By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
It doesn't take the world's most astute hip-hop listener to interpret the gold chains donned by most Bling Age rappers as ensigns of a market-driven economy. Professor Cornel West dubs these adornments "the paraphernalia of suffering" -- commodities that show how rap's preoccupation with the good life has become a "truncated version of the American dream." As West indicates, current hip-hop moguls aren't really gangstering their way into greatness -- they're merely being seduced by a system that's always maligned them.
West offers Street Knowledgeas an anodyne, which follows on the heels of Sketches of My Culture (2001), the spoken-word/hip-hop effort that caused such a stink with West's employer (Harvard) that he left for a new one (Princeton) right afterward. Apparently he got dissed for his crude mixed-marriage of hip-hop and academic discourse -- not, despite rumors to the contrary, because he was a wack rapper. Street Knowledgesounds like what it is: a public intellectual sermonizing over beats every bit as quiet-stormy as you'd expect them to be, spitting diatribes in that warbling, devilishly West-ish voice of his. West's musical foibles are forgivable if you're grooving with his message and, in fairness, a lot of folks are.
Yet after listening to the album, it's obvious that the best thing anyone could do for hip-hop right now would be to bootleg all West's lectures and submit them to some more talented rappers. Just say: "Here's your material, dawg; bring the funk back." Cornel has the message -- let someone else handle the medium.