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To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic / Edition 1

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Overview

2007 Arts Club of Washington’s National Award for Arts Writing - Finalist

SEE ALSO: Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting.

With roots that stretch from West Africa through the black pulpit, hip-hop emerged in the streets of the South Bronx in the 1970s and has spread to the farthest corners of the earth. To the Break of Dawn uniquely examines this freestyle verbal artistry on its own terms. A kid from Queens who spent his youth at the epicenter of this new art form, music critic William Jelani Cobb takes readers inside the beats, the lyrics, and the flow of hip-hop, separating mere corporate rappers from the creative MCs that forged the art in the crucible of the street jam.

The four pillars of hip hop—break dancing, graffiti art, deejaying, and rapping—find their origins in traditions as diverse as the Afro-Brazilian martial art Capoeira and Caribbean immigrants’ turnstile artistry. Tracing hip-hop’s relationship to ancestral forms of expression, Cobb explores the cultural and literary elements that are at its core. From KRS-One and Notorious B.I.G. to Tupac Shakur and Lauryn Hill, he profiles MCs who were pivotal to the rise of the genre, verbal artists whose lineage runs back to the black preacher and the bluesman.

Unlike books that focus on hip-hop as a social movement or a commercial phenomenon, To the Break of Dawn tracks the music's aesthetic, stylistic, and thematic evolution from its inception to today's distinctly regional sub-divisions and styles. Written with an insider's ear, the book illuminates hip-hop's innovations in a freestyle form that speaks to both aficionados and newcomers to the art.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
To the Break of Dawn marks a crucial turning point in hip-hop writing. . . . By opening the discourse on hip-hop’s aesthetic, Cobb spearheads a new sub-genre, and perhaps a return or revolution in hip-hop aesthetics.”

-Black Issues Book Review,

“[P]eels back the many digitized layers of hip-hop to explore the evolution of the MC, from African folkloric traditions to the global (and often hypercommercial) phenomenon it is today.”
-Utne

,

To the Break of Dawn is smart, funny, conversational—a book to touch off serious study of the modern MC.”

-The Austin Chronicle

,

“Upon finishing To The Break of Dawn any objective fan will acknowledge that Cobb has done a commendable job in chronicling rap’s evolution and explaining its multiple influences and impact.”

-City Paper,

To the Break of Dawn dissects the evolution of hip hop lyricism from its most primitive beginnings to its current manifestation as a global phenomenon. Author Jelani Cobb examines issues of race, geography, genre and bravado in this overview of hip hop’s lyrical art. Covering words from B.I.G., Cube, Obie Trice and Pimp C, Cobb offers an intellectual and up-to-date report on hip hop’s most powerful element.”

-The Source Magazine

Publishers Weekly
Hip-hop "freestyle," according to Cobb, assistant professor of history at Spelman College, is an extension of "the dozens"-exchanging barbs using "the rapid-fire calculation of speed chess combined with the language virtuosity of a poetry recital." Cobb subtitles his book a freestyle, and on literally every page he displays a tremendous command of language and history as he "examines the aesthetic, stylistic, and thematic evolution of hip hop from its inception in the South Bronx to the present era." But make no mistake: this groundbreaking work is an artfully constructed and vividly written look at "the artistic evolution of rap music and its relationship to earlier forms of black expression." Cobb brilliantly displays how hip-hop has its own aesthetic in five sections: hip-hop's relationship to ancestral forms of African-American culture; the history of its aesthetic evolution; its use of the "entire palette of poetic techniques"; the influence of the storytelling tradition, especially black autobiography; and studies of seven important artists in the field, from Rakim to the Notorious B.I.G. Much of the book's pleasure also comes from Cobb's ability to "freestyle" serious and humorous insights-from how artists such as Tupac and Nas sometimes "stepped outside the conventions of hip-hop to pen sympathetic narratives about the sexual exploitation of young women," to how LL Cool J's pioneering "I Need a Beat" sounded "like he'd raided every entry in an SAT book." (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814716700
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 0.63 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

Meet the Author

William Jelani Cobb is Assistant Professor of History at Spelman College and editor of The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader. He is a contributing writer at Essence magazine, and his music criticism and essays have also appeared in the Washington Post, Emerge, and the Progressive. His website can be found at www.jelanicobb.com. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Table of Contents


Microphone Check: An Intro     1
The Roots     13
The Score     41
Word of Mouth     77
Asphalt Chronicles: Hip Hop and the Storytelling Tradition     107
Seven MCs     139
Conclusion     167
Shout Outs     171
Notes     175
Index     183
About the Author     200
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