Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Slumberland

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Slumberland

A Novel

by Paul Beatty

Slumberland by Paul Beatty X
Slumberland by Paul Beatty
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2009, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Beyond the Book

Print Review

Unless you are exactly as hip as Paul Beatty, Slumberland is rife with Googlable moments, as DJ Darky riffs about jazz and hip-hop and funk. Here are some of the references that anchor the plot.

Sixteen hours into a marathon rave, DJ Darky reaches into his crate and pulls out a record that a fellow DJ fears will stir a riot among a bunch of white frat boys expecting industrial music rather than South Bronx hip-hop. The song that he plays is Stezo's "It's My Turn," which was all over the radio in the summer of 1989. It seems utterly quaint and tame in retrospect: "Extra extra, read all about it / It's me Stezo that has been doubted / I came to make you move and groove and get down / There's no way that the crowd can sit down." To view the video (lots of funky dancing in front of the World Trade Towers), click here.

The first song that DJ Darky programs into the Slumberland's jukebox is Oliver Nelson's jazz standard, "Stolen Moments," from his 1961 album, The Blues and the Abstract Truth. This album made Nelson into a well-known composer and arranger as well as saxophonist. The song, which DJ Darky calls "a classic jazz aperitif," features an all-star collaboration between Nelson (tenor sax), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute), George Barrow (baritone sax), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Roy Haynes (drums). Listen to it here.

When DJ Darky and the Schwa finally meet, the Schwa says, "Whikrxx-whikrxx-whurr," which DJ Darky instantly recognizes as a mocking dig at his profession, a quote from Grandmixer D.ST's scratching on Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." Think you don't know this song? You do. Chances are you know the video too, which was a huge hit on MTV in 1983. You can view it here. "Rockit" was the first mainstream song to incorporate scratching, and it irrevocably marked American popular music.

But you'll have to read the book to find out what song the Schwa plays on top of DJ Darky's beat.

This article was originally published in July 2008, and has been updated for the August 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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