Never Drank the Kool-Aid Essays





Trade Paperback

416 Pages



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His name is Touré—just Touré—and like many of the musicians, athletes, and celebrities he has profiled, he has affected the way that we think about culture in America. He has profiled Eminem, 50 Cent, and Alicia Keys for the cover of Rolling Stone. He's played high-stakes poker with Jay-Z and basketball with Prince and Wynton Marsalis. In Touré's world, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. sits beside Condoleezza Rice who sits beside hip-hop pioneer Tupac Shakur, and all of them are fascinating company.

Never Drank the Kool-Aid is a collection of essays that chronicles Touré's unparalleled journey through the American funhouse known as pop culture. His essays are filled with creative, arrogant, kind, ordinary, and extraordinary people, most of whom happen to be famous. Touré sees through the artifice of their world and understands the genuine motivations behind their achievements—to see who they truly are as people.


Praise for Never Drank the Kool-Aid

"If making analogies between ancient philosophy and hip-hop sounds incongruous and hyperbolic, well then you probably haven't experienced the keen universal logic of Touré . . . Touré is a natural heir to that art form once described by Tom Wolfe as 'new journalism' . . . Never Drank the Kool-Aid is many things. Probably in 10 or 20 years it'll be considered the Old Testament of hip-hop, with chapters such as the Book of Tupac, the Book of Biggie, of Eminem, Kanye West and Lauryn Hill and on and on . . . [Touré] has matured into one of the foremost chroniclers of black culture and what he calls the hip-hop nation . . . Whereas most opinionated journalists these days are nothing more than schlocky, polarized pundits, Touré has earned the right to editorialize by years spent listening to his subjects. A seamless master of the interview format, he whips casual encounters into compelling narratives, ones that often have the arc of ancient tragedy . . . While this book is obviously for fans of hip-hop, it should be read by anyone who believes that hip-hop music and culture are merely the bane of society. Never Drank the Kool-Aid challenges those types especially to read, listen and learn."—Casey McKinney, San Francisco Chronicle

"Touré presents a moving portrait of a generation that viewed events, even catastrophic ones, through the prism of pop culture."—The New York Times Book Review

"This is billed as an essay collection, a form book publishers despise and I love. But it isn't really—he's a master of the ubiquitously shallow and partial celebrity profile. Presumably TV got CNN figurehead turned BET big-tymer Touré his first nonfiction book deal, and magazine journalism—for Rolling Stone especially, plus Playboy, Tennis, Suede, Icon, and others—provides its content. Touré can write essays . . . The profiles start with serious access one senses he charms rather than bullies his way into, embrace the humiliating task of auxiliary interviews, and narrate with thematic smarts and stylistic flair. But sometimes, in an extra twist, Touré inserts himself. The portraits of Eminem, Alicia Keys, D'Angelo, Beyoncé, Russell Simmons, and others are definitive tagalong journalism: swift, thorough, insightful. But when he loses a $2,500 poker pot to Jay-Z, plays basketball with Prince or Wynton Marsalis, has his arm taken off volleying with Jennifer Capriati, or stunningly, wonders whether Suge's thugs will break his bones or just bruise him, he's defying the rules that in some selections poke their silly heads out when he refers to himself in the third person as 'a writer' or some such. He has an ego, obviously (most writers do), but he always trains it on his subjects. He's a writer born and made. Too bad TV pays so good."—Robert Christgau, The Village Voice

"Hip-hop's high priest of journalism . . . Whether he's playing pick-up basketball with the enigmatic Prince, going head-to-head in high-stakes poker with Jay-Z or teasing Kanye West about the blue-eyed messiah on his newly bought $25K 'Jesus piece' necklace, Touré holds hip-hop's cultural senators accountable for how they're representing themselves and, more generally, Black America."—Paste magazine

