Over the last quarter-century hip-hop has grown from an esoteric form of African-American expression to become the dominant form of American popular culture. Today, Snoop Dogg shills for Chrysler and white kids wear Fubu, the black-owned label whose name stands for "For Us, By Us." This is not the first time that black music has been appreciated, adopted, and adapted by white audiences-think jazz, blues, and rock-but Jason Tanz, a white boy who grew up in the suburban Northwest, says that hip-hop's journey through white America provides a unique window to examine the racial dissonance that has become a fact of our national life. In such culture-sharing Tanz sees white Americans struggling with their identity, and wrestling (often unsuccessfully) with the legacy of race.
To support his anecdotally driven history of hip-hop's cross-over to white America, Tanz conducts dozens of interviews with fans, artists, producers, and promoters, including some of hip-hop's most legendary figures-such as Public Enemy's Chuck D; white rapper MC Serch; and former Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy. He travels across the country, visiting "nerdcore" rappers in Seattle, who rhyme about Star Wars conventions; a group of would-be gangstas in a suburb so insulated it's called "the bubble"; a break-dancing class at the upper-crusty New Canaan Tap Academy; and many more. Drawing on the author's personal experience as a white fan as well as his in-depth knowledge of hip-hop's history, Other People's Property provides a hard-edged, thought-provoking, and humorous snapshot of the particularly American intersection of race, commerce, culture, and identity.
Suburban white kids' increasingly ubiquitous fascination with hip-hop culture is the subject of this thoughtful and often insightful work of long-form journalism. Tanz, a young white man himself and an editor at Fortune Small Business, is an apt chronicler of the racial and cultural obstacles that stand between the producers and consumers of rap. He has an obvious passion for the music at hand, and he demonstrates his connoisseurship through brilliant evocations of the power of the band N.W.A. and the often painful history of white rappers. Tanz is most successful when he lets himself get tangled up in the complicated tendons of mass culture: his chapter about hip-hop marketing and commercialization displays a keen understanding of the advertising forces at work without ever devolving into simplistic damnation. Other aspects of the book are less satisfying, most notably the framing devices for each chapter in which Tanz chooses seemingly arbitrary instances of white appropriations of hip-hop culture such as a hipster dance party in Williamsburg to illustrate larger points. Nevertheless, Tanz solidly displays his strong grasp of the broad cultural significance of the rise of hip-hop.