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Let the World Listen Right

Let the World Listen Right: The Mississippi Delta Hip-Hop Story

Ali Colleen Neff
Foreword by William Ferris
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Let the World Listen Right
    Book Description:

    In the Mississippi Delta, creativity, community, and a rich expressive culture persist despite widespread poverty. Over five years of extensive work in the region, author Ali Colleen Neff collected a wealth of materials that demonstrate a vibrant musical scene.

    Let the World Listen Rightdraws from classic studies of the blues as well as extensive ethnographic work to document the "changing same" of Delta music making. From the neighborhood juke joints of the contemporary Delta to the international hip-hop stage, this study traces the musical networks that join the region's African American communities to both traditional forms and new global styles.

    The book features the words and describes performances of contemporary artists, including blues musicians, gospel singers, radio and club DJs, barroom toast-tellers, preachers, poets, and a spectrum of Delta hip-hop artists. Contemporary Delta hip-hop artists Jerome "TopNotch the Villain" Williams, Kimyata "Yata" Dear, and DA F.A.M. have contributed freestyle poetry, extensive interview materials, and their own commentaries. The book focuses particularly on the biography of TopNotch, whose hip-hop poetics emerge from a lifetime of schoolyard dozens and training in the gospel church.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-480-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    William Ferris

    No American region is better known and more intensely studied for its history and culture than the Mississippi Delta. Generations of writers, scholars, photographers, and filmmakers have traveled Delta roads and captured its worlds in memorable ways. William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Richard Wright wrote powerfully about the Delta. Folklorists and music critics from Alan Lomax, John Lomax, and John Work to David Evans, Adam Gussow, Robert Palmer, and Elijah Wald have written important books on Delta blues.

    Ali Colleen Neff’sLet the World Listen Right: The Mississippi Delta Hip-Hop Storyis both part of this tradition and...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-1)
  5. Introduction: Emergence at the Crossroads
    (pp. 3-14)

    East Tallahatchie Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard converge quietly among the crumbling ruins of the New World district of Clarksdale, Mississippi. They trace the faint spines of ancient Native American trade routes that first brought civilization to the land, intertwine with the Mississippi and Sunflower Rivers, and rest upon burial mounds that keep these ancient paths dry from yearly floods: these routes, once labeled Highways 61 and 49, quietly mark the crossroads of American music. The famed Blues Highways were filled with traveling, working, creating, and living blues people, and their sounds and styles continue to resonate far beyond...

  6. Chapter One “This Game Is for Life!”
    (pp. 15-45)

    Red’s Juke Joint, one of many sprinkled throughout the abandoned downtowns of the Mississippi Delta, sits on the boundary of Clarksdale’s historically black New World district. Beneath its foundation are the edges of ancient Tunica burial mounds. These Native American ceremonial ridges, packed architecturally with loamy soil and ancestral bodies, doubled as powerful levees for the once-mighty Sunflower River, which runs behind Red’s establishment through a barrier of dense thickets of tall grass and cane break. From the front door of the bare plywood building, the looming stone sculpture of a sorrowful angel can be seen by the lamplight of...

  7. Chapter Two New Blues in the Mississippi Delta
    (pp. 46-75)

    When I met twenty-six-year-old Jerome Williams at the threshold of the Love Zone that Sunday night, I was inspired to learn more about his work. At that time, he was spending four 12-hour days a week as a telemetry technician at Northwest Regional Medical Center, watching electronic blips on a medical computer screen. The hospital is situated on the periphery of the Brickyard, and it is a source of the few dependable jobs in town. TopNotch had been at it for two years, earning training certificates and new skills as he went. He was even photographed for the local newspaper...

  8. Chapter Three A Family Affair
    (pp. 76-108)

    As we drive to meet TopNotch’s friends in a neighborhood called the Brickyard, he takes a moment to explain to me the concept ofhood rich. It’s a term popularized by Big Tymers, an entrepreneurial rap outfit out of New Orleans, in their song “Still Fly”: “Gator Boots, with the pimped out Gucci suit / Ain’t got no job, but I stay sharp / Can’t pay my rent, cause all my money’s spent / but that’s okay, cause I’m still fly . . . / got everything in my momma’s name but I’m ’hood rich.”¹ Hood rich refers to the...

  9. Chapter Four True Blues Ain’t No New News
    (pp. 109-140)

    About fifteen miles south of the Tennessee/Mississippi border, TV signals fade, most cell phones cease to work, and hopes of socioeconomic equality struggle as if trapped under the thick cotton curtain that lines its boundaries. In this part of the world the radio auto-tuner swings almost completely around the dial before finding a weak signal to pull from the air. More than likely, it will find community radio from the closest small town—tiny stations with tiny transmitters whose signals manage to roll over the flat Delta landscape for twenty miles in any direction. From this ether strong black voices...

  10. Chapter Five Musical Mobilities
    (pp. 141-168)

    The blues crossroads, a symbol of Clarksdale’s creative energy, also marks the site of an important global intersection that is as much a part of the regional identity as the rich, spongy soil upon which it sits. The unique cultural convergence that defines the Mississippi Delta can be traced through the town’s history as a center for agricultural trade. The suitability of the lush Delta ground for cotton planting led to the arrival of enterprising Anglo development in the years just before and after the Civil War. These planters’ ambitious desires for massive land clearing, the creation of a levee...

  11. Chapter Six The Undivided Road
    (pp. 169-189)

    East Tallahatchie Street traces the vestiges of old Highway 49, a thin east-west stretch across the southern Black Belt. It is a lonely nighttime path that cuts from Hopson plantation to the New World district, a route used only by locals to bypass the two-lane highway. Few lights reveal the crumbling road ahead, pockmarked with potholes and gaping divots. A rotting sofa lies broken across the right half of the road. Garbage lines its banks. I pass Red Panther Chemical, the site of a massive toxic spill in the late 1960s. It is defunct now, surrounded by a concrete lot...

  12. Conclusion: Let the World Listen Right
    (pp. 190-200)

    If the crossroads marks the path across the realms of the living and the dead, then music represents the life force of the blues community of the Mississippi Delta. The title of this book comes from a conversation TopNotch and I had in the earliest weeks of our collaboration. For him this project represents a way to build an audience for his art—to strengthen the connections between his community and those both within and outside the South. He plans to stay in the Delta to use his voice to rally for new job opportunities, improved educational funding, and recognition...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-208)
  14. References
    (pp. 209-213)
  15. Index
    (pp. 214-219)