Cover image for Dakota Grand : a novel
Dakota Grand : a novel
Jasper, Kenji.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
278 pages ; 21 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A no-holds-barred feud ensues between Mirage, one of the country's leading rap artists, and Dakota Grand, a hip-hop journalist, after the singer is less than pleased with the article that results from his interview with the writer.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Dakota Grand is the nom de plume of the hip-hop journalist at the center of this novel. Dakota gets the chance of a lifetime to write a cover article for The Magazine, about the rap group Arbor Day. Dakota interviews the group's estranged leader, Mirage, and starts to work on the article, which he hopes will change his life. He is also beginning to tire of all the partying and dating games and wants to be accepted as a serious writer. Dakota's luck continues when he meets the woman of his dreams and has a publishing house make an offer on his first novel, but then things begin to unravel. Mirage is furious when he reads the article and has his bodyguards attack Dakota. Dakota plans revenge but begins to question whether continuing the cycle of violence is really the right thing to do. Jasper's sophomore effort, following Dark (2001), may not be a literary tour de force, but it should be commended for both its differences and similarities to works by forerunners Iceberg Slim and Walter Mosley. --David Hellman

Publisher's Weekly Review

This sophomore effort by Jasper, a music journalist, is an unsettling novel with a ripped-from-the-headlines plot. Dakota Grand is a New York City music writer seeking fame and fortune by chronicling the unruly antics of rappers, hip-hop promoters and music industry hangers-on. As he soon discovers, the life of a scribe in "the business" involves more than just scoring backstage passes, attending listening parties and rehashing press releases: double-dealing, deception and danger are part of the job description. When Dakota lands a prized interview with Mirage, half of his favorite rap duo, Arbor Day, he senses a chance to turn the twosome's tumultuous story into an article that will make him the envy of the other hustling music writers. His plan backfires when the spliff-smoking entertainer decides the published piece is not to his liking and assaults Grand. Jasper, a veteran observer of the hip-hop scene, has an unfailing ability to recreate its glitzy locales, hip dialogue, slick characters and heart-pounding excitement. After the beating, a battered Grand rejects a bribe from the rapper's lawyer, and vows to get revenge on Mirage. An interview with a big city reporter, which Grand thinks will even the score, backfires when his words are twisted and his life and career are put in jeopardy. What happens when a writer becomes a part of the story? What happens when he loses his moral compass and becomes the evil he is writing about? Jasper addresses these questions in a blood-drenched conclusion that seems to mimic the macho lyrics of a gangsta rap rant. Despite an occasional misstep, this is an impressive second novel loaded with strong characterizations and telling insights into hip-hop culture. (Oct. 1.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



The winter hawk clawed at me as I slid down 3rd Avenue like a skate on ice, my leather jacket zipped to the neck and my Braves hat pulled down and slightly to the left, the way I always wore it. I played the cab game for nearly 20 minutes before a graying white man my father's age braked at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 32nd. Before I got into the cab I looked around at the East Side, at the sandstone and brick buildings that surrounded the Empire State a few streets over. The clock on the Citibank a block up read 2:15. I had to hurry. We headed towards Brooklyn at warp 6. It wasn't until we cleared a bottleneck at Atlantic and Flatbush Avenue that I realized that I hadn't written down a single question. I had gotten to the point where I usually just made up questions on the spot for my interviews. The answers were usually all the same anyway. But this one was too important for that. Mirage had been the man I called my hero. And my hero, along with his often detached and rumored-to-be-starstruck partner 9-9, had just closed the book on one of the most successful underground hip-hop groups of the decade, Arbor Day. Some people still hadn't figured out that they'd named themselves that because of all the cannabis trees they smoked. But the breakup story had gotten deeper when Mirage also divorced his wife, an R&B singer whose name no one ever seemed to remember. Both events had happened six weeks before he was to release his first solo album. Someone had to pick up the pieces and The Magazine had designated me as the one to do it. Mirage, my hero, was supposed to be the nice guy of the duo. He was the one who cracked the occasional smile in photographs, the one who was seen signing every autograph and who had reportedly donated money to charities than most people, much less rappers. But it was 9-9's teflon persona and misogynistic lyrics that pulled millions of fans through the group's four gold albums. I'd bought each of the four the day they came out. I also had two full tapes worth of unreleased tracks I'd picked up from various sources over the years. Arbor Day was the Holy Grail I'd come to the city in hopes of covering, the one-armed men in my Fugitive life. So I was finally on my way to the next level. Getting to write for The Magazine wasn't easy. If you didn't have a name