, 2007
Other People's Property: Book Review
Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in America
by Jason Tanz
Q: Who's down with O.P.P.?
A: White people, natch!
No but really, so many white people these days love hip-hop, but of course their relationship with the form is going to be a lot more complicated since they are, after all, cracka-ass crackas. Jason Tanz' Other People's Property is a sort of history white people's various interactions with hip-hop over the years.
The book begins with a sort of memoir-sy take on the author's own history as a fan of hip-hop as well as his various interactions with black people growing up in the Pacific Northwest and going to college at Brown University. (Obviously there aren't very many black people either in Tacoma, Washington or wherever Brown is.)
As a kid, Tanz has an issue where his one black friend calls him a Jew and an issue where he mocks his black busdriver. At Brown, he gets called a white devil by the chick from Digable Planets, who I'm pretty sure is not even black herself. He also gets harrassed for wearing a Malcolm X hat on campus. Aww...
The bulk of the rest of the book consists of Tanz traveling to places to chronicle the various ways hip-hop has expanded out from the inner city and into places like the rich crackety-crack commuter suburbs of New York, lily white Green Bay, Wisconsin, a nerd convention in Bellvue, Washington, and even, god forbid, Canada.
As amusing and informative as some of these are, it's true that the people Tanz chooses to cover don't necessarily represent the vast majority of white kids in this country who listen to hip-hop. In general, Tanz has a tendency to characterize white hip-hop fans as tourists rather with race issues rather than genuine lovers of the form.
Tom Breihan, for one, is pissed. In the review of O.P.P. he did for the Village Voice the other day, he wonders aloud whether or not white people who grew up in the suburbs (of Baltimore, presumably) have just as much claim to hip-hop as black kids from the inner city, since they did, after all, grow up listening to hip-hop.
Tanz doesn't really delve into that issue one way or the other, but, to his credit, it could be that it never occurred to him that there were people who thought like that. Which makes enough sense to me. Just because you don't view your own life as part of an overall narrative of cultural appropriation doesn't mean that it isn't.
Overall, I thought Tanz did a pretty good job of exploring white people's history in hip-hop. At just over 200 pages, O.P.P. is less extensive than its title would have you believe, but it hits on most of the main issues you'd like to see covered in a way that I thought was informative and yet still fairly amusing at times.
Byron Crawford a/k/a Bol is the celebrated author of several books, most recently NaS Lost: A Tribute to the Little Homey.
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Posted by Bol at 11:18 AM | Permalink
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