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Nobody's fool: Flavor Fav of Public Enemy knows what time it is.

New books focus on hip-hop nation, Mexican counterculture

By Greg Cahill

Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture (University of California Press; $18.95)By Eric Zolov

THE RECENT EMERGENCE of Latin pop sensations Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez has the media all aflutter. It's a Latin cultural revolution! some say. No, it's just a couple of Latin singers performing typical pop songs with an exotic flourish, others respond.

Let Entertainment Tonight settle the debate about the Next Big Thing. Author Eric Zolov--an assistant professor of Latin American History at Franklin and Marshall College who has impeccable timing--has delivered an in-depth book that traces the history of rock 'n' roll in Mexico and the rise of the native counterculture movement known as La Onda (The Wave).

It's a fascinating and little-known story that in many ways parallels the close ties between the protest music of the '60s and the turbulent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the United States.

But south of the border, student-led protests in 1968 resulted in a government-orchestrated massacre that successfully quashed the movement.

Zolov offers scrupulous detail and research but never bores us with academics. He deftly explains the ways in which imported U.S. rock and chart-topping Mexican bands like Los Teens and Los Locos del Ritmo sparked Mexican youth to question their middle-class values in a movement that fueled the greatest crisis ever in that nation's post-revolutionary period.

In the process, Zolov uses La Onda as a keyhole into modern Mexican society, a phenomenon that remains largely a mystery to most gringos.

Move the Crowd: Voices and Faces of the Hip-Hop Nation (MTV Books; $16.95)By Gregor and Dmitri Ehrlich

TWENTY YEARS after Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five recorded the seminal "Rapper's Delight," hip-hop has given voice to the urban black experience, and then some. ThWriters brothers Gregor and Dimitri Ehrich have teamed with talented photographer jesse Frohman to create a visually stunning poackage that includes sound-bite remarks by most of the genre's super stars--Chuck D, Queen Latifah, Chubb Rock, Ice Cube, Busta Rhymes, Cypress Hill, et al.--into a Gen X coffee-table book. You get lots of angry polemic about cruel cops, exploitative white folks, and the need to spread the gospel according to rap.

But read between the lines. A sort of cumulative effect of all these MTV-short-attention-span snippets is that Move the Crowd ultimately offers insight into the fabric of the street life that spawned the hip-hop nation, especially in the savvy, street smart, and independent female performers who stand head and shoulders above their cover-girl counterparts in the rock and pop worlds.

And while you may suffer white-boy rapper Vanilla Ice boasting that "most white people don't have rhythm," you also get this more thoughtful sentiment from Orlando Patterson on the white hip-hop connection: "For better or worse, the Afro-American presence in American life and thought is today pervasive. A mere 13 percent of the population, Afro-Americas dominate the nation's popular culture: its music, its dance, its talk, its sports, its youth fashion; and they are a powerful force in its popular and elite literatures. So powerful and unavoidable is the Afro-American popular influence that it is now common to find people who, while remaining racists in personal relations and attitudes, nonetheless have surrendered their tastes, and much of the their viewing and listening time, to Afro-American entertainers, talk-show hosts, and sitcom stars. . . .

"The typical rap fan is an upper-middle-class Euro-American suburban youth."

From the August 19-26, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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