editors weren't too excited about throwing you work. But as soon as I heard about the breakup from one of my sources I typed up a quick proposal, trained into the city and walked it right into their offices, where I waited for almost two hours before Chad, the music editor came out. "You definitely have patience and persistence," Chad said while skimming through the almost twenty articles in my portfolio. A thirty-something white boy with horn-rimmed glasses and a Green Day t-shirt, he looked like he was trying to be 19 for the rest of his life, with very little success. "Thanks," I replied nervously. "You know I'd thought about doin' a piece on them once," he said nostalgically. "Right after the High Times album came out. But the new Tribe album hit that same month and the whole thing got lost in the shuffle." "People just didn't feel that record the way they should have," I said. "I think they're the only people who got away with sampling Sinatra." "You're probably right," he grinned. " So you're looking for your shot at the big time huh?" The question made me feel like I was a nobody, like all the work I'd done had meant nothing to him. He'd seen the covers and the profiles I'd done, the conference panels I'd taken part in. And to him I was still just a little fish. "I been tryin' for a long time," I replied earnestly. He glanced down at my portfolio before he zipped it up and handed it back to me. I was choking on the suspense. "You right. High Times is the best shit they ever did. The Source was wrong for trashing it," he scowled, as if the two year-old review was still fresh in his mind. "Give me 2500 words. I'll setup the interview and give you a call tomorrow." He called me the next day with a time, address and contact person for the meeting. I told him that I could get everything else. I had quotes and background sources I'd been saving for years, early news clippings and videotape. I told Chad that no one could do it the way I could. And he believed me. I smiled as I shook his hand, looking more like and overeager Jimmy Olson than a decorated vet in the game. My three years would have been ten in any other business. But getting the article hadn't happened the way I'd imagined it. I'd wanted to track Mirage down on my own, catch him record shopping or in the grocery store. I wished that I could have stopped him on the spot and told him that I could write a piece unlike anything, something that would tell his fans who he really was. I wished that I could have seen him say 'yes' and write down his home number, so that we could talk about his career over Heinekens at his favorite bar. Then the editors would have come to me, begging to publish the piece under their various banners. But things didn't work that way in the music journalism of 1999, at least not after rappers started selling millions of records, turning up in movies and endorsing brands and products. The game now included managers and publicists, label executives and hangers-on galore. Each and every one of them was employed to keep you, the writer, the critic, the fan, from your intended target. And more often than not they succeeded. But all someone like Chad had to do was make a phone call and it was done. Chad had one of the biggest music magazines in the country behind him. It would've have taken months to set it up anywhere else. The interview was going to be just the two of us. I told his publicist that it would be "just a few questions and answers in the studio" and that we wanted to see him at work on his first solo album. Publicists got paid to lie so writers never told them the truth. And Mandy, who sounded like the type to grab her purse in an elevator with any non-client black person, was quick to oblige me once I had The Magazine 's blessing. The cab rocketed down Flatbush through a string of green lights. The afternoon traffic was light as we looped around Grand Army Plaza and then past Ebbitt's Field. By the time we turned onto Ocean Avenue I had scribbled down thirteen questions on my notepad, hoping that their answers would be more than enough to fill the 90 minutes of tape I had in my recorder. Chad had called early that morning to say that the piece has been marked as a possible "cover" in their afternoon editorial meeting. But it had to be done right. I missed the name of the cross street where the yellow car applied its brakes. I left the driver with $25 for a $20 dollar ride, pretending like I could afford it, and got out of the sputtering vehicle just before it took off. Manhattan cabbies hated driving into Brooklyn. I stood there and watched the yellow car fade into the distance. Something stopped me from going in right away, even as the bitter cold dug its way into my clean-shaven cheeks. I took a moment to stare at the building where my career was about change. From the outside the studio looked small, definitely too small for someone like Mirage, who had been recording for almost a decade. But I was sure there was a reason for him being there and it was one of the many things I intended to find out before I left. A deep blue 4.6 Range Rover and an '89 Honda Accord sat parallel to each other in the otherwise empty parking lot. I assumed that the Rover was Mirage's. I approached the plate glass door with an even blend of confidence and caution. But I relaxed at the sight of the smiling short-skirted receptionist, particularly as she got up from her seat and walked over to open the door for me. I pushed 'record' just as I entered. My mentor Scott had always told me that if you had your tape running early you had a chance of getting a free piece of gossip, an album