OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY

A white hip-hop fan breaks down the many problems in an often-fraught relationship.

A white hip-hop fan breaks down the many problems in an often-fraught relationship.

Like so many before him, Tanz, a senior editor at Fortune Small Business, didn't think that being a sheltered white suburbanite was any impediment to loving hip-hop. In fact, he believed that his admiration for the music and culture would be a means of discovery, and that it would serve as a bridge, narrowing the gap between blacks and whites.

As he acknowledges in this disarming survey, white-boy rap fans like himself often have an urge to impress that comes out in embarrassing ways around black people. "Maybe we hope that our demonstrations of hip-hop knowledge will prove to our audiences that we, unlike some white-boys-come-lately, are truly invested in the cultureā€¦Or maybe it is simply an urge to connect." Plaintively honest statements like this form a good part of what is best about Tanz's work; the rest often falls short.

The author was wise not to attempt an exhaustive account of this subject, but his very narrow focus leaves too much unexplored and unexplained. Negative stereotypes of the culture-raiding "wigger" or "wegro" are only reinforced by some of Tanz's interviewees, such as the scrawny Canadian suburbanites who live a cartoon version of the rapper lifestyle. Others come off better, like "nerdcore" artist MC Frontalot, who does a hilarious and strangely empowering form of geek-rap.

Tanz never realizes the full potential of his project. Readers looking for an inclusive study of the ways white fans have incorporated the art form into their lives will be disappointed and unenlightened.

Honest and self-effacing, but too thin to make a lasting impression.