Beyond blues

Writings from the hip-hop generation’s Word Movement.

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Remember saying “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”? Well, think again. Words — the right ones — have the power to incite, excite and revolutionize you. That’s why KRS-One, Public Enemy and Rakim reign supreme — because of the words they speak.

Kevin Powell, editor of Step into a World, described as “a global anthology of the new black literature,” introduces readers to the power of the Word Movement. A follow-up of the Harlem Renaissance and literature movements thereafter, the Word Movement is the written and sometimes spoken word of the hip-hop generation.

Step into a World presents words written by African Americans, Europeans, those who check the “other” box, Latinos and more. And finally, words written by the literary offspring of Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and, yes, Terry McMillan.

With 104 entries, some from as far away as Amsterdam and South Africa, Step into a World allows the reader to explore the Word Movement and what life represents to the hip-hop generation. The book addresses a myriad of topics and issues facing hip-hop heads today — from Tupac to politics, miscegenation, racism, love, incest, sexuality, Ebonics, Tiger Woods, Alice Walker — it’s all there.

In his introduction, Powell gives props to old-school rappers and explains just how the Word Movement was started: “Be it Run DMC or Too Short or MC Lyte, hip hop catalyzed young black verbal expression as had not been done since the 1960s … Hip hop also represented the first black music where its originators could care less what white people thought of them.”

The book is divided into six sections: “Essays,” “Hip-Hop Journalism,” “Criticism,” “Fiction,” “Poetry” and “Dialogue.” Some of the writers already have a novel on the shelf (Veronica Chambers, Ben Okri), some have been published in chapbooks (Duriel E. Harris) and others have taken the Word Movement to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe’s Grand Slam in New York (Paul Beatty-1990, Sarah Jones-1997) and spit words that moved the crowd and won the competition.

In “Mama’s Girl,” author Veronica Chambers, a successful writer at a prestigious newspaper, looks at the gap between her mother’s expectations of her and her brother who is always in and out of jail. She sums up by saying that black women “mother their sons and raise their daughters”; eventually Chambers accepts that, regardless of her success, her mother will never release her from her feeling of failure over her brother’s poor decisions — nor will Chambers release herself.

Just what is a black man’s life worth? — is what Robin D.G. Kelley asks (“On the Disappearance of Joe Wood Jr.”) when he remembers his friend Joe Wood Jr. and his mysterious disappearance in Seattle. By the time the news hit the papers, Wood had been missing for eight days. Soon after, the young Kennedys perished in that plane crash, wiping away any hopes of Wood’s disappearance being pursued or given any media coverage.

Kelley writes, “Maybe Joe Wood was no John F. Kennedy Jr., but does that mean he deserved to be jettisoned from the media? Like Kennedy, Wood was full of promise.”

Readers who enjoyed rap music when DJ’s were itchin’ for a scratch will enjoy “Hip-Hop Hi-Tech” by Harry Allen. Here Allen explains what makes the musical technique so dope — hip-hop artists simply take the technology and squeeze it, rip it and do other things with the equipment that threaten to void the warranty.

Allen speaks with some of hip-hop’s preeminent DJs and producers — Marley Marl, Red Alert, Hank Shocklee and Grandmaster Flash — and asks them to opine on several mixers, turntables, amps and samplers. He determines that although DJ’s aren’t trained “musicians,” they still have to meet the same requirements: have skills and make good music.

After the success of Waiting to Exhale, Hollywood realized that it could make movies — and money — about black people that didn’t involve gang bangin’ or ghettoized comedy, says Esther Iverem in “What About Black Romance?” While struggling to recall black movies with romantic plots, she realized there weren’t many love stories on screen depicting black folks. But the new wave of black directors of movies such as Love Jones, and the subplot romance between Cuba Gooding Jr. and Regina King in Jerry Maguire, show that there just might be more of an onscreen acceptance of showing black people living and loving.

In an ode to writer Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man, Jarvis Q. DeBerry writes a three-line poem titled “Dear Mr. Ellison.” In it he asks, “If we s’posed to be/so invisible, why they/watch us when we shop?”

Imani Tolliver writes “Gin and Juice,” easily the most disturbing, gut-wrenching entry of all — “When I was little, my father stole my pussy …”

Step into a World easily juxtaposes the written word of the literary scene with the music of hip hop, creating one harmonious song — regardless of whether the flow is freestyle or the lyrics speak misogyny or the artist is dead. Powell, however, sums up the book best in his introduction: “The Harlem Renaissance had the blues, the Black Arts Movement had jazz and the sounds of Motown, and the Word Movement has hip hop.”

Curtrise Garner writes about style and substance for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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