Book Review: Psalms of My People: A Story of Black Liberation as Told through Hip-Hop

Book Cover Images image of Psalms of My People: A Story of Black Liberation as Told through Hip-Hop

by Lenny Duncan

    Publication Date: Jan 02, 2024
    List Price: $27.99
    Format: Hardcover, 270 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781506479026
    Imprint: Broadleaf Books
    Publisher: 1517 Media
    Parent Company: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

    Read a Description of Psalms of My People: A Story of Black Liberation as Told through Hip-Hop

    Book Reviewed by April R. Silver

    In the book Psalms of My People, author Lenny Duncan opens this work by stating: “I start this book in perhaps the most hopeless place I have ever been in my life, and that may be the only spiritual or energetic place or space out of which one can birth a psalm: where hopelessness intermingles with the foolish hopes of a new day dawning….This book isn’t written by an expert, just a fan of emerging beauty…A Black Queer trans person telling the world how they experience it and using hip-hop as their language, quite frankly, isn’t the way to make friends….I’m worried about what I always stress about. Not being a clear enough channel, not being a clean needle when my work hits the record, of being more feedback on the mic than eight bars of wisdom…. I’m afraid that a living legend will find this book a very poor attempt to explain how their words are my holy scripture.”

    For transparency, I’m an American African woman born in New York. I’m also a Gen X hip hop head rooted in the cultural arts and social justice activism. It is through those lenses that I can appreciate the overwhelming passion that Duncan has for hip hop culture and for charging people to:

    “Rage and get out.
    Get out of the neocolonial last-ditch effort
    To fight over dinosaur bones
    And lifeless barren rocks
    Hundreds of thousands of years older than

    Duncan’s scholarship and research, their immersion in hip hop culture, and their love of words, meaning, and the pursuit of the meaning of life are all abundantly clear…and welcomed. Their choice of medium, however, causes me pause. The written word and the spoken word function differently in this world, and sometimes they shouldn’t marry. Experiencing Ella Fitzgerald’s legendary scats, for example, or experiencing Sekou Sundiata or Sonia Sanchez blessing the mic with their spoken word timeless magic poetry is otherworldly and is very different than reading them on a page. There’s no way to fully connect with and feel the quintessential BOOM! of a Chuck D and a KRS-One if you can’t hear Chuck D and KRS-One. Reading MC Lyte or “Mother Lauryn” on the page is an incomplete step in the journey to understanding just how dope they are as MCs and gifted artists. Similarly, what registers as Duncan’s frequent rants and their stream of consciousness make me want to see them on stage, doing a poetry set. There’s a fire in their heart and soul that, dare I say, doesn’t work on the page.

    The most enduring and impactful aspect of Psalms of My People is its raw and radical honesty. Paradoxically, Duncan is both gentle and cutting in their summations about oppressed peoples. To our benefit, Duncan, a former pastor, reminds us, in the afterword “Penmue-Theosis,” that they are “…still willing to struggle for hip-hop culture, even if [they] might not be willing to struggle for the church.” The world needs the deep-rooted, often difficult and noisy, essence of this work, this “small piece” of a larger idea, and one need not be a Black Queer trans artist poet scholar to understand and respect that Duncan, at their core, is seeking to restore balance in this chaotic world.
    —April R. Silver (Iyanifa Alake Osunsaje Oladele)

    Read Broadleaf Books’s description of Psalms of My People: A Story of Black Liberation as Told through Hip-Hop.

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