At the beginning of the book it mentioned Ishmael and his friends listening to rap.
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Ishmael is a colourful boy. He likes rap for the same reasons any young boy might like it. This is partly what draws us to him. Ishmael likes the beats and, although he doesn't understand it all, seems to like the masculine messages behind the music. I think the tapes that he constantly caries around with him reminds us that he is still a boy. Although he goes through some pretty horrific experiences, the cassette tapes remind us and Ishmael of his innocence. At various times the music even saves the boys from villager's fears that they are child soldiers. You just can't make up a story that includes "Run.dmc" in the middle of Africa!