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Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zephaniah by pengxuebo

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									Gangsta Rap by Benjamin Zephaniah

“Gangsta Rap” by Benjamin Zephaniah has three boys, Ray, Prem and Tyrone kicked
out of school in London’s east. Not wanting them to be on the streets the school offers
them a chance at a place where they would learn to dance, rap and put their music
together as well as some more formal lessons which would complement their music
studies. For the boys it is their last chance. Their parents agree, and they start at a
recording studio set up by the Social Inclusion Project.
Here they do so well that a recording contract is offered to them. They take on their
friend, Marga Man as their manager and they are off on a fantastic hip hop ride of
concerts, making records, being hounded by the media and having fans who see their
music as an outlet for their frustrations. But the ride is not smooth.
The descriptions of the music scene and attendant industry are very real. The boys are
crowded by the needs of the industry that spawns them, and crushed by the weight of
their fans, but the evil which spreads from small beginnings builds up as the novel
proceeds. The opposing band from the city’s west makes aggressive moves towards
them. Initially they all receive threatening phone calls, then Marga Man’s disc shop is
trashed. At their concerts, fights and scuffles break out, until one night a youth is
stabbed. Their aggressive stance puts them out of sorts with the law, and arrests and
police visits do nothing to enhance their reputation.
Ray’s girlfriend is shot and killed and all activity is suspended as they try to work out
why this is happening. Ray buys a gun and tries to take the law into his own hands,
but when he meets one of the opposing band, the boys all learn something about each
other, It is then that things begin to click into place.
A very real and frightening look at life in the ghettos of London, “Gangsta Rap” uses
the idiom of the people living there. It is easy to read and surprisingly positive about
the schools and its teachers. The information given about the music industry is current
and substantial, and the thriller plot never lets up the pace.
Fran Knight, William Light R-12 School, SA

The 'to the point' title and striking front cover will appeal to boys immediately and the
easy to read, uncomplicated writing style will get those hard to please teenage boys
through this new novel by Benjamin Zephaniah with ease, and indeed, they will even
enjoy it. Writing and/or listening to Rap and Hip Hop are fast becoming popular ways
for teenagers to express their angst, anger and views on the world...a book dealing
with exactly this is sure to be well received. In fact I originally asked to review the
book thinking that my Hip Hop obsessed husband might read it...and read and enjoy it
he did.
Benjamin Zephaniah has written a book about angry young men who succeed, but in
the toughest of circumstances and this is not a book that has all the ends neatly tied
up: this is a gritty portrayal of how life is for many of our teenagers.
The main character, Ray is expelled from school, along with his two best friends.
They spend most of their time hanging out in a local alternate music store and free
styling rap in the local park. When they are persuaded to attend an educational center
for expelled, or at risk teenagers, they study some core subjects and a few music ones,
and the three of them form a Hip Hop band, 'The Positive Negatives'. With their angry
lyrics and wicked beats, they quickly become a local success and then secure a
recording contract as Hip Hop starts to become the music of choice for a generation of
angry teenagers. With success and fame comes more trouble of a different kind and
more hurt than these boys think possible to bear.
There are several key adult characters who guide these troubled teenagers through the
story, but all in all, this is a very modern novel about how young people are often
misunderstood. It also sends the message that believing in what you want from life is
all important and that life won't always be easy but friends can get you through the
roughest of times.
Benjamin Zephaniah's website http://www.benjaminzephaniah.com is excellent and
extremely comprehensive and students who have enjoyed this novel will find some of
Zephaniah's poetry, his political views (he turned down an OBE...links to his article in
'The Guardian' about this), lists and reviews of his other novels and published works
and an extensive biography.
Megan Daley, West Moreton Anglican College, QLD

After three temporary exclusions, a spell in the Learning Support Unit, and now
another fight with History teacher, Mr. Harrison, Ray Wilkie has been permanently
excluded from school. To this unhappy fifteen year old East Londoner, the exclusion
equates with freedom – free to hang with his friends Tyrone and Prem, also excluded
from school, at their favourite place, with Marga Man, their father figure, at his music
shop, Flip Discs.
The three boys all love Rap. Tupac Shakur, Ray’s idol, sings lyrics which reflect the
anger Ray feels. At home, his father calls him a no good layabout, they all yell at each
other - his mother, younger sister Kori, his father and Ray constantly fighting.

