James McBride

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Who was the intended audience for "Hip Hop Planet" by James McBride, and what was his purpose for writing it? 

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The audience for the article is the readership of National Geographic magazine, which published the article in 2007. This audience is, generally speaking, predominantly white, college educated, and middle to upper middle class. His purpose for writing the piece is to introduce hip hop music to this audience. McBride is, in essence, functioning as a kind of guide or interpreter.

Although McBride is black, he empathizes with what he thinks his white audience thinks about hip hop. In fact, the piece begins with “his nightmare,” which must also be the nightmare of his audience:

My daughter comes home with a guy and says, "Dad, we're getting married." And he's a rapper, with a mouthful of gold teeth, a do-rag on his head, muscles popping out his arms, and a thug attitude.

Hip hop music is thug music, but, unlike McBride and his fellow Columbia School of Journalism graduates, "the real storytellers of the American experience" were thugs: people like the "dude wearing a do-rag who'd crashed" the graduation party. McBride has to straddle a complicated rhetorical position: on the one hand, he must empathize with the (in my opinion, implicitly racist) dislike of rappers by his white audience, and, on the other hand, assert his own "blackness," e.g., his racial credibility to "explain" hip hop.

The key to his argument is his assertion that rappers are the "real" storytellers of the "American" experience, a phrase which is meant to express their "genuineness" while, at the same time, presumably place rappers in a pantheon of other "real" storytellers of the American experience (Amiri Baraka, Gil Scott Heron, Nikki Giovanni). In contextualizing rap within the black experience of slavery, race hatred, and the Civil Rights Movement, McBride is trying to situate it within larger narratives that his audience will find more palatable. This is also the case with the sections of his essay that deal with whites who love rap and the aspirations of African rappers, who have a very different narrative of black oppression than that which came out of the Bronx in the 1970s.

McBride’s conclusion attempts to explain his conflicted feelings about the music. He says he as "come to terms" with it, and that, while hip hop is not his culture, he still loves it, "the good of it." In equating the violence in hip hop lyrics to the "bombs bursting in air" of the Star Spangled Banner, he is making an overt attempt to include rap music as part of the collective American experience.

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The intended audience for "Hip Hop Planet" by James McBride were the readers of National Geographic in April 2007 and also people, like McBride, who had dismissed hip hop as an art form. His purpose for writing it was to convince others to stop dismissing hip hop and to instead give it a try and learn to appreciate it.

In the article, McBride charts his understanding of hip hop from his first experience with it at a party in Harlem, through years of...

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avoiding it, and finally to a studied understanding of the cultural influence of thegenre. He says that he left rap behind, avoided it and that "in doing so, [he] missed the most important cultural event in [his] lifetime."

After examining the people, the time, the music, and himself, McBride comes to appreciate hip hop. He says, "That is why, after 26 years, I have come to embrace this music I tried so hard to ignore." In order to help a reader understand his transition, the essay traces his journey from one impression of hip hop to this new, positive one. 

McBride likely wrote the article to convince people who thought as he once did. He wanted to demonstrate that hip hop has significant cultural value and shouldn't be dismissed. It is unknown whether he originally wrote the article for National Geographic or if he wrote it first and later sold it to the magazine.

As of 2017, National Geographic has a readership that is slightly more male than female, with 54.6 percent male readers. 52 percent of readers report being married, 65.6 percent report having a college degree, and the average household income of readers is $88,106. The magazine has more than 9,600,000 readers.

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James McBride's "Hip Hop Planet" was published in National Geographic magazine in 2007, so his initial intended audience would have been its readership. The essay has been widely anthologized since then and read by a diverse audience of people interested in popular culture, music history, and rap and hip hop's global influence. McBride's research included his own history with a style of music that he took great pains to avoid even as it emerged around him when he was a young man in New York. His research took him from New York to West Africa to Dayton, Ohio as he sought to understand what informs hip hop and why it is so appealing to such a diverse audience all over the world. Ultimately, he developed an appreciation for rap and hip hop, and the essay makes a case for why it should not be dismissed as an art form.

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