Boogaloo By Arthur Kempton (Pantheon)
A t its surface, Boogaloo is a flowing history of popular "Aframerican" music, beginning with gospel singer Tommy Dorsey, whose "great accomplishment was to make 'Precious Lord, take my hand' feel the same as 'Baby, please don't go.'" It twists its way though the crooning of the "handsome Negro lad" Sam Cooke, the Motown and Stax revolutions, P-Funk's Mothership Connection, and concludes with the violent deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. At the book's core, however, writer/musicologist Arthur Kempton delivers a thoughtful meditation on the tenuous two-step that exists between black culture and white consumerism.

Boogaloo focuses on seminal figures in musical history and illustrates how each one, from Mahalia Jackson to Suge Knight, reflects evolving, socially acceptable notions of "Negritude." Kempton emphasizes the quality of "menace disarmed," which allowed winsome and youthful Sam Cooke, rhyming and smiling Muhammad Ali, and Snoop Dogg to penetrate America's collective living room.

Many of the book's most fascinating moments come when Kempton strays from musicology and explores parallel aspects of black culture. He ingeniously draws connections between Lincoln Perry, and modern day pimp nostalgia. In early chapters that explore the tension between sacred and secular musical forms, Kempton illuminates the complex role of religion among the first generations of freed black Americans. Later, he draws parallels between the sneaker wars, which he pinpoints as beginning in the summer of '68, and the General Motors limited edition Snoop DeVille Cadillac.

The author pays particular attention to the business end of the industry, which not surprisingly finds countless examples of white males screwing artists out of money, licensing, and property. Frequently these contract dispute passages slow the book's momentum, although it's a small complaint. The only thing more I could possibly ask from Boogaloo would be an extensive box set corresponding to each chapter so that I wouldn't have had to spend so much time downloading choice tracks, waiting to freshly re-hear how Mahalia begat Aretha, how Curtis begat Marvin, and how Bootsy begat Dre. CHAS BOWIE