Somebody Scream! Rap Music's Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power

Marcus Reeves

Faber & Faber



Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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In Somebody Scream, Marcus Reeves explores hip-hop music and its politics in the turbulent and formative years since the Civil Rights movement. For many African Americans of a certain demographic, the sixties and seventies were the golden age of political movements. The Civil Rights movement segued into the Black Power movement which begat the Black Arts movement. In 1979, Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight.” The single became one of the first hip hop hits, climbing into the Top 40s on the United States pop charts and reaching #4 on the United States R&B charts.

During the Reagan years, in the absence of credible, long-term leadership in the black community, much of the progress fought for in previous decades began to unravel. Young blacks disillusioned with politics and feeling society no longer cared or looked out for their concerns started rapping with each other about their plight, becoming their own leaders on the battlefield of culture and birthing Hip-Hop in the process.

Reeves looks at ten artists that have impacted rap—from Run-DMC (Black Pop in a B-Boy Stance) to Eminem (Vanilla Nice)—and puts their music and celebrity in a larger socio-political context. In doing so, he tells the story of hip hop’s rise from New York-based musical form to commercial music revolution to unifying expression for a post-black power generation.


Praise for Somebody Scream!

“Marcus Reeves gives voice to the world that hip-hop created and still hopes to create.”—Mark Anthony Neal, author of New Black Man

“It's inspiring when a writer can bring insight, conviction and perspective to a subject too often lost in myth and controversy. Marcus Reeves does that and more. He knows the music and the history, and brings both vividly to life here.”—Anthony DeCurtis, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone

"Pay attention: one of the most compelling writers of our generation has arrived. Somebody Scream! is a deeply imagined, finely balanced, and richly detailed narrative of our nation's complicated, contradictory, often explosive post-Black Power journey."—Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

“Reeves honors hip hop culture by illuminating it. He tells the story with great insight and deep compassion.”—David Ritz, author of Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye

“If in Somebody Scream! Marcus Reeves only provided his exegesis of Public Enemy and Chuck D, it would be an indispensable book.  The rest of the chapters, for me, are added value—and extremely valuable. What a remarkable new writer and scholar!”—Herb Boyd, author of Baldwin’s Harlem

"Somebody Scream! is a panoramic, icon-by-icon rendering of hip hop. In the crowded field of hip hop lit, this book is a stand-out. Marcus Reeves has composed a portrait of the culture that possesses all the verve, intellect and swagger of a classic Rakim line."—William Jelani Cobb, author of To The Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

"Marcus Reeves's Somebody Scream! is a strong and timely book for the new day in Hip Hop. Don't miss it!"—Cornel West
“Marcus Reeves is one of the gifted thinkers and literary spokespersons of the hip hop era. Every cultural movement, every generation, needs those voices who are not only willing to represent that movement and that generation, but also able to stand back and, like the rapper Bonecrusher, proclaim, loudly, with his chest poked out, ‘I ain't never scared.’ And never scared is what Marcus Reeves is with Somebody Scream!: he manifests the truth from back in the day to our day straight up and down, with no chaser, and no apologies.”—Kevin Powell, author of Some Day We'll All Be Free

