Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Slavery Days

Among the pounds of periodicals and sampler cassettes in this year's New Music Seminar goodie bag, 200 random schmoozers got a bonus from longtime hip-hop publicist Bill Adler--his privately published version of a Simon Wiesenthal Center report written by Dr. Harold Brackman but instigated by Adler, who distributed 300 more to selected rap journalists, artists, and bizzers. Entitled Jew on the Brain: A Public Refutation of the Nation of Islam's "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews," it includes a brief foreword by Adler and a briefer afterword by philosopher Cornel West. The cover photo depicts Ice Cube holding up the NOI opus and saying, "I want everybody to try and find this book!" Ice Cube, who provided this soundbite last fall and may well still believe it, has declined comment.

Adler was Public Enemy's management rep when Professor Griff spewed his antisemitic swill in 1989 and has never gotten over it. So when Ice Cube endorsed The Secret Relationship, a collectively written affair that spreads 1275 footnotes over 312 pages, Adler asked Brackman, the Wiesenthal Center's expert on black-Jewish relations, to generate the "analysis to the contrary" the NOI invites. Brackman's 65-page rejoinder should put to rest any disinterested suspicion that individual Jews, much less "the Jews," could have played more than an ancillary role in the African slave trade. Though he doesn't catch any outright misquotations, he details all manner of tendentious research and citation by the NOI, which clearly patched decontextualized material from sources of wildly varying reliability into hate literature posing as scholarship.

Brackman isn't above tendentiousness himself--he has scant use for Jewish anti-Zionists, and his "high end" estimate of 19 million "deaths before, during, and after the `middle passage'" is considerably lower than that of historian Philip D. Curtin, whose statistical expertise he relies on elsewhere. Nor is his insistence on academic decorum likely to cut much ice in the hip hop community. "I don't expect every artist to read it," Adler admits. "But at the very least, the next time another Ice Cube comes along and waves the book, there'll be another book to wave back at him." Of course, your copy may have a different cover and a preface by Rabbi Abraham Cooper--Adler has run out of money, which means the pamphlet is currently available only from the Wiesenthal Center (310-553-9036). Title: Farrakhan's Reign of Historical Error: The Truth Behind "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews". Different strokes for different folks.

Village Voice, July 7, 1992