After a particularly violent fight, in which his drunken father tries to smash Ray’s CD
player, he runs away, spending time on the streets, doing it rough, getting bashed up
by a gang of boys. His father doesn’t want him back; he’s a negative, “him and his
friends are all negatives”.
But perhaps the three boys could channel their uncertainty and anger to a Rap band of
their own. They are indeed in search of their own music style, but also in search of
very much more than that. They want to prove they are NOT failures!
Mr. Lang, the school Principal, offers some hope in the form of a Social Inclusion
Project. Not only does Mr. Lang know something about music, but he listens when
Ray says they want to form a band, and he is supportive, encouraging the boys to
receive some sort of education. It’s as Ray’s mother says: “To be something is better
than being nothing”.
And so begins their education at the off-site centre, Positivity, where they meet Sam
and join a program tailored to suit them, learning about the music industry. The boys
visit Bunny at The Rock It Science (Music) Studio. He’ll be their sound engineer.
They visit Deaf Defying Records, meeting Duncan and Skelly, who will market them
for hard core Hip Hop fans. Manga Man will be their manager/ producer.
They have a purpose, they are the Positive Negatives. Move over Prem, Tyrone and
Ray – enter Prem de la Prem, Pro Justice and X-Ray-X. ”Let wordy great minds think
alike, sweet Hip Hop be our guiding light”. A rave review follows their Collective
Security album, and the band is nominated for the MOBO Awards. They’ll even go
on tour.
But it’s not all positive. Hooded youths fight them outside The Rex, someone is
stabbed. Phone threats start from a voice called The Messenger. The police suspect
unfinished gang business, others say it’s an East London /West London thing. It’s a
“rap thing’, the popular Western Alliance versus the Positive Negatives, or it’s a black
thing.
Someone is shot dead. Then when Yinka, the lovely girlfriend who has just put
direction and calm into Ray’s life, is also killed, Ray wants revenge. He wants justice
done. He buys a gun – he wants death over life. Lyrics about violence seem to ring
true.
Is it the end? Can the band survive a cancelled tour, people boycotting them, and
inactivity that might bring them down. The challenge is “on the table” from the
Western Alliance. Ray’s guard also appears to be down, until smart work on his part,
working with the Police, leads to a grim discovery.
Duncan Sinclair, owner of both the record companies involved, has orchestrated all
this violence and controversy to increase his business. He is The Messenger. Maybe
life is really about life and death after all – survival at all costs.
But for Ray Wilkie, finally, it’s not Duncan’s style of “investing in war” which he
wants. It’s the Positive Negatives and the Western Alliance performing together at
peace concerts in both East and West London, it’s about showing young people the
two bands are not gangsters. It’s about “being an artist and being real”, as we read at
the end of the story.
This novel obviously has a place for contemporary adolescent readers who like Rap,
and for those who would like to learn more about this style of music and the music
industry in general. But, more so, there is a place for this novel with all the teenage
readers who can often feel disengaged and disenfranchised, outside the conventional
education system or traditional family, for example.
The story brims with the message of hope and success, of finding a purpose through
commitment and dedication, of overriding failure, of “finding your place”. Things
will come to test you at all times, even when you think you have found success, just
“be true and real” and things can turn around. There is much to learn and appreciate,
about the Rap music world and about life in general, for the disenchanted, those
”doing it tough”, and even for those who feel content and complete, from this
wonderful novel.
Alison Cassell, Caloundra State High School, QLD

Set in London’s East End, “Gangsta Rap” is the story of Ray, a teenager who has lost
interest in school, and who has trouble getting on with his parents at home. Along
with friends Tyrone and Prem, Ray is excluded from school for repeatedly disrupting
class and threatening teachers. Fans of hip-hop and keen amateur rappers, the boys
welcome their exclusion as an opportunity to spend more time at the record shop with
their adult friend Marga Man, and hanging round the local park chasing girls. Their
Headmaster, convinced of the boys’ intelligence and reluctant to see them waste their
talent, persuades them to become part of a “social inclusion” project in the district.
Instead of going to school, they will attend the Positivity Centre, where they will
pursue a program of study centred on their interest in hip-hop. The three teenagers
form a band, the Positive Negatives, and begin developing and recording their own
raps. Under the management of Marga Man, they obtain a recording contract with
Deaf Defying Records, who are keen to develop hip-hop for the British market. The
story takes a more sinister turn when rivalry develops between the Positive Negatives
and a group of rappers from the West End, the Western Alliance. Violence ensues,
leading to the death of a beautiful African girl with whom Ray was beginning to fall
in love. Fortunately, the two bands realise that they have been manipulated into
rivalry by a recording industry executive, in order to generate publicity. Eventually
they are able to work together to prevent further tragedy.
Zephaniah uses the story of Ray and his friends to explore the social phenomenon of
school exclusion, which one assumes to be a topic of some concern in Britain. It also
touches on other social issues, such as the relationship between young people and the
police, teenage pregnancy, multiculturalism, and violence between teenage gangs. In
the context of the story, characters discuss the origins, inspirations and future
directions of hip-hop music
Some students in years 8-10 will find a lot to engage them in “Gansta Rap”,
particularly those with an interest in popular music. The speed with which the Positive
Negatives become successful is worthy of scepticism, but the novel explains a lot
about the workings of the music industry, some of it cautionary! Also, the boys’
problems with relationships with parents and girlfriends will strike a chord for some.
However, Australian readers may find it less easy to relate to the East London setting
(and dialogue).
While I didn’t like this novel as much as Zephaniah’s previous book, “Refugee Boy”,
I did enjoy it and it taught me a bit about hip-hop. I loved Marga Man’s Caribbean
accent, but felt story would benefit from a little humour (it’s definitely not “The
Commitments”!). I’ll be promoting this novel in the library, alongside other fiction
with a popular music theme, as well as non-fiction books on contemporary music and
musicians.
Margaret Mikulin, St Joseph’s College, Echuca, VIC

								
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