George, a Village Voice columnist and former music editor at Billboard magazine, knows black pop culture inside out. This collection of profiles, essays, and reviews from 1980 to 1992 is an essential document and decoding tool for anyone attempting to understand the roots and flowering of rap and hip-hop, sports as ethnic expression and the both bleak and rich possibilities for African-Americans in commerce and contemporary life. He is particularly adept at tracing the complicated influence of '70s "blaxploitation" flicks on "hip-hop's romantic embrace of violence."
George's partisan tilting and hipster lexicon sometimes make his criticism seem impenetrable, but these are minor problems. His reporter's instincts, general open-mindedness and ability to convey the texture and essence of a scene usually prevail. As George writes, black style "evolved with blinding speed" during the last dozen years, but luckily George was there to catch it on the fly. (HarperCollins, $20)