From his own adolescence, when his allegiance was to punk rock, to his work as one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture at the New York Times and the New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh has made a deep study of how our popular music unites and divides us. Distilling a career’s worth of knowledge, Sanneh explores the tribes music forms, and how its genres, shape-shifting across the years, give us a way to track larger forces and concerns.
He debunks cherished myths, reappraises beloved heroes and upends familiar ideas of musical greatness, arguing that sometimes the best popular music isn’t transcendent: it expresses our grudges as well as our hopes, and is motivated by greed as well as inspiration. Throughout, race is a powerful touchstone: just as there’s always been a ‘Black’ audience and a ‘white’ audience (with some overlap) there is Black music and white music and a whole lot of expropriation.
This is a book to shock and awe the deepest music nerd, and at the same time to work as a heady gateway drug for the uninitiated.