release date, samples of a work-in-progress or any of the other little goodies editors would die for. It was something I'd kept in mind ever since I took his workshop at City College, and more importantly since he'd seemingly dedicated much of his little free time to trying to make me a better writer, an Obi Wan for who he thought might have been the last Jedi. "You must be Mr. Grand," she said, grinning. "He's in the back. She pointed to the wide passageway to her left. I turned and began my slow drag down the corridor, passing through the tunnel of awards and plaques that led to Studio C. A mumbling hum came from the room in question. It was the kind of hum a mother made while moving from one to task to the next. But this time it came from Mirage's closed lips. He was sitting at a table in the middle of the room, perfectly centered between the engineer's booth and the microphone. A small folding table had been erected before him to hold a huge bag of weed. And next to the bag were a boxcutter, a split-open cigar, a blue ceramic ashtray and a bottle of Poland Spring water, all ordered in a perfect row like a surgeon's tools. He had yet to see me when he placed a sampling of the dark green mass onto the cigar wrapper, broke it up, and scraped it into an even line to begin the rolling process. Minutes later he ran a lighter under the wet edges and lit the splif. To my left the engineer's booth was dark and the stereo against the soundproofed wall was on mute. The colored lights on the equalizer jumped up and down in silence. He exhaled a cloud of smoke and finally noticed me standing there. Visine couldn't have helped his eyes and his lips were nearly purple from his smoking, much darker than they seemed in his videos. His clothes, a blue plaid Phat Farm button-up and matching jeans, looked like they'd been slept in, and the dreads that had covered his dome for Arbor Day's would-be final album, Timber! , had been replaced by a short peasy afro. The unkempt hair perfectly matched his severely stubbled face. He grinned. Arbor Day always came off like they were smarter than everyone else. They'd sampled Sinatra's "My Way" and played it backwards and then sped it up for a song called "Razor Blade" about a fatal battle shootout on a street corner. They interwove flutes and marimbas with dark drums and basslines. They brought in classically-trained sopranos to sing over flamenco guitar loops and African djembes. Arbor Day made music that you sat and listened to. And then there were their videos. They didn't wear thick gold ropes or shoot their videos in the projects to represent. The clip for their first single ever, "On a Roll," was shot on a golf course where they had the president of their record label walking around behind them as their caddy. While everyone else was trying to look tough in front of graffiti murals, Mirage and 9-9 were seen observing a wedding from the back of the chapel and rhyming from the top of a Mount Rushmore with their faces carved into the stone. Like me, they took it beyond the limits. But unlike me, they'd already made it. "So you ready?" He asked as if I was the one who had to answer the questions. I nodded. The reels on my recorder were in motion. "I'll start off with what everyone is going to ask you--" "I don't know why we broke up," he said before I could finish. The spliff burned out and he relit it. "I been in here almost everyday for three weeks trying to figure it out. I been tryin' to write the rhyme that'll explain it to the fans but every time I try I always seem to leave somethin' out." He was in no way a small man, at least 6'2, 250 lbs. It had always been strange to me how calm he had always seemed in the public view. In a relatively long career he'd never seen a single scandal, arrest or lawsuit. "It was like one day me and 9 are in the studio workin' on a song and the next thing I know I'm at a new label signin' a solo deal. You know I said I'd never do a solo record? I mean--I guess I saw it happening. We was getting on each others nerves half the time, like some old ass couple that don't know how to stop arguing. So we just ended it. As for my wife, who I know you gonna ask about, it was like the same thing except she was the one who woke up and said that she wasn't cool with it anymore. She was like, 'Michael, you promised me that shit would settle down.' I had promised and I didn't live up to it. Her career wasn't really going so well. I mean her group broke up. She was in a bad contract. I just think she wanted to make a new start, break away from everything and I wasn't there to give her the support she needed. Now I wake up in a big house all by myself." Most artists I'd interviewed always gave the same answers. Even if it wasn't intentional they anticipated what was important, what the writer wanted to know, or exploit. So they fed you what they thought you wanted to hear like it was a plate of prime rib and Cristal. But as I listened I had a feeling that I was hearing something that no one else had. And as Arbor Day fan #1, that meant more than he would ever know. "What did your marriage teach you about love?" I wasn't sure where the question had come from. But it was a good one to ask. He paused for a few moments, looking as if he'd misplaced the answer and was trying to find it again. He finally sighed and gave up the search. "I mean, you see your girl walk down that aisle with that dress and veil and you see your boys standin' beside you with tuxedos and shoes and you know that you love this woman more than any of the other hoes, more than anything." He paused and rolled up the sleeve of his sweater to point to