Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation

"A classic of hip hop writing and a poignant tribute to urban youth."—Jeff Chang, author of <em>Can't Stop Won't Stop</em>
At its rhythmic, beating heart, Close to the Edge asks whether hip hop can change the world. Hip hop—rapping, beat-making,b-boying, deejaying, graffiti—captured the imagination of the teenage Sujatha Fernandes in the 1980s, inspiring her and politicizing her along the way. Years later, armed with mc-ing skills and an urge to immerse herself in global hip hop, she embarks on a journey into street culture around the world. From the south side of Chicago to the barrios of Caracas and Havana and the sprawling periphery of Sydney, she grapples with questions of global voices and local critiques, and the rage that underlies both. An engrossing read and an exhilarating travelogue, this punchy book also asks hard questions about dispossession, racism, poverty and the quest for change through a microphone.


  • “Fernandes brilliantly captures the moment when a global generation curved toward a unifying language and culture and found something that was both much more and much less than what it was searching for. Close to the Edge is a beautifully told tale of the collective and the personal, the cultural and political—a classic of hip hop writing and a poignant tribute to urban youth.”
  • “Fernandes chronicles her search for a global hip hop movement through an earnest and self-reflexive approach to storytelling that is equally concerned with history and social issues. She offers fascinating and detailed snapshots of the hip-hop scenes in Sydney, Chicago, Havana and Caracas while asking broad and crucial questions about the intersections between music, identities, and politics. Close to the Edge is both thought provoking and a pleasure to read.”


  • Rebel Without a Pause: A playlist from Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Beautiful Struggle

    For the young daydreamer Ta-Nehisi Coates, now hailed as the "James Joyce of the hip-hop generation," the sounds of hip-hop were seductive diversions from his father's strict programme of study. But in the summer of 1988, Ta-Nehisi's Consciousness bloomed to KRS-One and Public Enemy. Hip-hop, for young Ta-Na, boosted the words of his father, a Vietnam vet who rolled with the Black Panthers, an old-school disciplinarian and believer in free love, an autodidact who launched a publishing company in his basement dedicated to telling the true history of African civilization.

    To mark the publication of The Beautiful Strugglean extraordinary coming-of-age story by the author of the NYT bestseller Between the World and Me, we present a playlist of the music from the book, annotated with extracts. Set in Baltimore during the 1980s, hip-hop is the main soundtrack to Coates' youth in a city on the verge of chaos where a boy needed to learn The Knowledge fast.

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  • Sujatha Fernandes on the banning of music in Mali

    In a Sunday OpEd in the New York Times, Sujatha Fernandes, author of Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation, examines the social and political role of music in Mali, where it has been almost nine months since Islamic militants in the northern part of the country have effectively banned the medium in its entirety. Whatever its motivation, Fernandes argues that the ban reveals "something about the nature of music itself as the essence of our social bonds and a bulwark against unfettered use of power." 

    Read the full text of the article here.
  • "We are black..."—Verso books for Black History Month

    We are black, it is true, but tell us, gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? ... Yes, gentleman, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right that you pretend to have over us ... We are your equals then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colours within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white.

    This excerpt is from a letter written in July 1792 by the leaders of the revolution of Haitian slaves. The letter has been republished in the collection of writings of the black leader Toussaint L'Overture, The Haitian Revolution, which includes also the correspondence between him and Napoleon Bonaparte. In the late eighteenth century, Toussaint L'Overture and his supporters established the first black republic in the world.

    In the United Kingdom, October is Black History Month. The celebration was originally introduced in 1926 on the initiative of Carter G. Woodson, the editor of the Journal of Negro History. In 2007, no fewer than 6,000 events were held in the UK as part of its programme. Here are some key Verso titles past and present that are relevant to the study and celebration of African and Caribbean history.

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