To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic


Product Details

New York University Press
Publish Date
May 01, 2008
6.02 X 0.2 X 8.96 inches | 0.63 pounds

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About the Author

William Jelani Cobb is Assistant Professor of History at Spelman College and editor of The Essential Harold Cruse: A Reader. He is a contributing writer at Essence magazine, and his music criticism and essays have also appeared in the Washington Post, Emerge, and the Progressive. His website can be found at He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.


"This book makes an important contribution to hip-hop history. . . . Cobbs writing style is engaging, and the book benefits from the legitimacy provided by the author's background: he is a former MC who grew up with the culture."--Choice
"To the Break of Dawn marks a crucial turning point in hip-hop writing. . . . By opening the discourse on hip-hops aesthetic, Cobb spearheads a new sub-genre, and perhaps a return or revolution in hip-hop aesthetics."--Black Issues Book Review
"To the Break of Dawn dissects the evolution of hip hop lyricism from its most primitive beginnings to its current manifestation as a global phenomenon. Author Jelani Cobb examines issues of race, geography, genre and bravado in this overview of hip hops lyrical art. Covering words from B.I.G., Cube, Obie Trice and Pimp C, Cobb offers an intellectual and up-to-date report on hip hops most powerful element."--The Source Magazine
"Finally, a hip hop study that captures the verve and swagger that marked the work of our critical forebears Albert Murray and Amiri Baraka. In his brilliant new tome, William Jelani Cobb bridges the gap between the majesty of the blues and the gully regality of hip hop."--Mark Anthony Neal, author of New Black Man
"On literally every page [Cobb] displays a tremendous command of language and history as he 'examines the aesthetic, stylistic, and thematic evolution of hip hop from its inception in the South Bronx to the present era.' But make no mistake: this groundbreaking work is an artfully constructed and vividly written look at & the artistic evolution of rap music and its relationship to earlier forms of black expression. Much of the book's pleasure also comes from Cobbs ability to & freestyle serious and humorous insights-from how artists such as Tupac and Nas sometimes 'stepped outside the conventions of hip-hop to pen sympathetic narratives about the sexual exploitation of young women, ' to how LL Cool Js pioneering & I Need a Beat sounded & like hed raided every entry in an SAT book."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"To the Break of Dawn tells the serious story of hip hop's artistic roots, and in the process revels in the great MCs who stand at the crossroads of music and literature. In a crowded field of hip hop scholars, pundits, and journalists, To the Break of Dawn puts William Jelani Cobb way out in front."--Ta-Nehisi Coates
"What makes William Jelani Cobbs To the Break of Dawn so refreshing is that it centers on what hip-hop is, rather than on what it does. Eschewing the common practice of treating rap lyrics as just another way to talk about race, politics or the self, Cobb treats them as art. His aim is ambitious: to articulate hip-hop's aesthetic principles while tracing its roots back to the & ancestral poetic and musical traditions of black oral culture, from Sunday sermons to gut-bucket blues. To the Break of Dawn celebrates lyrical invention, the artists and even the particular rhymes that make hip-hop great. For the uninitiated, it is Hip-Hop 101, offering a rich overview of rap's verbal artistry. For the aficionado, it alternately affirms and challenges deeply held beliefs of what is valuable in hip-hop."--Washington Post Book World
"Cobb has contributed a worthy study to the growing literature on hip-hop."--Popular Music
"Wow! To the Break of Dawn is a crucial contribution to hip hop history. I'm thrilled that William Jelani Cobb has documented hip hop's relationship to the blues. If you want to truly understand how hip hop was born, read this book."--MC Lyte
"Vital stuff for hip hop fans eager to know more about their favorite cultural idiom's development and underpinnings."--Booklist
"With poetic passion and surgical precision, William Jelani Cobbs engaging exploration of the hip hop aesthetic lovingly demonstrates that, when it comes to beats and rhymes, the beauty of the (bass) god resides in the details."--Joan Morgan, author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost
"To the Break of Dawn is smart, funny, conversationala book to touch off serious study of the modern MC."--The Austin Chronicle
"Upon finishing To The Break of Dawn any objective fan will acknowledge that Cobb has done a commendable job in chronicling raps evolution and explaining its multiple influences and impact."--City Paper
"At a time when academics are just beginning to recognize hip hop as a legitimate form, William Jelani Cobb, a child of rap himself, brings an unparalleled level of understanding to the music. His historically informed yet hip-to-the-tip viewpoint roots readers in the art form rather than the hype."--Chuck D
"[P]eels back the many digitized layers of hip-hop to explore the evolution of the MC, from African folkloric traditions to the global (and often hypercommercial) phenomenon it is today."--Utne