NEVER DRANK THE KOOL-AID by Touré (Picador), 402 pages, $20 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
With Never Drank the Kool-aid , Rolling Stone's main hiphop correspondent, Touré - just Touré - declares he's through with hiphop.
Starting with a mournful elegy for Tupac and Biggie, he says he's had enough of the violence and in-fighting and that he'll go back to hiphop when the first rapper dies of old age.
What follows are almost 400 pages of interviews and essays that explore the hiphop nation, mainly magazine articles dating from the mid-90s to 2005. These are sensitive portraits of the giants of flow: Nas, Jay-Z, P-Diddy, Tupac, Raekwon, Kanye West, ?uestlove and everyone's favourite rap villain, 50. (KRS1, sadly, is missing.)
There are portraits of soul and R&B divas as well: Lauryn Hill, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, the fragile genius of D'Angelo and the enigmatic Artist Formerly Known As.... Stories about Russell Simmons and Suge Knight round out the management end of the story.
Touré combines a poetic ear with a flair for finding the right detail in the right setting. We see him across the table from Jay-Z at 3 am playing a high-stakes game of Guts, going with Kanye West to the jeweller's and being dragged by the Artist onto the basketball court.
His main point is that hiphop is a form of theatre, a way for grown-up ghetto kids to live the American dream as opera and to create a lifestyle so improbably lush and baroque, it becomes a work of art in its own right.
He also does some sober plumbing of hiphop's origins, questioning its hyper-masculinity, violence and homophobia. Behind the supermodels, stretch Hummers and diamond knuckle dusters, he finds a deep vulnerability, and understands its origins.
Touré might hate the hiphop nation, but it's where he lives.
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