I think part of what is interesting about [The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao] is that it just takes the idiom of hip-hop as a given. And a lot of times in hip-hop literature, they make a big fuckin’ deal out of it. The thing is, once you single it out as an element or as an aesthetic, I think there’s a problem. For me, as someone who grew up in this world just listening to it, we had this understanding that it was just normal. It wasn’t something you became fanatical about, it was just a part of everyday life. Hip-hop for us wasn’t like “hip-hop is life,” it was just normative, man. I thought that that was what was really important in Oscar Wao. I wanted to make the hip-hopness of the book normative, and not something that was sensational. Which I think is very important, because one of the things that happens with this economic shift in hip-hop from a local market to an international brand is that they were really trying to push people into becoming this sensational lifestyle, this almost pseudo-religious practice. And when we were coming up in the Eighties, it wasn’t like that, man. You loved hip-hop, that was that. But you didn’t think of hip-hop as this salvation. Now there’s a lot of corporate money in getting young people to embrace hip-hop in ways that would seem very strange to a lot of people from my era. If you took kids from 1986, 1987 and time-traveled them to right now, I think they would find some of the ways that people are like “hip-hop is religion” or “hip-hop explains the universe” really weird. It was meant to be an organic part of people’s lives, it wasn’t meant to replace people’s lives.-- Junot Diaz
The rest of his interview with Stop Smiling can be found here. Thanks to John Pattison for passing this on a couple years back.