Gangsta: Merchandizing the Rhymes of Violence

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Overview

In Gangsta, Ronin Ro looks at the perversion of the music called hip-hop - the syncopated verse with a political edge and an emphasis on hope - into a medium of rage and hyper-violence. Gangsta is about selling evil in a marketplace already glutted with faulty, combustible goods. Who supplies and who demands? Can we trace the engineers behind this star-maker machinery? This is packaged, sanctioned violence - a message without a source. Few rappers opt to stay in the 'hood; many more are lured to abandon it for ...
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Overview

In Gangsta, Ronin Ro looks at the perversion of the music called hip-hop - the syncopated verse with a political edge and an emphasis on hope - into a medium of rage and hyper-violence. Gangsta is about selling evil in a marketplace already glutted with faulty, combustible goods. Who supplies and who demands? Can we trace the engineers behind this star-maker machinery? This is packaged, sanctioned violence - a message without a source. Few rappers opt to stay in the 'hood; many more are lured to abandon it for the music video's version of the 'hood - the cartoon slash-and-burn community, the bloodbath, the vision of unassignable rage, anxiety, and revenge. Ro is asking, Whose rage is this, and are the predominately black and Hispanic artists involved in a minstrel show gone out of control? Are we giving society what it wants or are we telling it what it wants? What is clear is that society is getting what it does not need. What is most disturbing is that the music that carries the message was conceived to galvanize communities. As in the fifties, when television was supposed to function as a great teaching tool, hip-hop promised to promote pride and hope. Now it has morphed into cruelty, selfishness, the fracturing of communities and all this to the thwack, thwack of the plastic charge card. You can't trace who wants what, who believes what, who needs what. This book is saying: Repent for your sins.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Brooklyn-based freelance music reporter Ro has covered the gangsta rap scene for Spin, The Source, Rap Pages and Rolling Stone. This raw, gritty collection of his articles chronicles rap music from 1992 to 1995, mainly in Los Angeles and New York City. Ro asserts that hip-hop, which once unified people and steered a predominantly black and Latino audience in a more positive direction, has been perverted by gangsta rappers and exploitative record companies that package gang-culture images and lyrics promoting misogyny, violence, self-hatred, antisocial attitudes and gang-related murders. This message, spelled out in an introductory chapter, is muted when Ro profiles Kid Frost, Street Mentality, Method Man, NWA's Dr. Dre and other rap artists. In this collection, he parties, hangs out with the stars and hears their whining stories of fame and self-destructiveness. As Ro acknowledges, this is "not an anti-gangsta rap tract," and because it's too close to fanzine fare, it probably won't make a difference. (July)
Library Journal
A writer for The Source and Rolling Stone, Ro collects several of his personalized nonfiction articles about the culture and implications of gangsta rap in the Nineties. After an introduction about the mercurial rise of gangs with the cocaine traffic of the last decade, he outlines the brutal violence apparent in the attendant culture, with sections on Kid Frost, Scarface, and genre pioneers N.W.A. He also chronicles the misogyny of the gangstas by describing the attitudes and exploits of such rappers as Luther Campbell and Too Short. Throughout the book, the author argues that gangsta rap, commercialized by record companies and artists in search of profit, has contributed to the growth of the gang culture it glorifies. Though he never shows the direct effect of gangsta rap on the demoralization of youth or its connection to the gun culture and sexism of mainstream America, Ro's well-written work provides a sobering look at gangsta rap and the culture it reflects and promotes. Recommended to music fans and anyone interested in popular culture.David P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Mike Tribby
In one of the best books about rap music and culture, Ro takes a fresh look at the music America loves to hate and fear--gangsta rap--and chronicles how peaceful hip-hop culture was co-opted into a crass merchandising ploy. He graphically describes the scene behind the scene of rappers, 'bangers, and hangers-on, in whose world he rides shotgun while on assignment for magazines eagerly cashing in on the gangsta rap money train with Ro's reports on the rappers' wild, preferably debauched (the more so the better!) behavior. Maybe this book will increase some worrisome parents' misgivings about gangsta rap, but reading Ro's assessments of the genre's leading lights could have just the opposite effect, for he discloses a correspondence between gangsta's image and reality not unlike that of the reunited Kiss' performing face and actuality. Beneath the makeup, Kiss is just a couple of aging Wayne-and-Garths; behind the gangsta rappers' hard-living, drugging facade is a bunch of self-indulgent degenerates.
Kirkus Reviews
One disillusioned hip-hop journalist's chronicle of the rise and decline of a musical form and a culture he believed in.

"Gangsta rap is destroying hip-hop," Ro asserts. Between 1992 and 1995, gangsta rap was relentlessly hyped and—with its romanticization of violence and ghetto life—had a disastrous influence on the attitudes and actions of many young people. Ronin measures gangsta rap against hip-hop's golden age in the 1980s, when it seemed to Ro that blacks and Latinos would finally seize control of their music, "learn [their] history and unite to become a political force to be reckoned with"—and he finds the new music wanting. Pre-gangsta rap was supposed to provide a positive influence for its listeners and to discourage gangs. With gangsta rap, however, the new role models were negative stereotypes, created by artists who celebrated a way of life that they didn't actually live. Ro "rides shotgun" with the rappers and looks behind the scenes—from Mellow Man Ace and former NWA member Dr. Dre (and his famous protégé Snoop Doggy Dogg) in L.A. to 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell in Japan and Kay Gee of Naughty By Nature in New Jersey. Again and again, his discussions with these performers reveal that they don't live up to their own stereotypical gangsta or pimp images; they're just normal (though occasionally misguided) people trying to make decent lives for themselves. The artists are not the true culprits, Ro argues, but merely accomplices. The problem lies with the largely white-owned and -run record companies who exploit the sales and profit potential of gangsta rap. Ro delivers his main criticisms with clarity, but the petty personal issues he raises (including shots at magazines he has dealt with and some former friends in the business) take away from the seriousness of his message.

A well-aimed but not totally credible call for responsibility in an influential industry.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312143442
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 194
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.83 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2000

    Incredibly Literary Work

    Each page of Ronin Ro's first book is tight, well-written, clearly ahead of its time. Unlike his many imitators in books and music magazines, Ronin Ro has a good handle on the material, draws upon classic literary traditions for inspiration and elevates the hip-hop journalism genre he helped create during the early 1990s to a new plateau. In this first book, which St. Martin's Press should reprint, readers see Ronin create the slang that has became the cornerstone for rap magazines Vibe, The Source, and XXl ('laced,' 'streetlevel,' 'ditty,' and 'singsong' are among the terms he created ). We see the earliest use of the first person narrative style he dropped once others tried to use it. We see a side of Ronin noticeably absent from his Death Row book (save for a few choice passages in that behemoth)-- him backing pathological liars into a corner by relentlessly presenting them with the facts. Before every dolt with a computer jumped on the bandwagon with inferior rap books, Gangsta laid out the blueprint they all continue to follow-- that is, until Ronin presents yet another approach with a new work. Gangsta is often imitated but never quite duplicated and I for one hope Ronin Ro's next work marks a return to the literary style he used in his first, and in my opinion, most powerful work.

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    Posted April 6, 2010

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