Patrick Neate
Where You're at: Notes from the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet

By Masta G

Part travelogue, part cultural history, Where You're At sees the journalist and novelist Patrick Neate undertake a journey into hip hop's dark heart, in an attempt to locate both himself and the music he loves within contemporary global culture. He begins in New York (where else?), confronting the powerful idea that 'hip hop is dead', overwhelmed by its own massive commercial success in both black and white America and undermined by its status as merely a 'hustle' or a 'game' for its principal exponents.

Neate's mission to discover how it is that we have come to live on a hip hop planet takes him from New York to Tokyo, South Africa and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Whether questioning the authenticity of a Japanese b-boy's assertion that you've got to 'keep it real' or admiring the business acumen of two South Africans who produce and market their own hip hop gear to rival Fubu and Hilfiger, Neate casts a tolerant and well-informed eye over 21st-century hip hop culture. He never forgets the significance of allowing those who produce a culture to articulate its values in their own voice and, to this end, the book is peppered with quotes from everyone from Jay-Z to Run-DMC, as well as interviews with rappers, producers and 'heads' the world over. Careful footnoting of songs and albums anticipates a time when hip hop will attract the attentions of the culture industry as surely as jazz and blues do today.

Neate's combination of theory and fieldwork builds a coherent picture of hip hop's local manifestation of global patterns of consumption and production. In a world in which alienation is a common mode of experience (not merely a condition suffered by subjugated peoples), he suggests that hip hop's nation of the imagination can bring people together and offer them a vital means of expressing and cultivating their identities, even while the music is appropriated and sold for profit by an oppressive mainstream. This ability to encompass the numerous ironies and contradictions involved in the global 'rap game' makes neate's a valuable, as well as an entertaining, work.

According to Where You're At, hip hop ultimately reflects the circumstances of those cultures in which it has taken root (the old 'think globally, act locally' chestnut), helping those involved to negotiate the tricky territories of race, history and individuality. But Neate also makes a powerful and positive case for the reclamation of hip hop by what he terms its 'cultural brokers' — those 'heads' and ghetto kids whose massive cultural capital is rarely reflected by anything other than the financial gains of multinational corporations. It is this programme for change and development in the culture he loves that marks Neate's work out from that of less engaged and engaging commentators.
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