Cornel West

Street Knowledge (Roc Diamond)

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 Knowledge as 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 Knowledge sounds 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.

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