“The Plot Against Hip Hop is a quick-moving murder mystery that educates its audience on Hip Hop’s pioneer generation along the way. For readers like me who were never close to that world, it is a fine primer on an important creative movement; for people who were close to that world, it is a nostalgic look at a magical and manic moment in time. In either case, it is a book well worth reading.”
Ah, the good old days: cold beers with cool friends, the wonderful music that defined our generation. But wait. The good old days weren’t so good: The wallet was as empty as the gas tank. There was that terrible breakup. There was that friend who got caught up in drugs and the resulting fights and arrests. Be objective: How good were the good old days?
That is the question at the root of Nelson George’s The Plot Against Hip Hop, a generally, but not overly, nostalgic look back at the golden age of Rap music delivered through an ad hoc murder mystery. The main character, D Hunter, is no Sherlock Holmes—he manages event security at parties for today’s Hip Hop stars. But he puts on the gumshoe when a close friend, a seminal Rap-scene writer from those good old days, is killed before completing a controversial project titled The Plot Against Hip Hop.
The book builds from this event: D sets out to solve his friend’s murder and unravel whether there was, in fact, a plot against Hip Hop. In so doing, he is taken back to the good old days (the 1980s and early 90s) in which brilliant young black performers invented a powerful, new kind of music. While the upfront story is solving the murder, the everpresent backstory is revisiting that first generation of rappers and the men around them, now in their forties and fifties.
To his credit, Mr. George balances nostalgia for this golden age of Rap with frequent reminders about the excesses of that generation, i.e., the self-destructive machismo and gangsta iconography; the petty but deadly East vs. West Coast feud. He also avoids simplistic treatments of the “power structure.”
For example, the police detectives who are slow to investigate the death of D’s friend are not corrupt or racist or incompetent—they’re just overworked. However, Mr. George appears uninterested in exploring the sexism of so many Rap heroes or their deification of bling and decadent hedonism.
Mr. George’s writing is rarely subtle, but his bluntness is appropriate for a book about hard people and tough topics. The following description of a Brooklyn housing project stairwell is typical: “D’s nose filled with familiar scents: rotting food in overflowing garbage bags and fried bananas, piss and pussy, too much perfume and not enough deodorant. For poor folks in cramped conditions, the smells are always pungent and mixed up like bad gumbo on Saturday night.”
In short, The Plot Against Hip Hop is a quick-moving murder mystery that educates its audience on Hip Hop’s pioneer generation along the way. For readers like me who were never close to that world, it is a fine primer on an important creative movement; for people who were close to that world, it is a nostalgic look at a magical and manic moment in time. In either case, it is a book well worth reading.