Coates and Music

Coates complicates the audiovisual culture he experienced as a young man.


After completing this assignment, students should be able to

  • Identify the assigned audio recordings after hearing a 10-second clip.
  • Discuss the ways that Coates signals that these songs, poems, and videos were important parts of his search for answers.
  • Discuss the ways that Coates signals that the songs, poems, and videos do not themselves offer “the Answer.”
  • Identify the tone of the writing that surrounds Coates’s discussion of NWA’s song “F— the Police” (27).
  • Discuss the qualities that Coates admires in the music and poetry he cites.

Listening/Reading/Viewing Guide

Note that this guide is not meant to replace careful study of the assigned texts. Instead, this guide highlights some of the important ideas found there. To do well on our tests, quizzes, and class discussions, you will need a thorough knowledge of the texts in their entirety.

“I felt the fear in the first music I ever knew, the music that pumped from boom boxes full of grand boast and bluster” (15).
Coates pays tribute to and simultaneously complicates the audio and video culture he experienced as a young man. One key example is the NWA song “F— the Police,” which he carefully frames with the repeated “We could not get out.” (27-28).
Coates quotes activist Khalid Abdul Muhammad, whose sampled speech opened the song “Death,” released by Ice Cube 1991 on the album Death Certificate. Muhammad was a prominent minister of the Nation of Islam, but he was censured and removed from office by NOI leader Louis Farrakhan after an inflammatory 1993 speech.
Coates name-checks five artists he was learning to love, whose art “lived in this void, in the not yet knowable, in the pain, in the question” (50). Three are older musicians, and two are contemporary poets.
“This was the era of Bad Boy [Records] and Biggie, ‘One More Chance’ and ‘Hypnotize’….All I wanted was to write as those black people danced, with control, power, joy, warmth” (61-62).

Listening (NSFW)



  • Coates and Music

Note that this quiz includes links to audio clips that open in a separate browser tab. To avoid technical difficulties, plan to take the quiz on a computer (not a phone or tablet), either on campus or at another location with a fast and reliable Internet connection.