This is it. The end of our 4 post introduction to hip hop, via book. This list is so incomplete! Hip hop is vast, and though we’ve covered a lot of the bigger artists, some serious theory, a good chunk of history and picked up some odds-n-ends, every time I looked at one book, a few more would pop up that I would pretend not to notice, cuz urrf…
Add anything you want in the comments. Feel free to point out gaps or missteps.
The Hip Hop Wars – Tricia Rose
Dr. Rose examines the image and the truth of hip hop culture, and the role it plays in African-American life. Does it reflect the experience of violence or does it promote it? Is it sexist or simply honest about sexuality? She asks these and more questions from a concern that hip hop is in danger of losing its authenticity and vitality while becoming not much more than a destructive cash machine, playing to the lowest common denominator.
Hip Hop Family Tree series – Ed Piskor
This series of comic books are amazing. They start at the beginning, and chronicle the history of rap and hip hop in incredible detail, with artwork that feels like how I remember my first comic books. There are 3 volumes now, covering up to the early/mid 80s. Hopefully more are in the works.
A Time Before Crack – Jamel Shabazz, et al
also Back in the Days (which is more of the same)
If you were under the mistaken impression that drugs and gang violence are the twin birth canals of hip hop, these photo books will set you straight. Here you will find kids from around the way, with their fresh kicks and fly…. uh… clothing of various types. Ok, I have to admit, I don’t know the lingo. I definitely remember these looks from the late 70s/ early 80s, but I was never this cool. These are the origins of styles that would later be made famous, all in an Eden-like time of relative innocence.
The Way I Am – Eminem
A little more visual than text-driven, this is almost a scrapbook of the Detroit rapper’s entire life/career (up until 2008). Photos and drawings of all kinds of things, plus stories, lyrics, histories and so on. Not your straight-forward autobio; maybe a coffee table memoir.
Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman
This is a different growing up story. Ahmir Thompson went to an arts school in Philadelphia and grew up obsessed with music and collecting records. He even played music and toured with his family. He is the drummer for The Roots, who also play on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He tells his story in this book and packs it with his vast knowledge of music.
Unashamed – Lecrae
Ok, this cat is different. His album “Anomaly” was the first to ever hold the number one spot for both Billboard 200 and Gospel at the same time. He’s a Grammy-winning rapper who is very open about his Christian faith. This is his story, complete with tough upbringing, drugs, suicide – all the things you’d expect in a musician autobio.
Here’s his TedX talk “Heroes and Villains: Is Hip Hop a Cancer or a Cure”.
The Africanist Aesthetic in Global Hip Hop – Halifu Osumare
Going back to college with this one. Osumare studies hip hop as a global, postmodern phenomenon. The reasons for its success range from “commodification” to genuine connections to local populations in situations similar to that of African Americans. It includes case studies from Hawaii to Russia.
Tha Global Cipha – James G Spady, H Samy Alim, Samir Meghelli
Talking about global, here’s a collection of interviews with hip hop artists from around the world: all regions of the US, the Caribbean, Europe, Africa. Plus, explorations of related forms of music. It’s like a hip hop Coachella without all the douchebags.
Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women – T Denean Sharpley-Whiting
We’ve said before that women have been an integral part of hip hop since the beginning. Here Sharpley-Whiting explores their role in the image and marketing of hip hop, with a heavy emphasis on groupies, strippers and workers in the sex industry (as opposed to musicians or graphic artists, for example).
How to Draw Hip Hop – Damien Scott & kris ex
Remember the 5 pillars of hip hop, and that one is street art (tagging, graffiti, whatever). This is like any art how-to, with a chapter on supplies, and then breakdowns of different elements on the style and how to achieve it. It reminds me of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, in that it teaches legit drawing technique, not just “hey, draw this cool dude jumping! Look – his arm is all buff n shit!” You have to know the fundamentals before you can flare off into the wild stuff. Get it for your budding young artist.
Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies – Brian Coleman
(You can get more of the same from Check the Technique Volume 2 and Rakim Told Me: Wax Facts Straight From the Original Artists – the 80s)
This is a great idea for a book: 36 rap albums, explored track-by-track, with behind-the-scenes stories, explanations, unsung heroes. Here are a few of the featured bands: Beastie Boys Check Your Head, A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory, The Fugees The Score and 2 Live Crew As Nasty As They Wanna Be. You get those other two books and you’re the fly on the wall of hip hop history.
Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists – Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez, Brent Rollins
and Ego Trip’s Big Book of Racism!
Iconic hip hop zine Ego Trip collects lists from everyone hip hop about everything hip hop. A lot of these are generic (“Greatest emcees”), some are from premiere artists (“Chuck D’s 5 reasons radio sucks more than ever”), some are behind the scenes (“Chris Lighty’s road manager rules to live by”), some are hilarious (“Rap personalities who’ve appeared in Sprite commercials”) and some just sound interesting (“Notable rap albums that were never released”). Subcategories include, for example: lyrics, beef, sports, awards, cheddar (that means money, btw) (looked it up), something called “The Realness” which I think means “street cred”, film – and so on. This is 350 pages of lists. That’s a lot.
The Boombox Project: the Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground – Lyle Owerko, foreward by Spike Lee
Owerko tells the story of a certain early period in hip hop when the mighty boombox reigned supreme. There are tons of interviews and such, but honestly, I would’ve been content with just a picture book of all them boom boxes. It cuts deep, nostalgia-wise! This has that, but a lot more. I wanna get this just to see if my box is in there. (Probably not; I was a dork.)
The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated and Deconstructed – Shea Serrano, illustrated by Arturo Torres
Also from Serrano Bun B’s Rapper Coloring and Activity Book
This book sold out within a few days of its release. This takes the best rap song for each year (’79 – ’14) and explores it fully with graphics, art, and interviews. I mean, each song gets its own unique treatment. It’s almost like one of those science books for kids, but it’s about hip hop and it’s for adults.
Just look at the cover on this one. It’s a whole book of that.