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By Joshua Clover

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Additional resources for 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About

Sample text

One can see the appeal of this formation for a rhetorician. The emphasis on teaching, and on verbal formalism as a pedagogical tool—mnemonics, acronyms, anaphoric theses—is shared with Nation of Islam, and numerous emcees have shifted fluidly between the beliefs of the two sects, sometimes as matters of lyrical convenience, other times in synthesizing a vision for themselves and their audience. The power of preaching and teaching, of divine and secular knowledge, in turn figures as the foundation for a program of self-empowerment.

In the end, however, Straight Outta Compton and its progeny would effectively shift the balance of hip-hop from East to West Coast, in concert with Los Angeles’s arrival as the national stage for the drama of the African-American underclass. This succession offers a holographic fragment able to hold a rough sketch of hiphop’s history. As the continent tilted, an implausibly pleasing collection of acts rolled across the national stage. Among others, the chapter considers the Beastie Boys’ sample-happy Paul’s Boutique and Digital Underground’s single “The Humpty Dance”; the leveraging of Black Power and gangsta styles to forge a new hip-hop feminism by Queen Latifah and Yo-Yo; the indefatigable Biz Markie; and members of the Native Tongues posse.

Public Enemy was, in that moment, at the height of its powers. The year before, the group had released what was then the most influential album in hip-hop’s history: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. 1 The moment contained just the same the seeds of its own annihilation. 2 Professor Griff (Richard Griffin) had been the band’s road manager and served as head of the S1Ws, “Security of the First World,” a cadre who minded the stage during shows clad in military apparel clearly appropriated from the Fruit of Islam, the paramilitary defense force of the Nation of Islam.

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