The sound of the blues

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IN A MOMENT I will tell you why Kendrick Lamar, a young rapper from Compton, deserves much of the acclaim, and, even more so, the analysis he has received, but first let us deal with the vanguard of black memoirists who came before him and in whose well-forged path he follows. In the summer of 1945, Ralph Ellison wrote a review of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Wright’s semiautobiographical novel about his tough boyhood in Mississippi. In Ellison’s piece he suggested that Black Boy is shaped more by the blues tradition born from the same hard countryside as Wright than it is by any literary genre or narrative model. Ellison would explain that, “The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically.”

more from Kaadzi Ghansah at the LA Review of Books here.

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