Ben Westhoff is a writer, and as writers sometimes do, he wrote a book. His particular book, Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop, is about the commercial success of Southern hip-hop. Several chapters are about some of Houston's most colorful, beloved and legendary figures.
Westhoff, a periodic Houston Press contributor, will be in town for a reading at Domy Books on Saturday. He answered a few questions about the book that eventually spiraled into talk about avoiding getting STDs from exotic dancers. Such is life.
Chatter: I guess the first question is kind of obvious: Why? Why did a rail-thin, floppy-haired New Jersey kid feel compelled to write a book championing Southern hip-hop?
8 p.m. Saturday, April 30, at Domy Books, 1706 Westheimer, 713-523-3669 or www.domystore.com/houston/index.html . Free.
Ben Westhoff: I've been a fan of Southern rap since [Juvenile's] 400 Degreez, and for the past ten years or so it's been my preferred style. Plus, the stories are great. I mean, Bushwick Bill? You can't make that shit up.
C: Is Southern hip-hop generally regarded as the end of intellectual rap among the Yanks?
BW: There is a very loud and vocal northeastern contingency who think of Southern rap as the antichrist. Many people who I've told the title of my book believe the end of the title should be changed to "...Who Ruined Hip-Hop."
C: [Laughs] You got to hang out with a lot of important people. What's the one story you'll tell for the rest of your life?
BW: Probably about hanging with Trae's posse and going to a strip club on the Richmond Strip where the women didn't take their clothes off, and I got to see people make it rain. Before that, as I wrote in the book, I was sure that making it rain didn't actually exist.
But the one where Luke Campbell demanded I get onstage and copulate with a naked dancer was pretty memorable, too. You'll have to buy the book to see whether I complied with his demand. Spoiler: I didn't.
C: Yeah, you totally whiffed on that. We mean, if you get an STD on your own, that sucks. But if you get one because Uncle Luke made you, that's amazing.
BW: Almost as amazing as divorce.
C: Oh yeah. That. Is there a larger point to the book besides how prominent Southern rap would eventually become?
BW: The larger point is about the culture clash, which kind of mirrors the red-state/blue-state thing. There's this idea that Southern rap is bad because it's about making people happy. It's about dancing, and shaking butts, and getting drunk and sweaty, instead of broadening one's mind.
But I think much of it does broaden one's mind, particularly folks like Scarface, who tells stories in the best literary tradition. Or, I don't know, Dostoyevsky or something — about people struggling with their demons, trying to understand their own mortality, trying to not go crazy thinking about how fucked up the world, and even their own consciousness, is.
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To me, that's a lot deeper than, say, Dead Prez. Or Little Brother. Or non-Illmatic Nas.
C: If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time a book about the importance of Southern hip-hop, about its cultural significance and how the whole movement is a metaphor for itself, has ever been written. That's pretty heavy stuff.
BW: Yeah, that was important, I think. For something that's so popular, Southern hip-hop gets very little academic/intellectual consideration. There are, like, 100 books every year that come out about the blues, and no one under 60 has bought a blues record in decades.
This is the truly relevant music of our time, but because it's considered "lowbrow" it gets short shrift.