The Grey Album

The Grey Album
On the Blackness of Blackness
Kevin Young
"In his new work of literary and cultural criticism, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, the accomplished poet Kevin Young unearths, orchestrates, improvises and imagines lies and more lies—in short, American history. . . . Who is the liar, who the thief, who is telling whose history, and who is keeping score? Young forces us to contemplate who controls the music."—David Shields, The New York Times Book Review

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in Criticism

About the Book

The first work of prose by the brilliant poet Kevin Young, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize
Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American tradition of lying—storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, “jazzing.” What emerges is a persuasive argument for the many ways that African American culture is American culture, and for the centrality of art—and artfulness—to our daily life. Moving from gospel to soul, funk to freestyle, Young sifts through the shadows, the bootleg, the remix, the grey areas of our history, literature, and music.

Additional Reviews

"Equal parts blues shout, church sermon, interpretive dance, TED talk, lit-crit manifesto and mixtape, the poet Kevin Young's first nonfiction book, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, is an ambitious blast of fact and feeling, a nervy piece of performance art. . . . It rummages around in the work of African-American writers and musicians—from Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes to Lauryn Hill and Colson Whitehead—and makes a series of sly arguments for black art's centrality in American culture writ large."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
"Dense and brilliant . . . [Kevin Young's] book walks that fine line between improvisatory elan and academic precision with an enviable sureness. The Grey Album is a work of syncretic cultural criticism, a mosaic of ideas, quotations, analyses, lyrics, and allusions, diffuse yet cumulatively masterful. Punning, questioning, riffing, mixing street syntax with formal exegesis, Young weaves a counter-story to the mainstream of American culture, showing once again how 'American culture is black culture' and how race has 'become a metaphor for the modern era.'"The Washington Post
"The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness is not only one of the most learned historical surveys of African American (and American) culture, but also a supremely stylish tribute to generations of creative African Americans."San Francisco Chronicle
“[The Grey Album] is a collection of unified essays that takes in centuries of (mostly) African-American culture, from Revolutionary Era poet Phillis Wheatley to hip-hop abstractionists Wu-Tang Clan. There are also nods to French theorists and soul food—everything, in other words, and the kitchen sink. . . . [The Grey Album] will inspire cheers, arguments, head-scratching and, if my experience is indicative, a list of books and music to either rediscover or seek out. In the great essay tradition, it’s the work of a productively restless mind.”—Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

“An exhilarating and impassioned work of black literary and cultural criticism, unlike any other; an inspired book that deserves to be savored and celebrated.”—The Washington Spectator
"Young has a great deal to say, all said with the sharp eye, good humor and honesty found in his earlier works."Tulsa Book Review
"Award-winning poet Kevin Young takes a journey through our nation's history using the art of the remix to illuminate the African-American heart of the American experience. Combining essays, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses with appraisals of authors from Langston Hughes to Colson Whitehead, the resulting work of nonfiction is a whirlwind tour of storytelling, music, and artistic expression."Barnes and Noble Review
“It shouldn't be surprising that a poet as talented as Young can make nonfiction sing. What’s truly impressive are his depth and range of knowledge and the book’s scope and ambition. Tackling huge swaths of cultural contributions black Americans have made to the world, Young riffs and ruminates on literature, art, film, food, high and low culture and, very prominently, music. . . . You won't find many authors who can take on Henry Louis Gates about his views on Phillis Wheatley and who can deftly wrestle with some of hip-hop’s more troubling aspects like homophobia and who can make the case that blacks have been unjustly written out of the history of modernism all in one book. . . . Young not only reveals but also entertains and moves his readers through the sheer artistry of his writing.”—Flagpole Magazine
"[Young] plots American culture x as revolving around the y axis of black culture. But his book is anything but formulaic. Instead it bounds and riffs, producing its own mash-up of personal essay, cultural critique, poetry, and blues shout."—New Pages
"More collage than formal argument, the book juxtaposes literary and music criticism, autobiographical snippets, colloquial asides and name-checks of artists from the obscure to the famous. . . . Throughout, Young seeks to prove what has long been proven yet somehow always needs proving: the self-evident fact that African-American culture is American culture."Cleveland Plain Dealer
"With The Grey Album (which takes its title from Danger Mouse's mashup of Jay-Z and the Beatles), Young infuses cultural studies with a fresh [voice] that brings dynamic expression to academic rigor. He picks out the connecting threads of an American tradition that's always existed, if only we'd known where to look for it. More importantly, he reminds us that he isn't just talking about isolated art forms, but a set of creative strategies that have been, for many Americans, a way of life—of making new lives for ourselves."—USA's Character Approved Blog
"It's a rambling, fascinating, and at times frustrating look at African-American culture and its place in America. With extensive passages and quotes from musical masters ranging from Duke Ellington to Lauryn Hill, and large sections about hip-hop and its evolution, Young argues that African-American culture and American culture aren't two different worlds, but one in the same."Riff Raf
"This is criticism that comes out of life-long engagements with music and language, and with that music that flows through our own, American language. It is punchy, acrobatic, deeply informed, and endlessly energetic—a pleasure to read."—Alex Abramovich, Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle
"While the book is a big read, Young's voice—clear, playful, and flowing freely from one idea to another—makes it a pleasurable one."Foreword Reviews