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All About the Beat Why Hip Hop Can't Save Black America

By John H. McWhorter
Gotham Books 2008 ISBN: 9781592403745

About the Book

One of the most outspoken voices in America's cultural dialogues, John McWhorter can always be counted on to provide provocative viewpoints steeped in scholarly savvy. Now he turns his formidable intellect to the topic of hip-hop music and culture, smashing the claims that hip-hop is politically valuable because it delivers the only "real" portrayal of black society.

In this measured, impassioned work, McWhorter delves into the rhythms of hip-hop, analyzing its content and celebrating its artistry and craftsmanship. But at the same time he points out that hip-hop is, at its core, simply music, and takes issue with those who celebrate hip-hop as the beginning of a new civil rights revolution and inflate the lyrics with a kind of radical chic. In a power vacuum, this often offensive and destructive music has become a leading voice of black America, and McWhorter stridently calls for a renewed sense of purpose and pride in black communities.

Joining the ranks of Russell Simmons and others who have called for a deeper investigation of hip-hop's role in black culture, McWhorter's All About the Beat is a spectacular polemic that takes the debate in a seismically new direction.

About the Author

John McWhorter is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Center for Race and Ethnicity. His acclaimed books include the New York Times bestseller Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America and, most recently, Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America, which earned him an NAACP Image Award nomination, and Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Why We Should, Like, Care. He is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, weekly columnist for The New York Sun and a contributor at He has appeared numerous national TV and radio shows, such as Meet the Press, John McLaughlin's One on One, the O'Reilly Factor and is a frequent contributor for National Public Radio. McWhorter is also a well-known and widely published linguistics scholar. He lives in New York.



The Colbert Report, Comedy Central, 8-29-08
O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Channel, 8-1-08
C-Span's "Washington Journal," 7-8-08
CNN American Morning, 7-1-08
CUNY TV "City Talk," 7-2-08
Fox News Channel's "Fox and Friends", 6-19-08


Talk Radio Network's "Laura Ingraham Show," 7-15-08
Talk Radio Network's "Mancow Show," 7-11-08
WBAL's "Ron Smith Show," 7-10-08
KTEM's "Lynn Woolley Show," 6-30-08
Ave Maria Radio's "Kresta in the Afternoon," 6-24-08
Westwood One's "Lars Larson Show" 6-23-08
NPR's "News and Notes" 6-23-08
WLW's "Bill Cunningham Show" 6-20-08
Talk Radio Network' s "Jerry Doyle Show" 6-20-08
National Review Online's "Between the Covers", 06-19-08
Salem Radio Network's "Michael Medved Show," 6-18-08
WHO's "Jan Mickelson Show," 6-17-08
The Economist's Democracy in America, 6-13-08

Online Discussion

John McWhorter on Bloggingheads TV with Glenn Loury

In the Press

Notable: Exploring postracial politics Colette Bancroft, St. Petersburg Times Online, June 30, 2008
With race in American culture a focus of the political season, three new books offer thoughtful takes on the past, present and future. All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America (Gotham Books), by John McWhorter, argues that the dominant pop music form of the past 20 years may point to social problems but does little to solve them. . .

The politics of hip-hop The Economist, June 26, 2008
. . . Hip-Hop . . . Is it "pavement poetry [that] vibrates with commitment to speaking for the voiceless," as Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University, believes? Is it "an enormously influential agent for social change which must be responsibly and proactively utilised to fight the war on poverty and injustice," as the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), a pressure group, contends? Or is it mostly "angry, profane and women-hating music that plays on the worst stereotypes of black people," as Bill Cosby harrumphs? None of the above, argues John McWhorter, in a new book called "All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America". . .

A Danger Of Being Obamatized, Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, June 19, 2008
John McWhorter, Manhattan Institute senior fellow. . . is one of the nation's most insightful analysts of race and culture. . . McWhorter's new book, "All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America," takes on rap music—of which he is actually an ardent fan—and concludes, as he told a New York City audience on Tuesday, that it is "marvelous, glorious, seductive noise," but "that's all there is."


Conscious Rap Part II John McWhorter, The New York Sun, June 19, 2008

Last week I argued in this [column] against the idea that the "conscious" brand of rap music offers useful advice of an inspirational or political nature, contrary to a popular notion that such rap has the potential to spark some kind of "hiphop revolution" among young black people. Because this new version of political awareness is such an idle detour, I will depart from my usual practice and respond to the comments last week's piece elicited...

'Conscious' Hiphop Fallacy, John McWhorter, New York Sun, June 12, 2008

. . . Criticize the violence and sexism, and get ready for a tsunami of emails hotly objecting, "It's not all like that!" More specifically, the idea is that beyond the theatrics of gangsta rappers like 50 Cent, "conscious" rap "has something to say." There are more than a few smart people under the impression that what rap has to say could even energize an activist groundswell among the poor. . . They think of it as unquestionable that for black people, politics must be about challenging authority, taking to the streets, the upturned middle finger. The problem is that the days when this orientation fed or taught anyone anything are long past. They miss other kinds of black politics that actually help people in the real world. . .


The Rap on Hip-Hop Mark Gauvreau Judge, American Spectator, August 1, 2008
... one genre of popular music, rap, is hugely popular while simultaneously boasting that it is about social change and revolution. It is a claim that is demolished by John McWhorter in his new book All About the Beat: Why Hip Hop Can't Save Black America. McWhorter, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, is actually a fan of hip-hop music; thus his criticism of the form avoids the hysteria of some conservative condemnations of rap. He knows the music of Outcast, Ice Cube , Pete Rock and Public Enemy. The conclusion he draws is nuanced, but also blunt: Some hip-hop music is sonically clever and lyrically poetic. But none of it has anything to do with revolution...

John McWhorter: the most unpopular black man in America? Clive Davis, Times of London, July 12, 2008
If Barack Obama is the most admired black man in America right now, it may be no exaggeration to say that John McWhorter is a candidate for the unpopularity prize. Which is an odd thing to say about a courteous academic from the arcane realm of linguistics. Yet by venturing onto the mean streets of hiphop with a dispassionate critique of a multimillion-dollar industry, he risks becoming a target of drive-by shootings by enraged academics, book reviewers and bloggers. . .

All about the Beat: Book Review Kam Williams, News Blaze, July 11, 2008
. . . I know that Mr. McWhorter's prior work has generally been dismissed by his detractors as the rants of an effete, out-of-touch, neo-con. I probably trashed a couple of his earlier books myself. However, this one is worth reading, if only for its highlighting a serious flaw in African-American culture which allows cadence to serve as a substitute for substance and critical thinking. . .

Hip-hop, the era, Saul Austerlitz, Boston Globe, June 22, 2008

'All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America' Adam Mansbach, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2008

Hip-Hop as a Political Movement? Don't Believe the Hype, John Rosenberg, New York Post, June 15, 2008

Book Review: All About The Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America, Blog Critics Magazine, June 10, 2008
On one side I hear John McWhorter, and on the other side I hear Michael Eric Dyson. In this book their voices come together because McWhorter has put forth his hip-hop apolitical argument in sharp contrast to the many political ones. In fact, Dyson provided the title of the book from a debate when he said hip-hop was "all about the beat." In All About the Beat, McWhorter prepares rip-roaring arguments against Dyson, the very guru of hip-hop as politics. . .