Elijah Wald – The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama
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Elijah Wald started playing guitar at age 7, went to New York at age 17 to study with Dave Van Ronk, and spent most of the next dozen years hitchhiking and performing all over North America and Europe, as well as much of Asia and Africa, including several months studying with the Congolese guitar masters Jean-Bosco Mwenda and Edouard Masengo in eastern Zaire and lecturing for the United States Information Service in India and Central Africa. He also recorded two albums: Songster, Fingerpicker, Shirtmaker and Street Corner Cowboys.

In the early 1980s, Elijah began writing for the Boston Globe, and was in charge of the newspaper’s “world music” coverage for most of the 1990s, as well as contributing articles to various other newspapers and magazines. His ten previous books include Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ’n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music, and Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns, and Guerrillas. He has won a Grammy Award for his album notes to The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box, for which he was also nominated as a producer, and his books have won many awards, including an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award and an honorable mention for the American Musicological Society’s Otto Kinkeldey award.

In the last few years, Elijah has been teaching off and on at the University of California Los Angeles, performing music when possible, and doing various other writing projects and speaking engagements.


The Dozens
A History of Rap’s Mama
Elijah Wald

The first in-depth look at the funny, dirty, street-language game of insults known as the dozens and its influence on American music and culture

Following his groundbreaking explorations of the blues and American popular music in Escaping the Delta and How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll, Elijah Wald turns his attention to the tradition of African American street rhyming and verbal combat that ruled urban neighborhoods long before rap : the viciously funny, outrageously inventive insult game called “the dozens.”
At its simplest, the dozens is a comic concatenation of "yo' mama" jokes. At its most complex, it is a form of social interaction that reaches back to African ceremonial rituals. Whether considered vernacular poetry, verbal dueling, a test of street cool, or just a mess of dirty insults , the dozens has been a basic building block of African-American culture. A game which could inspire raucous laughter or escalate to violence, it provided a wellspring of rhymes, attitude, and raw humor that has influenced pop musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Ice Cube. Wald explores the depth of the dozens’ roots, looking at mother-insulting and verbal combat from Greenland to the sources of the Niger, and shows its breadth of influence in the seminal writings of Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston; the comedy of Richard Pryor and George Carlin; the dark humor of the blues ; the hip slang and competitive jamming of jazz; and most recently in the improvisatory battling of rap. A forbidden language beneath the surface of American popular culture, the dozens links children's clapping rhymes to low-down juke joints and the most modern street verse to the earliest African American folklore.

In tracing the form and its variations over more than a century of African American culture and music, The Dozens sheds fascinating new light on schoolyard games and rural work songs, serious literature and nightclub comedy, and pop hits from ragtime to rap .

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Director of Publicity
Oxford University Press

For print features and other media, contact:

Gene Taft
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"Wald is a meticulous researcher, a graceful writer and a committed contrarian."
           --Peter Keepnews, New York Times Book Review (on How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll)

"Though Wald views the dozens as a precursor to rap, the book is a study in sociolinguistics and folk etymology as much as it is about music. He examines this lyrical tradition through different kinds of performance—blues, jazz, and rap as well as literature, film, and street culture.... Harking back to 2 Live Crew and gangsta rap, this book-length study of sexualized insults makes for colorful reading and will appeal especially to anyone interested in forms of cultural expression that are considered obscene or subject to censorship."
      --Ed Graves, Library Journal