Quill and Quire

Canada's magazine of book news and reviews

Enter the Babylon System: Unpacking Gun Culture from Samuel Colt to 50 Cent

by Rodrigo Bascunan, Christian Pearce

Toronto’s “summer of the gun” has come and gone, and with it much of the public debate about guns, their place in polite Canadian society, and ways to get them off the streets.

Rodrigo Bascunan and Christian Pearce, co-founders of the hip-hop music and culture magazine Pound, do their best in this new book to bring the debate back. Enter the Babylon System (Babylon, in the rasta/reggae world, refers to oppressive colonial and imperial powers) tries to get to the root of gun culture, using hip-hop as the departure point and descending into a world of firearms production, smuggling, and glorification.

Everything, in the end, seems part of the problem, from Toronto police to malt liquor all the way to Hollywood. Hip-hop music is a major player in the tragedy, too, and Bascunan and Pearce don’t shy away from this. They include snippets of violent, gun-mythologizing lyrics every few pages. Odd and jarring to read at first, the lyrics eventually reach a balance with the text, adding depth and complexity to the book’s central thrust: that hip-hop is merely the symptom, while the disease – a culture of militarism, inequality, and greed – is everywhere.

Enter the Babylon System is engaging and straightforward, written in a fast-paced, journalistic style. Chapters are short, and the text is cut with sidebars, fact-boxes, and superb, stylized illustrations of everything from a Tec-9 to Chuck D. The book is well researched, with enough sources and statistics to make a point without bogging the reader down.

Best of all, Bascunan and Pearce seem to really have the inside story on gun culture, particularly in hip-hop. Early on, they quote a researcher doing work on inner-city youth and violence: “None of the people who were supposedly trying to solve the problem had any idea what was going on.” Enter the Babylon System alone won’t solve anything or prevent another summer of the gun, but it will give readers a better idea of what is really going on.

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