Bling, By Erica Kennedy

Players and divas who keep their souls on ice - along with the Cristal

The jacket sparkles. All five letters of Bling, the magic word that denotes the luxury accoutrements sported by hip-hop's top brass, are given a diamond-like sheen against a plain black background. It would make a perfect tattoo for all those "players" and "flyass bitches" kneeling at P Diddy's altar.

Erica Kennedy's debut novel is set in a jewel-encrusted music industry (temple) in which the aforesaid protagonists (disciples/slaves) conduct their business (worship the dollar). Lamont Jackson, big cheese of New York-based Triple Large Entertainment, is the 39-year-old mogul who has generated astronomical wealth from the "rap game" through astute talent spotting and meticulous, cynical image-making. Running a record label is a military operation for the neurotic, pitbullish Jackson.

Now Monty is eyeing his ultimate career high; a CEO job with a mammoth corporation. All he needs to do is find a hot R&B singer to bolster a stable of rappers that includes Floss, "the peg legged MC"(Putting the hop into hip-hop) and Sum Wun, "the Asian Eminem".

Enter Mimi Jean, diva-in-waiting whom Monty plucks from small-town obscurity and places on a dizzying conveyor belt to fame and fortune in the Big Apple. A star is born.

That timeless template is really the backbone of Bling, and this triple-large entertainment fantasy gleefully parodies the rags to nouveau riche trajectory of the star system. There ain't that much hip-hop in there, though. Monty makes megabucks off it but he doesn't listen to it off-duty.Bling doesn't examine the tension between creativity and capitalism in hip-hop but then I don't think it was ever intended to do so. That debate can wait 'til the Cristal runs dry.

Monty's rap mogul may evoke anybody from Diddy to Dash, but his Sugar Daddy aspect suggests Tommy Mottola, the man who made Mariah Carey. Her convoluted life story is stamped all over Bling. Needless to say, Princess Diva doesn't live happily ever after with Prince Charmless Big Willy Player. Monty will sniff at any passing female, be it his Russian masseuse or the latest catwalk queen.

Kennedy, whose insider knowledge is endorsed by a career as a Vibe and In Style scribe, is a punchy storyteller who unfurls her satirical narrative like an epic gossip column, letting all the industry sugar sparkle and rot in equal measure. Cash is flashed, drugs are done, dirt is dished and players are played. Archetypes - the fat rapper, the wannabe, the kid - are handled with panache and Kennedy also works the gay rapper scenario like a sharp-witted stand-up - for all the "homie-sexuals" in the house.

Her only bum note is a rap murder that works neither as a worthwhile plot thickener nor as an epiphany. Personally, I would've been happier with more deluxe bitchiness from Naomi-esque supermodel Vanessa De La Cruz. Vacuous, voracious and vain, she is Uber-Bling, the lady who branded her soul. Then put it on ice.

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