Listening for “The Game” in The Sound of Young America

Curator's Note

Pictured: Killer Mike of Adamsville, GA and leader of Grind Time Official.

In hip hop “The Game” refers to two issues that every contemporary performer from poor, urban American realities must negotiate: the hip hop scene and the underground business of illegal drug distribution. Knowing “The Game” is not only essential to success as a rapper (often to demonstrate one’s authenticity that is part of the perpetual task of all hip hop and rock performers), but to making it in the day-to-day lives of so many poor young men and women who live in America’s cities. To my mind there are only two shows in the US that have dealt with “The Game” with any sense humanity and compassion. The first is the much-celebrated HBO series, The Wire, whose fourth season, with its depiction of how four young boys must handle the shattered social and political infrastructure of Baltimore, will go down as one of the most compelling seasons on television drama in American history. The other exists in a handful of interviews by a young, educated and ambitious radio host by the name of Jesse Thorn. While his excellent public radio show, The Sound of Young America, claims only eight over-the-air stations, his online efforts as a podcaster make the show a must-listen for anyone with broadband and an interest in American popular culture. More importantly it is the only show available on public radio that seems to have a set of ears that are intelligent and sensitive to the many issues surrounding hip hop aesthetics and culture.

Indeed, when The Sound of Young American deals with hip hop right it gets it right because of Thorn’s talent as a compassionate interlocutor who loves and respects his subjects. One can hear how in recent interviews with hip hop expert, Jeff Chang , Atlanta-based rapper, Killer Mike and Philadelphia’s own Peedi Crack, aka, Peedi Peedi, Thorn isolates the cultural importance of “The Game”, particularly as it relates to the emergence of the hip hop subgenre of “crack rap”. The result is that he is able to get his interviewees to open up speak about the many psychic and emotional aspects that “grinding” and “slinging” that bare upon their lives and hip hop in the early 21st century.

For your listening pleasure: 1) In the first clip one can hear the inner conflict that colors Peedi Crack’s gratitude for his career as well as the sorrow has suffered in his time in prison and in experiencing the loss of his peers and friends who are still imprisoned or have passed on. 2) In the second, lengthier clip, Killer Mike explains how the theme of drugs in hip hop demands an understanding of the recent social history of black, urban American that is all but unacknowledged and why “grind time”, his label, has more to do with a work ethic than it does with drugs. 3) In the final clip, I draw from a recent interview I had with Mr. Thorn in February, 2007, wherein he explains that all one needs to get at these larger truths about culture is respect, an appreciation for the culture, and a willingness to listen.

1) Peedi Peedi interview segment from The Sound of Young America:

2) Killer Mike interview segment from The Sound of Young America: 3) Segments from my interview with Jesse Thorn on February 22, 2007:

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