It was at the Bedruthan last week, that I realised the book I was reading at the time was taking an enormous amount of effort to read and assimilate. I was just starting Chapter 3 of that book on Moore’s Law (#geekfest) – and it was going to start to get even more technical. What I needed was a mental slowdown.
“I am on holiday” I thought, I should be reading for pleasure – not to give my brain more complexity. This book caught my eye, in a charity shop in Newquay. I’d been an admirer of Benjamin since I heard some of his poetry at Brunel University in the late 1980’s. So why not?
This book introduced me to a culture I know little about, hip hop and living in East London (Stratford, Newham etc.). I used to work alongside Stephen Timms when I worked for Ovum Ltd in London (1986-1987), and I think I went go-karting there with Barclays. But those are my closest connections to Newham – and Stratford is a place that I’ve only ever really passed through on route to somewhere a bit more middle-class.
Anyway, the book, the book I hear you cry.
As the primary audience is children, it’s unsurprisingly quite easy to read. It’s based around three main characters; The protaganist Ray or X-Ray-X his rapper/street name, Prem (Prem de la Prem) and Tyrone (Pro Justice).
These three teenagers are expelled from school and start a rap outfit called positive negatives. The band acquire a manager – have a moderate amount of success before troubles start to hit the band – in particular Ray. The troubles come from a rival band in the West End of London. And an east versus west mentality is fueled by the press. The police appear unable or unwilling to understand or get to the root of what is happening.
Ray has a sister Kori, and she likes R&B – and even though this book’s main story line is around the boys, Kori and her friends and the band’s girlfriends are also key characters. Ray’s Mum and the Mum’s of the other band members are also featured. So I quite liked the diversity. Although it did seem that most of the white people in the book were either crooked, naive or gullible (apart from Fingers, sorry I almost forgot Fingers – he was safe and a legend – you nearly got me there BZ).
Most of the main characters seem to have nick names like Marga Man and Bunny ( based on Blacker Dread perhaps?).
I won’t spill any more beans, just to say if you have a teenager who likes their music, or is feeling isolated or having a tough time – they might like this book. It is wonderfully written and uplifting. It was a lovely escape for me. And an important eye opener into culture.
Will it impact my life, yes probably; now that I know that rapping is just street poetry – it’s made me very curious to listen to some more. So Dr. Dre, Tupac, Busta Rhymes you’ll be coming onto the streaming gadget soon, just as soon as I finish listening to Pino Palladino on No Parlez.
As an aside, I did wonder this morning as I was writing this review whether Dr. Benjamin Zephaniah (multiple honorary doctorates) had a more important message to portray in this book. Was it a parable for society in general? Is the east-west divide just talking about the local music scene, or is he referring to world politics?
If you ever end up reading the book, I would be interested to hear what you think about that !
Now that I’ve finished with the book, if you would like it, please get in touch and I’ll send it to you. I only have one copy though, so be quick.