Rap Scholar Warriors

Daniel Levin Becker is a scholar, a critic, a translator, and a massive fan of rap. A wordsmith as well as a literary investigator, Becker knows his way around sophisticated prose, poetry, and lyrics. In What’s Good: Notes on Rap and Language, Becker makes a compelling case for a reappraisal of the genius of rap and hip hop lyricism. It’s a love letter penned by a very smart, very knowledgeable fan. I was super impressed and the more I read (and listened), the more I learned.

The book ranges from early days to present, East Coast, West Coast, and local scenes. The chapters are short, akin to aphorisms, each taking up a theme, a question, a connection or a lyric. Becker’s skill is dazzling, drawing out histories and relationships, outlining meaning and meanings. He’s an obsessed expert and he wants to share, to give us the same sense of wonder and admiration. The wordplay, the interplay, the stories and the ways that artists reference each other, admire each other and dis each other is extremely interesting. You have to know to know, though.

It worked for me. I revisited tracks and listened to many new ones. Reading What’s Good is best with a Spotify account, a good pair of headphones, and rap curiosity. My default is to pay closer attention to the beat, but now I’m going to spend more time on Genius (formerly Rap Genius) exploring the wordplay.

And the title for this post? It turns out that many white fans of rap (count Becker and me among them) find an accessible entry point in the works of Jurassic 5. One of their tracks that always makes me smile is Quality Control. Check out the lyrics – it may be old but its message resonates, particularly when it comes to figuring out what is good. Ayo!

David Potash

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