I’m getting ready to write my review of Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ The Beautiful Struggle. In the same way that Kwame Dawes describes his style of writing as having a “reggae aesthetic“, it’s clear that Coates is trying to craft a hip-hop aesthetic in his style of writing. Some of the most common words in his lexicon are “jennys” and “Mecca”, words that have at least 15 years of literary history in the lyrics of De La Soul, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Tribe Called Quest, and others. And so, while reading The Beautiful Struggle I began to remember all those tracks that I had stopped listening to years ago, and also discovered others that I had never heard before.
Most of the songs in this podcast are from the east coast during the early 90’s, which I think is the area and era that influenced Coates’ writing the most. (There are a couple notable exceptions: 2pac who provides a nice intro and J Live whose lyrics I’ve been eating up like an old box of letters.)
Ta-Nehisi writes infrequently about hip-hop. To those who say it’s ruining black America, he responds, “I would play Illmatic, De La Soul Is Dead, The Infamous, Word…Life five hundred times over before I would offer him a single word written by John McWhorter.” Similarly, he feels that “people who make judgments about the moral worth of hip-hop, often aren’t especially schooled in the music.” And does Obama represent an end to hip-hop culture? Not for Ta-Nehisi.