The Nightmare and The Dream: Reviews and Endorsements

by Dax-Devlon Ross


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Book Review by Dan Tres Omi

In the last several years, there have been quite a few healthy tomes written about hip hop culture. Unfortunately, a large portion of that bunch tends to place hip hop culture outside of Black culture. Much of what is written about hip hop culture seems to remove it from the context of Black history particularly. Of course they point out how hip hop is a Black and Latino manifestation of an oppressed creativity but they leave it at that. There is no connection made to the Black Arts movement or the Black Freedom Rights struggle of the fifties, sixties, and the seventies. Dax Devlon Ross, a prolific and independent writer, brings it all home in The Nightmare and the Dream.

In one book, Ross summarizes points made in Harold Cruse’s classic The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk, and Dean E. Robinson’s Black Nationalism in American Politics. What makes The Nightmare… stand out is how Ross connects the dots to Black Nationalism and hip hop culture. Using the Hegelian dialectic, Ross uses Nas and Jay Z as his subjects when discussing the internal conflict in Black America between Black Nationalism and assimilation. Like Robinson, Ross does a careful deconstruction of Black leadership in the United States. He does a wonderful job of explaining DuBois’ double consciousness, but Ross does not stop there.

Ross begins with a hardy overview of the history of Black leadership in the United States. He begins with Frederick Douglass and his public beef with Alexander Crummel. Ross explains how Douglass enjoyed the spotlight and refused to allow anyone else to share the stage. While Douglass felt that fully embracing American culture is the key to Black Liberation, Crummel preached a more radical Black Nationalism. Ross breaks it down from that point on. In the final chapters, Ross brings it home by using the conflict between Biggie and Tupac and later Nas and Jay Z.

The book will force the reader to peruse the books mentioned above and requires a great amount of meditation. Like any hip hop purist or Black intellectual, I questioned Ross’ choice of subjects in Nas and Jay Z. After putting down the book, I must admit that Ross did a thorough job of stating his position. What I enjoyed about The Nightmare… is the author’s call for us to really look at our culture critically. We often complain that those outside of our culture have no respect of it. However, we are just as guilty as our detractors since we refuse to really analyze the impact our culture has on politics and economics in the United States. We refuse to see hip hop culture as a subculture of Black culture. We refuse to approach hip hop music from an intellectual perspective. Ross urges us to do just that. From this mindset, one can understand the author’s use of Jay Z and Nas. Like the Black leaders discussed in The Nightmare… Ross points out how during the time that many of them lived, they were vilified, disregarded by mainstream voices, and at times under appreciated by the very same people they attempted to help. Many participants of hip hop culture do the same thing when it comes to our icons.

For a short book, Ross covers so much. As stated before, it will force readers to seek out other books. I think this is Ross’ intent. We should challenge ourselves. We should broaden our horizons. We should connect the dots since we will be the ones writing the history. It will not be too far fetched to say that The Nightmare… is an important book. Ross places a huge magnifying glass on what has happened within hip hop culture in the last ten years. What makes the book special is that Ross is one of our voices. He is one of us. This makes his voice much more authentic. He not only knows what he is talking about, but he is a fan of the music and a participant in the culture.