A Hit-and-Miss Pop Odyssey

The limits of tender-bellied celebrity journalism go head-to-head with essayistic grace in critic Touré's Never Drank The Kool-Aid. The title means to convey the author's immunity to his subjects' spin; however, a few pieces suggest his bottle of Evian may have been dosed. That said, Kool-Aid's hit-and-miss pop odyssey still makes a most convincing argument for privileging contemplative journalism over glossy-mag wankery.

Touré: Let's avoid the punch line
photo: Now/Younessi
Touré: Let's avoid the punch line

This hodgepodge of celebrity profiles, reportage, and social commentary illuminates the difficulty of writing seriously about popular culture in a hyper-mediated age. Playing the public's perceived demand for gossip and conspicuously Cribs-esque consumption against itself by stylishly documenting both is an ambitious walk on the finest of lines, and whether or not Touré pulls this off can be taken on a piece-by-piece basis. Those dealing with Touré's own conflicted relationship to hip-hop culture and proffering insight into that fraught discourse (his pleasantly rambling Believer interview with
?uestlove from the Roots is the book's most candid and engaging) ring truest. When artfully shaped, meditation rarely reeks of pretension, and Touré's craft is most airtight when divorced from high-stakes poker playing with Jay-Z and stacks of C-notes. But a wise man from the year 3000 correctly opined that a central complexity of hip-hop is that it is and it isn't about guns and alcohol. This intriguing duality belies the fertile space between gun talk and "Jesus Walks," and how tough it is to make uncaricatured music of either stripe. That same difficulty haunts those who write about it.

 
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