the full-color tattoo of his ex-wife's face printed onto his thick left bicep. "But in the end marriage ain't really got shit to do with love. It's about trust. Can you trust this woman to be with you for the rest of your life? Can you trust her to raise your seeds? I mean you buy that ring when you think you know. You say those vows when you're sure. But you don't know until you put it into practice. So it's like one day the two of you livin' like Cliff and Claire Huxtable and the next thing you know your man is callin' you up sayin' he seen your wife goin' into a hotel wit' somebody else." His voice dragged like a record playing slightly below speed. His spliff burned quickly as he took in and released smoke like it was pure oxygen. Not once did he offer me a hit. So I lit up a Newport and dealt with it. "Is that how it happened with you?" "Nah," he said, seeming as if he was proud of himself for painting such a picture. "It was more like we just...faded away. She knew my life. She knew what I did and she said that she understood. But when I started producin' more and doin' more shows it started getting hard for her to deal, even though we were in the same business. We fought over stupid shit. Not even about money. It had been her idea to sign the pre-nup. You know she took me to my favorite restaurant to tell me she was leaving. Said I'd be calm about it that way like I was Jerry Maguire or some shit. I mean I didn't even see it comin'. All the ass that was out there on the road and she was all I thought about, my only focus." I checked to make sure the tape was still running, which it was. He wasn't talking to me anymore, but someone closer to him who should have been sitting in my chair. He should have said those things to his best friend, his father, a psychiatrist. But I was a journalist writing the cover story of my young career. I had to tell the truth and print what the The Magazine 's readers wanted to know. I had done it in the 234 articles before this one and it couldn't stop just because my favorite rap star was sitting in front of me. Time passed and more words were recorded. In some ways it felt unreal, like something I'd dreamed up on the way to one of my dead-end day jobs. "No matter how hard I tried all of it went into the music," he continued. "When I first started working on this album I wanted to make something beautiful." He stubbed the roach into the cluttered ashtray in front of him. "I wanted to do something that people wasn't expectin', somethin' different from what me and 9 had done on all those albums. The first few songs were dope and I was happy. But one day I was sittin' in here thinkin' about my life. When you get in this business you see too many foul things and no matter how hard you try to forget, those things you see affect you in a lot of different ways." "Like what, for example?" He paused as recollection tightened its grip on his memory. "I mean, I've seen managers get their artists on tape with other men and other girls, makin' them sign bad contracts to keep them from sendin' the tapes to the media. I seen record execs make interns strip for them at private parties, run trains on them and ask them to get coffee for them at work on Monday. I've seen fans bring dope to shows and give it to their junkie idols backstage. And I'm not just talkin' about weed either. When you sign a contract and sell some records they try to make you into an idol god. Then you struggle with all the other idols so you can be worshipped the most. "I didn't want to be nobody's idol from the beginning. I just wanted to make records that people liked. So did 9. But after awhile 9 started gettin' caught up in everything else but getting the music done. We started workin' together less and less. By the last album he would just come in, do his verses and leave until it was time to go on tour. He was busy fuckin' wit' models and tryin' to get in movies." He paused again, his eyes staring at the demons just over my shoulder. It was almost scary, the way I understood him. Those same interns he talked about were the ones who walked me to conference rooms for interviews, who checked me off on press lists and took messages for publicists. I knew all the stories about artists being extorted, about ending up broke working at supermarkets because they never had the sense to learn the business. But most of all I understood that spinning feeling, that merry go round of the same people and places that brought you nothing but dizziness. It was my life too. And I wanted out of it in the same way that he did. "So I had all of that on my mind," he continued. "I couldn't just make something beautiful. I had to tell the truth. I told my ex-wife the truth. I told 9 the truth. Now everybody else need to hear what I have to say. So you wanna hear what I got done?" I nodded as he stood up and walked over to the stereo in the corner. He turned on the power and pushed 'Play'. By the time the tape finished I thought I was high. I had never heard anything like it. It was beyond gold and platinum. It was beyond styles and trends. It was classic, in the purest form of the word, the greatest listening privilege I had ever been afforded. And I had heard it first. All the evidence had been safely recorded on tape. I was now on my way and nothing was going to stop me. We shook hands at the door to studio C and I was back on the streets, asking passersby how I could get to the to the number two train. I wished I hadn't spent the extra five on the cab as hunger burned deep in my stomach. Excerpted from Dakota Grand by Kenji Jasper All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.