—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.
“When the People Cheer: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America,” by Questlove. Vulture, April 22, 2014.
“Maybe domination isn’t quite a victory,” muses Ahmir Khalib Thompson—aka Questlove—in the first of six essays about the recent history of hip-hop for New York’s Vulture.com. Questlove has spent the past two decades as the drummer and co-frontman of the Roots, one of hip-hop’s most highly regarded bands. In these essays—an ambitious reckoning with the genre’s past that also takes stock of its present—he adopts the gravity and authority of an elder-statesman, though without any of the attendant pomp, propriety or self-importance (i.e., I can’t imagine Jimmy Carter saying “History is more interested in getting its nut off,” even if he might agree). Here, Questlove tackles the central questions of hip-hop’s ascendance: what happens when a genre which “once offered resistance to mainstream culture” is made “an integral part of the sullen dominant?” And why does hip-hop’s move from marginalized obscurity to “signal pop-music genre” feel like such a hollow—or at least “haunted”—victory? His answers, like the questions, are complex and incomplete, offering myriad opportunities for Questlove’s signature poetics. In the end, he says, “Time will tell.” Because “time is always telling. Time never stops telling.”
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“The Hunt for El Chapo,” by Patrick Radden Keefe. The New Yorker, May 5, 2014.
The capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was the story of the year in Mexico, the image of history’s most successful drug trafficker in handcuffs hard to believe for anyone familiar with the story. The impossibly elusive Chapo had for more than a decade thwarted the efforts of Mexico and the United States, hiding in the mountains while continuously expanding the reach of his Sinaloa cartel. However, behind the cliché tale of yet another larger-than-life drug lord—the opulent lifestyle, the daring escapes, the unbridled violence—are several important political stories that get very little attention in the American media: the use of torture by the Mexican army and the complete inefficacy of the Washington-backed “kingpin strategy.” The information that ultimately led to Chapo’s capture most likely came from torture, leading some journalists to claim that this was a wonderful, real-life example of a “ticking-bomb interrogation”—a time-sensitive situation in which torture would be tactically justified. Keefe was quick to dismiss these claims, insisting that the situation was “less of a bomb than a slow war of attrition,” and that Chapo’s capture would in actuality lead to more violence in the short term as his associates fight to take his place.