Race is a bitch — about the baddest bitch in the American doghouse — and UC Riverside prof (and Weekly contributor) Josh Kun had the balls to attack the touchy beast via its influence on music. Looking to explode the fake notion of a monochromatic “America” and replace it with 280 million vibrantly individual Americas, he found ways by observing through the eyes and ears of poet Walt Whitman, musical comedian Mickey Katz, writer James Baldwin, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, poet Langston Hughes and recent decades’ rock en español rippers. With such narrow-focus Virgils to guide him, Kun avoided leaping the chasm of a bottomless subject that one of his influences, Greil Marcus, has approached more obliquely. It’s an education to witness such scenes as Hughes discovering, in his roots journey to Cuba, that once again he’s neither black enough to dodge ghetto suspicion nor white enough to bake on the segregated beach. But when Kun regularly lapses into academese about “stylistic lexicons” and “the subaltern musical self,” he exposes the challenge he never quite faced: whether to write a popular piledriver or a textbook. Seems he split the difference.AUDIOTOPIA: Music, Race, and America | By JOSH KUN | University of California Press | 302 pages | $20 paperback

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