Stakes Is High
Members of the Anthology of Rap's advisory board speak out about the book's errors. Plus: Grandmaster Caz lists the mistakes in his lyrics.
I believe hip-hop should be approached with the same seriousness that the academic study of any art form requires. The advisory board is composed of people who feel the same way and who blazed the trail for the study of hip-hop in academia. The board lent its credibility to the editors and in turn, the editors did not approach the subject matter with the proper rigor.
Morgan also prescribed a plan for remedying the book's problems. "I think that at this point, the board should convene and use its combined talent and knowledge to help produce a better edition of the book," she said.
How to improve future editions was on the mind of advisory board member David "Davey D" Cook, a California DJ, writer, and activist whose involvement in hip-hop dates to 1977, when he was an MC in the Bronx. Cook told me he believes the anthology is an important, barrier-breaking step for hip-hop, but that the editors made serious mistakes in compiling it. He's hopeful, though, that those mistakes might provide a teachable moment. "This was an 85 percent book. It needs to be 100 percent," he said. "The book needs a second printing with the first one being used as an example of what not to do." Cook thinks subsequent editions should draw on the knowledge of a wide range of hip-hop "scholars and practitioners" to get the lyrics right. Such an effort, he said, would provide a different kind of example, "of how a community can come together to correct something, to really correct it in a way that all the stake-holders can really celebrate. And we should all want to celebrate this as an accomplishment. But it has to be 100 percent."
I asked the anthology's editors, via e-mail, to discuss the role the advisory board played in the shaping of the book, but they did not respond. I asked the Yale University Press to comment on the book in light of the errors that have been found. Specifically, I asked whether the press felt adequate measures were taken to ensure accuracy, and whether the press plans to address the transcription errors in future printings. Publicity director Brenda King replied via e-mail:
Yale University Press is in full support of The Anthology of Rap and its editors, Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, who have taken on the challenge of capturing in one collection a literary tradition as fluid and evolving as rap. As with all our books, this groundbreaking anthology was carefully vetted and reviewed. We are proud of its contribution to this new vanguard of American poetry.
The anthology's editors have elsewhere pledged to correct the errors in the anthology in subsequent printings. Meanwhile, the list of errors continues to grow. This week, Jay-Z published Decoded, a memoir of sorts in which he includes a selection of annotated lyrics. I checked the anthology transcriptions of Jay-Z's songs against the ones in Decoded and noticed that the editors misheard a reference to former Jay-Z friend DeHaven Irby on the track "December 4th," transcribing it as "the Haven" instead. It's the kind of mistake that's easy to make—listen for yourself; it's difficult to hear what he's saying—but also the kind of mistake that could have been avoided if the lyrics had been proofed by a reader well-versed in Jay-Z's life and work. Before more copies of the anthology are printed, let's hope the editors do as Morgan and Davey D suggest and consult as many experts and enthusiasts as they can, to clarify the record and to give rap an anthology worthy of the artists and their work.
Paul Devlin is a regular contributer to The Root and the editor of Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones (2011).