Rock critic sounds off on today's hip-hop

The Daily Pennsylvanian
September 28, 2007

Media Credit: Pete Lodato
Rock critic Alan Light discusses his writing career and his book about the rap group Beastie Boys with students yesterday afternoon at the Kelly Writers House.

Media Credit: Pete Lodato
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"In 1987, three white Jewish boys from New York City were the most fascinating phenomenon in the burgeoning rap music scene.

"No, really."

So reads the back cover of music journalist Alan Light's 2006 book, The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys, about which Light spoke last night at the Kelly Writers House.

Light, the former editor-in-chief of Vibe, Spin and Tracks magazines, read three excerpts from his book.

The book is, as Light put it, "the oral history of the Beastie Boys," telling the rap trio's story through interviews from the group members themselves and influencial figures in their careers.

The Beastie Boys, as well as its members - Adam Yauch, Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond - have been a topic of interest for Light since his college days at Yale University.

Intrigued by the group's advances in the music industry and the fact that he thought the Beastie Boys "could be me and two of my idiot friends," he decided to write his senior thesis on the group's 1986 album, Licensed to Ill.

"It's the joke that will follow me to the grave," Light said about the paper, which was nominated for Yale's american studies prize.

Light was introduced by Creative Writing professor Anthony DeCurtis, who has known Light from the days when they worked together at Rolling Stone.

DeCurtis also invited Light to be a guest speaker yesterday afternoon in his class, "The Arts and Popular Culture."

"He's had such a stellar career as a writer and as a journalist," DeCurtis said of Light.

Light and DeCurtis answered questions on a range of topics, from the writing and interviewing process to the current state of hip-hop.

When an audience member asked Light what he thinks about hip-hop today, he expressed his disdain for today's mainstream hip-hop. "It's a lot less interesting today," he said.

"I thought this was a really good example of the kinds of events we can have here in the fact that it was conversational and interesting," said Kelly Writers House director Jessica Lowenthal.

"It went really well," said College freshman James La Marre, who also helped record the event. "I'm thinking about going back to my room and listening to Beastie Boys now."

This was Light's second time speaking at the Kelly Writers House and his fourth time coming to speak to one of DeCurtis' classes.