What's Good: Notes on Rap and Language (Paperback)
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A love letter to the verbal artistry of hip-hop, What's Good is a work of passionate lyrical analysis
"What's Good is, among a great many other things, a byproduct of joyful obsession and immersion into both language and sound, an intersection that offers a rich and expansive land upon which to play." --Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance
" . . . an often hilarious, surprisingly moving and always joyful paean to rap's relationship to words."--Jayson Greene, The New York Times
"Rap, he is not afraid to say, is as close to a universal tongue as we have."--Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
What's Good is a work of passionate lyrical analysis, a set of freewheeling liner notes, and a love letter to the most vital American art form of the last half century. Over a series of short chapters, each centered on a different lyric, Daniel Levin Becker considers how rap's use of language operates and evolves at levels ranging from the local (slang, rhyme) to the analytical (quotation, transcription) to the philosophical (morality, criticism, irony), celebrating the pleasures and perils of any attempt to decipher its meaning-making technologies.
Ranging from Sugarhill Gang to UGK to Young M.A, Rakim to Rick Ross to Rae Sremmurd, Jay-Z to Drake to Snoop Dogg, What's Good reads with the momentum of a deftly curated mixtape, drawing you into the conversation and teaching you to read it as it goes. A book for committed hip-hop heads, curious neophytes, armchair linguists, and everyone in between.
"For those of us who love rap, What's Good is a gift. The book offers a new set of eyes and ears through which to see and to hear the language of rap. Its brief and brilliant chapters are like the best kinds of freestyles: spontaneous and structured, startling and profound. A remarkable achievement." --Adam Bradley, author of Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop
"Could this be the rap equivalent of Lewis Hyde's The Gift or Marina Warner's Once Upon A Time? Anyhow, it's an electrifying book, full of wild epiphanies and provocations, an exhibition of a critical mind in full and open contact with their subject at the highest level, with a winning streak of confessional intimacy as well." --Jonathan Lethem, author of The Arrest: A Novel
"What's Good is a feat of critical precision and personal obsession: Daniel Levin Becker's deep appreciation for rap is rangy and illuminating, and his delight in language is infectious. What a thrill to swing so gracefully from Lil Wayne to Mary Ruefle to the lyrical evolution of 'tilapia'; pure pleasure. A generous, joyful exegesis."--Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley: A Memoir
About the Author
Daniel Levin Becker is a critic, editor, and translator from Chicago. An early contributing editor to the groundbreaking lyrics annotation site Rap Genius, he has written about music for The Believer, NPR, SF Weekly, and Dusted Magazine, among others. His first book, Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard UP, 2012), recounts his induction into the French literary collective Oulipo, of which he became the youngest member in 2009. His published translations include Georges Perec's La Boutique Obscure (Melville House, 2013), Eduardo Berti's An Ideal Presence (Fern Books, 2021), and Serge Haroche's The Science of Light (Odile Jacob, 2021). He is also co-translator and co-editor of All That Is Evident Is Suspect: Readings from the Oulipo 1963-2018 (McSweeney's, 2018) and the editor of Dear McSweeney's: Two Decades of Letters to the Editor from Writers, Readers, and the Occasional Bewildered Consumer (McSweeney's, 2021). Levin Becker is a founding editor of Fern Books, English editor for the French nonfiction publisher Odile Jacob, senior editor at McSweeney's Publishing, and a longtime contributing editor to The Believer. He lives in Paris.