RaveThe New York Times Book Review... an often hilarious, surprisingly moving and always joyful paean to rap’s relationship to words ... The \'notes\' in the subtitle is correct: This is not a thesis, an argument or a history. Like Shea Serrano’s best-selling rap compendiums, What’s Good welcomes you on almost any page you turn to, but builds sneaky resonances for those reading straight through. Levin Becker borrows more than a few tricks from the artists he’s studying, and he’s also clearly learned more than a little from the hip-hop writer Dave Tompkins, whose dizzying involutions and verbal acrobatics come closest to the anarchic feel of rap music ... His refreshingly catholic taste is one reason Levin Becker is able to tug at threads some writers miss. There’s a generous helping of early-1980s party hip-hop, for example, which is usually skimmed over in any overview as a sort of prehistory ... As with any study of a vernacular art, things occasionally get goofy ... But more often than not, he’s playful, brainy fun on the glorious violence that rappers visit upon sound, sense and syntax. Even the most rudimentary language games and simplistic punch lines yield insights ... He’s also piercingly smart about his place as a white observer in a Black art form ... Levin Becker is able to recognize himself in the language without tying himself in knots or turning the focus away from the artists he discusses ... What shines through, after nearly 300 occasionally dizzying pages, is the purity and intensity of Levin Becker’s devotion.
Michael Ian Black
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...surprising, occasionally sappy but often lovely ... There are moments when this primer loses its focus. Black’s potted histories of women’s suffrage and the abolition movement might work as a conversation starter with his kids, but they are a little thin on the page ... And yet his tone is so lovely, his empathy so clear ... He does wonderful work breaking down the masculine coding surrounding his own behaviors ... A book in which a straight white dad lectures his straight white son on systemic racism, structural inequity and rape culture might sound like the stuff of tone-deaf woke-polemic nightmares, but A Better Man is blessedly clear of these afflictions. Black’s writing is modest, clear, conversational.