‘Break Beats In The Bronx’ Is A Must-Read For Hip-Hop Heads


Hip-Hop is still very young. The culture is only 40 years old. With so much youthful energy circulating rap music, it’s exciting to see where the culture will be in the next 40 years. Hip-Hop isn’t confined to the streets, either. It’s being studied by well-known scholars like Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, Marc Lamont Hill, among others.

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Looking to add to this growing body of research on rap music is Dr. Joseph C. Ewoodzie, associate professor of sociology at Davidson University, with his recently published book, Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years (University of North Carolina Press).

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Recently, Professor Ewoodzie spoke with Black Perspectives, the leading platform on public scholarship, global black thought, culture and history, about his new publication.

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“I use qualitative methods to examine how marginalized populations in urban locales make sense of inequalities in their everyday lives,” Professor Ewoodize said to Black Perspectives. “I investigate how they interpret their social selves and order their relationships; how they create, maintain, and transform social and symbolic boundaries; and how boundaries constrain and enable their lives. The creators of hip hop exemplify all of this. For the most part, these were young people who bear the brunt of harsh public policies that transformed cities across the nation. They witnessed and lived through deindustrialization, slum clearance—the especially pernicious kind led by Robert Moses, white flight, planned shrinkage, and massive highway construction as well as all the social ills that the concentration of poverty often bring. This story is about how these young people made sense of their lives and made-do in the midst of all of it.”

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Ewoodzie, who moved to New York City from Africa as a teenager during the ’90s, fell in love with hip-hop after hearing N.O.R.E.’s “Superthug,” and decided to study the art form in college.

“This book was my master’s thesis work in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” Ewoodize said to Black Perspectives.  “At the time, I was simply a fan of hip hop who read about the history of hip hop. At some point I just thought there needed to be a second round of works about the history of hip hop. “For me, it was a bit less about what was wrong with the literature—academics are too obsessed with that. It was more about adding to what scholars Jeff Chang, Tricia Rose, and others had already done. As incredible as these earlier writers were, I knew that there was more to the story—Chang says this in the introduction of his book. I wrote this book because I wanted to add to what they did.”

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Break Beats also examines the differences between Bronx DJs and DJs from Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn. This brilliantly researched book also explores some reasons why DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaata are the forefathers of hip hop, despite the fact that other DJs came before them.

Read the interview in its entirety over at Black Perspectives.