To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Felicia Angeja Viator

To Live and Defy in LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America

Published by Harvard University Press

Mar 20, 2020 Bookmark and Share

To Live and Defy in LA is much more than the story of the rise of West coast rap. It’s a sociocultural history of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, examining the social and political dynamics that led to what became known as gangsta rap, and the reverberations that the genre, for lack of a better term, had on society and American culture moving forward.

Viator’s history begins with context, and she spends much of the first quarter of the book detailing how LA transformed from the “black promised land,” as she puts it, a safer haven compared to the Jim Crow South, to an area rife with segregation, gang activity, and racially motivated policing that caused the distress that ultimately led to the rise of gangsta rap. Ultimately, the crux of To Live and Defy in LA is the rise of N.W.A. The group’s history is chronicled, within the larger social and political context of the times. But it is also chronicled within the context of rap music’s history. The differences between rap’s rise in New York and LA’s divergent style are noted, again in context of the dynamics of LA as a whole in the 1980s. East coasters Run-DMC and their tumultuous 1986 Long Beach Arena concert and subsequent tour provides a national context to what was happening locally in LA.

Ultimately, To Live and Die in LA is much more than the story of the creation of gangsta rap, the rise of NWA, or the history of early West coast rap in general. It’s a cultural history. What one is left with at the book’s end is the powerful idea of how art can be formed out of pain and suffering, and how injustice can be the crushing weight that can incite change.

Author rating: 9/10

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