"In Somebody Scream, hip-hop adopts a broader role in context to African-American history. According to Marcus Reeves's book on the storied genre's major movements, hip-hop seceded the Black Power Movement of the 1960s as a cultural force for minorities in the United States to latch on. Of course, Reeves discusses the rise of acts like Public Enemy and Run DMC, but his analysis takes into account COINTELPRO, Assata Shakur's murder trial, and other key political events that have fueled their post Civil Rights aesthetic. He depicts rap music as a natural evolution from these watershed moments. No book about hip-hip is complete without a thorough study of Public Enemy and the haloed ensemble's contributions to rap music. Although Reeves starts his analysis fairly early in the book, he is careful to avoid sanctifying the group. Whereas most written accounts paint Public Enemy's music as a perfect amalgam of angst and intellect, Reeves shows instances where the group's political fervor was misguided . . . More importantly, Somebody Scream shows that Public Enemy and other hip-hop artists were not in an ageless vacuum when they conceived their masterpieces. On several occasions, the book makes the distinction that these groups were not making protest music just because it was cool, but in response to the tense social climate of the day. Reeves writes about Reaganomics, Yusef Hawkins's murder, and Jesse Jackson's 1988 stint for presidency under the guise that these events motivated hip-hop's lyrical content. To him, this on-record activism is akin to the militant efforts of the Black Panthers and other Civil Rights organizations. Just as early hip-hop transitions from the Black Power Movement of the 60s and 70s, Somebody Scream notes the point when the conscious music of Public Enemy shifts to the gangsta rap of Death Row Records. Reeves dedicates two chapters to Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, and Tupac Shakur, documenting the rise of hardcore west coast hip-hop. Yet, Reeves does not spare the aggressive music from having its own share of political undertones. This connection is not all too far-fetched given that California rap's prominence coincided with Rodney King's beating and the L.A. Race Riots . . . Somebody Scream's final movement documents hip-hop's marriage to capitalism and extreme commodization. These chapters perhaps represent Reeves at his strongest as he wields through an era that he does not necessarily hold in the highest regard. Sean 'Puffy' Combs headlines Reeves's discussion of the genre's developed obsession with diamonds and shiny suits. Although the multimedia mogul is often blamed for adulterating rap's political message with meretricious showcases of wealth, Reeves reminds readers that Combs is foundationally as hardworking and relentless as anyone in the music business . . . He grants each period in hip-hop its share of recognition and acknowledges its contributions to the history in whole. Somebody Scream is not a nostalgic glimpse back in the golden age, but rather an objective document of hip-hop defining epochs and the social milestones that influences them. The painstakingly researched book is nowrequired reading for a class at Brooklyn College and is being compared to Jeff Chang's Can't Stop, Won't Stop in terms of its thoroughness and wide-ranging subject matter. With this book, rap's archives have grown that much stronger as Reeves, with his culturally astute eye, records the timeless hands of hip-hop history."—Sidik Fofana, Mosaic magazine

"The history of rap music, told against the backdrop of race relations in post-civil rights America. The story of this powerfully influential and yet surprisingly little-understood American musical genre has been told several times in the past few years; there would seem little need for yet one more account. Journalist Reeves's first book more than makes the case for its necessity, however . . . Couched in the lively prose of a cultural reporter, his thesis is that generations with little direct connection to the civil-rights or black-power eras find in rap culture 'the popular voice of America's black, brown, and white underclass. (Those huddled masses yearning to breathe free and, one day, [be] rich enough to drive off in a Bentley.)' To illustrate this idea, Reeves takes readers through a muscular narrative of rap music that gets more done by leapfrogging from one milestone to the next, avoiding the risk of spreading itself thin by attempting to be definitive. Each chapter places a particular artist or group in the context of what was happening simultaneously in racial politics, whether it was the assault on black teenagers at Howard Beach that inspired Run-D.M.C. or the Million Man March with Tupac Shakur. His attempt to suss out what exactly rap means in the modern black community is incisive and hopeful without succumbing to the hyperbolic claims common to music journalists. Energetic music analysis that's both celebratory and unusually honest."—Kirkus Reviews

"Drawing upon his 15 years as a journalist writing on youth culture and politics, Reeves traces the political history and influence of rap since the decline of the black power movement in the 1970s. His thesis, succinctly stated, is that rap music is a 'hardrock vessel carrying the hopes, anger, disappointments, attitude, and history of post-black power America.' Chronologically focusing on ten artists who have had a major impact on rap over the last three decades (from Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy to Eminem and Jay-Z), Reeves places each musician within the sociopolitical context of the times . . . Reeves underscores the importance of rap as an art form that continues to evolve while remaining a viable means through which to channel future discourse of post-black power America."—Joshua Finnell, McNeese State University Library, Lake Charles, Louisiana, Library Journal

"Journalist Reeves proves himself an insightful and capable historian in this collection of essays examining the rise of ten distinct hip-hop movements and their respective avatars. The author displays a remarkable talent for linking lyrics and interviews with broad artistic and historical themes. Locating each artist within their larger social context, he also uses artist lyrics as apertures to overriding socio-political motifs, combing through tracks and imputing rhymes to the relevant racial struggles of the day."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Somebody Scream
ONEGeneration RemixedPast-nationalism and the Black Culture Shuffle 
Hip-hop emerged because nothing had changed since the '60s.--Sonia Sanchez 
A final goal should be to prevent the long-range growth of militant black nationalist organizations especially among the youth.--FBI Counterintelligence Program memo 
"Whoa! What's that?" I asked Uncle William. In the spring of 1975, a business card with a black panther on it caught my six-year-old eyes. It was exposed through the cardholder of my uncle's wallet
Read the full excerpt


  • Marcus Reeves

  • Marcus Reeves has covered youth culture and politics for over fifteen years, in publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Vibe, and The Source.
  • Marcus Reeves (c) Colin Brennan