While hip-hop culture continues to be a magnet for controversy, it's hard to deny that hip-hop lyrics at their best can be sharply observant, witty and even wise. And that's how I'd characterize the work of Kanye West. From the profound reverence of "Jesus Walks" to the teasing, self-mocking cheek of "Golddigger," West's rap narratives, with their incisive one-liners, contemplate both the sacred and profane in a wholly fresh way. And that's art.
Yes, he has freely used the dreaded N-word, but never in any way that shows contempt or self-hatred. Nor does his work grant anyone permission to use the crudest vernacular to put down our people--and especially not women. Where do Kanye West's values and abilities to handle subtleties and fine distinctions in language come from?
Black Issues Book Review greeted the publication of Raising Kanye: Life Lessons From the Mother of a Hip-Hop Superstar by Donda West as an opportunity to explore the very best uses of hip-hop as black cultural expression--to entertain, to inform, to tell our stories in ways that inspire positive action, even to educate. The recently retired head of Chicago State University's English department, Dr. Donda West has mastered this terrain by virtue of her experience as an educator and scholar. We asked a similarly credentialed hip-hop mom, Dr. Brenda M. Greene, the mother of Talib Kweli, and a long-time English professor and scholar herself, to interview Dr. West. And for a related special report, we sent our News Editor Felicia Pride into urban classrooms where hip-hop expression has been incorporated into the curriculum in ways that engage students in refining their reading and writing skills.
Tapping into this hip-hop mom network of educators is also our unique way of observing Mother's Day. But we have so much more to celebrate in this May/June 2007 issue: The end of May also marks the annual publishing industry trade show known as BookExpo America, and May 31 in particular is dedicated to the annual African American Publishing Professionals seminars organized by book...