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Read A Book: Omar Musa - 'Here Come The Dogs' [Review + NYC Book Launch Tonight!]
Read A Book: Omar Musa - 'Here Come The Dogs' [Review + NYC Book Launch Tonight!]

Read A Book: Omar Musa - 'Here Come The Dogs' [Review + NYC Book Launch Tonight!]

 Read A Book: Omar Musa - 'Here Come The Dogs' [Review + NYC Book Launch Tonight!]

Omar Musa and The Fire Down Under

You may perhaps find it unusual to come across a literary novel suffused with references to underground rappers like Jean Grae, Masta Ace and Oddisee. But Here Come The Dogs, a new novel by Omar Musa, tells the story of three displaced and frustrated young men in small town Australia who share a love of underground hip-hop culture and contains references to all the above-named musicians (and more). However that these hip-hop references are being made in Australia, where the story takes place, and not America, is perhaps even more surprising.

Musa, of Malaysian origin, is from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia, a place he has described as an “alphabet of exiles.” He is an acclaimed poet, and has published two poetry collections, The Clocks and Parang, He is also an accomplished and active rapper as known for live Slam Poetry as he is for his printed work.

The novel is told in both first and third person, with flashbacks and dream sequences, and although the book contains long tracts of free poetry, the prose itself is remarkably lyrical. Flatblocks between houses are “like dice tumbled from an unseen hand”; construction cranes, “like predatory birds.” A boy lighting leaves on fire creates “his own handheld Hiroshima.”

One imagines the main characters as folks Musa might have known growing up. Solomon, Jimmy and Aleks are all hardcore rap fans. Solomon is half-Samoan and orphaned, a womanizer and failed basketball star who seeks a meaningful life. His half-brother Jimmy, a call-center worker and amateur beatmaker, dreams about the return of his own father (different from Solomon’s) while he saves up for a car. Aleks, a barely-literate “Maco”--a Macedonian immigrant--is brutal to his enemies and gentle to his friends. “Guns are nothing new to him--in the Balkans, most homes would have one,” Musa writes.

Scarlett, the only female protagonist, is a New Zealander of Chinese origin who speaks “rudimentary Samoan.” She is a tattoo artist and b-girl who strives to surmount the dead-ends Australia offers her. “You want it uncomplicated. But it doesn’t come like that--it only comes broken and weird,” she tells Solomon, describing the difference between she and he...

OMar Musa Describes His Hometown At A TED Talk

Against this Australian backdrop, both cosmopolitan and remote, the preponderance of American hip-hop culture is at once logical and surprising. Musa seems to anticipate this, and creates a dialogue between characters around precisely this cultural tension. A mixtape Solomon makes starts with the iconic Gang Starr--but ends with a rising Sikh-Australian rapper, L Fresh the Lion (“Sydney shit is weird. Their accents sound American...hate that,” Jimmy says, in another conversation about Australian hip-hop).

Musa also doesn't shy from some of the contradictions inherent in the act of importing American hip-hop. “Rarely see a black dude in Aussie hip hop. Its troubling, ay,” Solomon says. Yet the book comfortably moves with its own material, and explores Australia's own deep racial problems. “Theres the Islander yard, the Aboriginal yard, the Lebanese yard, the Asian yard, the Terrorist yard...” Musa writes, describing the prison where Aleks is held.

Here Come The Dogs appears at a time when the American appetite for hip-hop origin stories is at a zenith. Programs like The Get Down and The Breaks pull back from what is now fully mainstream rap culture and purport to study its early, constitutive pieces: the New York industry in the 1990s, the Bronx parks and schoolyard of the 1970s.

Musa pulls us in the opposite direction, to the detritus at the edge of the world, a hot land of “bearded lizards,” bush fires, and race riots, where people once-displaced remain unsure of their footing. Here, hip-hop, reinterpreted and reinvigorated, provides the characters with an alternative lens, an opportunity to be connected to each other, to a larger world. “I miss b-girling,” Scarlett says to Solomon, at a concert. “Yeah. The atmosphere, the smell,” Solomon replies.

The reader, having passed through the narrow, unexpected gateway Musa opens, will also emerge with their world made larger. Perhaps the reader will sense that underground hip hop, a genre waning as a local or regional force in North America, could have other meaningful incarnations elsewhere: it would be an appropriate feeling. For in a parallel but opposite direction, that is no less than what the novel’s characters desire for themselves.

Musa will be reading from his work tonight at 7pm at the NYC Book launch for Here Come The Dogs, copresented by Okayplayer with the Asian American Writers Workshop, speaking alongside his friend Mitchell Jackson and moderator Estelle Tang. Hit the link below for full details and come true!

>>>Attend Omar Musa's NYC Book Launch