Review: The Plot Against Hip Hop by Nelson George

A nonfiction chronicler of black music creates a compelling detective.

Photograph: Hannah Mattix

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Part procedural murder mystery, part conspiracy-theory manifesto, Nelson George's The Plot Against Hip Hop reads like the PTSD fever dream of a renegade who's done several tours of duty in the trenches. Ghetto kid turned Manhattan sophisticate D Hunter owns D Security, the premier provider of protective muscle for hip-hop artists. When his old friend, music critic Duane Robinson, dies in a pool of blood on his Soho office doorstep, D feels compelled to bring the murderer to justice. His investigation takes him from Russell Simmons's Hamptons manse to middle-class New Jersey and back again. While soothing the nerves and cooling the beefs of real-world figures from Kanye West to T.I., he works to uncover how hip-hop turned from rebel music to marketing gold mine, and why the answer was worth his friend's murder.

Plot's combination of record-biz knowledge and ghetto fabulosity could have been written only by venerable music journalist Nelson George, who knows his hip-hop history. His first book, The Death of Rhythm & Blues, is a chronicle of how soul music's climb to the top of the charts ensured its demise; it's a nonfiction classic whose story sounds not too far from Plot's labyrinthine plots and cold-blooded vendettas. But that's fiction, right?

While the story can sometimes feel exposition-heavy, George's transition from reportage to mystery is quite charming. The writing is as New York as "Empire State of Mind," and D is a detective compelling enough to anchor a series. Has hip-hop found its Lisbeth Salander? Let's hope so.

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By Nelson George. Akashic Books, $16.