"Touré operates a fully functioning bullshit detector . . . [Never Drank the Kool-Aid] is a triumph on several levels . . . At his best, Touré is a gifted communicator and powerful writer . . . [His] expansive knowledge is deployed with a light touch, and there is not a single piece in the book not worth reading. Among the highlights are a piece on Eminem—usually written about more than can possibly be interesting—in which Touré's conversational questioning on family and race reaps great rewards; two contrasting articles about Lauryn Hill, one an extended encounter when her post-Fugees solo album was selling by the million, the other a painstaking trawl through the wreckage of her career four years later; an interview with Prince, inconsequential and unsatisfactory until the diminutive star responds enthusiastically to a subsequent e-mail request for a game of basketball; and a jewel of a piece on D'Angelo that does what all great music writing should do: sends you back to listen to an old record with a clearer perspective and a deeper understanding."—The Times (London)

"Touré captures the essence of the hip hop mindstate in this enchanting and very personal read . . . Through careful examination of his subjects and insightful, often witty interview techniques, Touré has been able to unobjectively depict the over-the-top lifestyles and personalities of some of the nation's most influential artists and celebrities with the captivatingly smooth style of a modern day philosopher."—Your Music Magazine

"Touré's an exceptional journalist . . . He is—if you can imagine it—Oscar Wilde as a street thug. This is the marvelous tone he's been able to achieve."—Tom Wolfe, author of I Am Charlotte Simmons and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

"Touré is one of our nation's most astute and witty observers of the American scene. Not only is he one of the most gifted writers of his generation, but his sharp insight, poetic phrasing, and biting humor—and his brilliant command of so many aspects of pop culture—make his dazzling performance on page a sheer joy to read. Never Drank the Kool-Aid is a Touré-de-force!"—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me and I May Not Get There with You

"Touré came to Rolling Stone as an intern in 1992. He was a lousy intern—we fired him—but a great writer and we soon hired him back. From 50 Cent to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., we sent Touré out on stories and he got it, whatever it was, every time. His work is like his subjects: stylish, vivid, and burning with energy."—Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine

"Collected dispatches from the de Tocqueville of the Hip-Hop Nation. Journalist Touré's impassioned, insightful and stylish articles on hip-hop make up the bulk of these collected pieces, and the cumulative effect is staggering; Touré employs his sly voice, clear sense of mission and novelist's eye for the telling detail to elevate his profiles and interviews above conventional celebrity journalism, creating a political and personal manifesto that is provocative and deeply felt. As the author grapples with hip-hop's place in American culture and his own complicated responses to it, his subjects come to startling life: Embattled rapper 50 Cent's girlfriend proudly displays their young child's pint-sized, bullet-proof vest; genial MC DMX casually recalls the time he stabbed a first-grade classmate in the face; fearsome record exec Suge Knight decorates his offices with framed portraits of Lucille Ball and Elvis Presley, and soul diva Alicia Keys confesses her painfully conflicted reaction to post-9/11 patriotism. Fascinating bits of off-the-cuff sociology abound: The author compares rap collectives such as the Wu-Tang Clan and the Junior M.A.F.I.A to traditional African family structures; the plight of the gay rapper is frankly addressed; graffiti artists play cat-and-mouse with authorities in the pursuit of their ephemeral art. To lighten the mood, Touré takes on Prince and Wynton Marsalis in one-on-one games of basketball, and the doyens have rarely come off so likable and human. Venturing beyond black popular music, Touré proves equally adept at limning compelling portraits of tennis players, race-car drivers and Ivy League counterfeiters. Touré includes a searing personal essay, 'What's Inside You, Brother?' (tapped for The Best American Essays 1996), near the end of the book; it's a tour de force of punishing, articulate introspection that clarifies and deepens the searching tone of the preceding work . . . This is a wholly involving and piercingly intelligent examination of contemporary popular culture."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With prose that bridges two worlds, [Touré] stands out from the glut of scribes trying to make a name writing about African American culture. His use of street slang and dialogue, for instance, will appeal to both B-boys crowding a Queens street corner and Ivy Leaguers in Manhattan . . . Touré, it seems, is one of those rare writers who doesn't just chronicle the streets—he actually walks them, too."—Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Touré

  • Touré is the author of the novel Soul City and the story collection The Portable Promised Land. A contributing editor at Rolling Stone, his writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tennis Magazine, The Best American Essays, and Da Capo Best American Music Writing, among other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

  • Touré