William Jelani Cobb: To The Break Of Dawn

Hip-Hop writers are subtly proving that they may be doing more for the genre than emcees themselves. William Jelani Cobb’s To the Break of Dawn (NYU Press) breaks down the storied tradition behind the haloed craft of emceeing. Cobb’s book serves as a schematic to rapping, decomposing the nuances of MC technique and analyzing lyrical content. Cobb makes you proud to belong to Hip-Hop, whether it’s gazing at your classic CD collection or flipping through your endless rhymebook. To the Break of Dawn documents Hip Hop lyricism as a significant musical, literary, and cultural contribution to American art.To the Break of Dawn is divided into five chapters: “The Roots”, “The Score”, “Word of Mouth”, “Asphalt Chronicles”, and “Seven MCs.” They each tackle a specific element of rhyming that gives insight to the art’s thought process. For instance, the section “The Roots,” concentrates on the origins of emceeing and its place in the black musical tradition. “Asphalt Chronicles” discusses storytelling and “Seven MCs” focuses on the significant contributions of a select company of lyricists which include Lauryn Hill, Jay-Z, Rakim, and other esteemed members of the Hip-Hop canon.Cobb takes recognized bars from pivotal MCs like Nas, Slick Rick, Ghostface Killah, etc. and dissects them down to their nucleus for insight. Of The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Niggas Bleed,” Cobb writes, “…B.I.G. was among the elite few who broke up that structure, conveying significant portions of the tale via flashbacks. He was also among that small number of MCs who had mastered the verbal plot twist.” Cobb’s meticulous ear for picking poignant lyrics for discussion can be compared to a DJ’s painstaking quest to the dig through the crates for the perfect sample.To the Break of Dawn calls together scholars, rhymesayers, and urban archivists with one oeuvre that commemorates the integrity and heritage of the Hip-Hop aesthetic. Aspiring MCs should read this book cover to cover in order to master their craft fully. After this book, readers will see the lyric as a poem, the rapper as a writer, and the body of the work as a rippling wave that will go on to influence almost every shape of African-American art to come.

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