Hip Hop Literary Education: 15 Books for Your Library!
Many argue that the written word is the fifth element of hip-hop, and if that rings true, then any solid documentation about the culture qualifies as a contribution to the elements. To help bulk up your hip-hop library, The BoomBox has chosen 15 hip-hop-inspired books for your reading pleasure. Check the selections and stack them on your bookshelf or e-reader.
‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation,’ Jeff Chang, DJ Kool Herc
This 2005 book is a no-brainer for any hip-hop bookworm. Jeff Chang traces hip-hop’s earliest roots and documents the progression of the culture through its many changes. The photos are equally informative and the book reads like a literary timeline. Then there’s the intro by DJ Kool Herc, which lays a solid foundation. It’s the size of a textbook, with just about as much information as one.
Author Nelson George’s book ‘The Death of Rhythm and Blues’ shed light on the musical shift that was happening with R&B. In ‘Hip Hop America,’ published in 1998, he approaches hip-hop in a similar fashion but with greater focus on rap’s cultural impact. While some of the discussions in the book — particularly on women in hip-hop — are slightly dated, the historical info and George’s anecdotes are worth the read.
When comic artist Damion Scott and hip-hop literati kris ex approached the concept of visually encompassing hip-hop, it didn’t stop at graffiti. Scott’s flair for animation and kris ex’s instructions make this a how-to book for anyone curious about entering the graphic side of hip-hop. There’s graffiti, anime and comic book elements in this 144-page 2006 manual. Get your sketchbook ready.
‘Hip Hoptionary TM: The Dictionary of Hip Hop Terminology,’ Alonzo Westbrook
Tools like urbandictionary.com offer some insight into the vernacular of many subcultures. However, 2002′s ‘Hip Hoptionary’ is a book of terms that pertain specifically to hip-hop. Of course, the words in this dictionary are dated now, but it’s a fun, little read-through for anyone looking for some hip-hop words to toss around. From slang to standard English, this book is meant to educate and entertain.
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‘Decoded,’ Jay-Z, dream hampton
One of the most mystical figures in hip-hop finally decided to break down his lyrics for the masses in 2010. Jay-Z‘s ‘Decoded’ takes some of Hov’s most popular (and confusing) lyrics and breaks them down in his own words. The intermittent discussion points are also pertinent information to truly understand the mind of a hip-hop genius. Line drawings and photographs are sprinkled throughout the rapper’s work.
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‘The Wu-Tang Manual,’ The RZA, Chris Norris
Another guide to understanding an otherwise enigmatic hip-hop group: The RZA breaks down the code of Shaolin for all true Wu schoolers. There’s even a picture of the original Wu-Tang Clanlogo (made by Wu producer Allah Mathematics), which was far more graphic than the “W.” Part of the 2005 book is dedicated to lyrics, giving an in-depth analysis of each rapper’s rhymes on the Wu’s memorable tracks.
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‘The Way I Am,’ Eminem
We all knew that Eminem carried years of aggression just by his lyrics alone. However, in ’09, Marshall Mathers lays it all out in his book. There are old family photos as well as personal gems — more than 200 color and black-and-white in total — and Em goes into detail about his family and his life growing up. It’s a truly candid book about a rapper whose emotional struggles can be heard within every bar he rhymes.
‘And It Don’t Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years,’ Raquel Cepeda
Journalist Raquel Cepeda collected 29 of the best hip-hop articles over 25 years (from 2004 and back), penned by some of hip-hop’s most prolific writers: Nelson George, Cheo Hodari Coker and Joan Morgan. The pieces range from the early days of the culture to articles on the genre once the tax bracket changed. The book serves as a reminder of the importance that hip-hop journalism continues to serve.
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‘Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies,’ Brian Coleman
This book, published in ’07, is for any hip-hop nerd who wants explanations behind the makings of some of the genre’s notable albums. With artist commentary mixed in, the book, like the title states, is an extensive version of liner notes from the game’s favorite MCs, including the Roots, the Fugees and De La Soul. As digital albums become more popular, more books like this need to hit the shelves.
‘Bling: The Hip-Hop Jewelry Book,’ Gabriel Tolliver, Reggie Osse
Bling, the gift and the curse of hip-hop — and the reason behind most of Kanye West‘s lamentations, next to models and Louis Vuitton bags, of course. While this is a lighthearted approach to the diamond district of hip-hop, the visuals are pretty fun. Released in 2006, it’s a perfect coffee-table book to remind everyone that grills, pimp cups, Jesus pieces and rings worn by the likes of Slick Rick are sought-after jewelry.
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‘Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists,’ Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabe Alvarez, Brent Rollins, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez
As blogs continue to embrace the ever so popular lists (hello, like this one), here is the book that started it all. The Ego Trip fellas take almost every aspect of hip-hop and break it down for the masses in this 1999 treat. This is one of the most informative books about hip-hop and its artists due to the detailed lists. How else would you have known that Tupacwas originally rhyming as MC New York?
‘The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument,’ KRS-One
It’s no surprise that KRS-Oneconsiders hip-hop a religion. In his G’ospel of Hip-Hop,’ published in 2009, the ‘Return of the Boom Bap’ creator approaches the culture through a book that reads like the Bible. Totaling 600 pages, The Teacha uses philosophy to explore hip-hop as a way of life. While this work is pretty intense, if you’re a true hip-hop head you’ll want this one right next to your Holy Books.
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‘When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life As a Hip-Hop Feminist,’ Joan Morgan
Author Joan Morgan breaks down how she navigates through hip-hop as a woman while enduring the misogyny that transparently exists in the culture. Published in 1999, this book isn’t just for females; men are invited to experience Morgan’s message, too. Hip-hop-loving ladies can empathize with much of what she speaks about, while men better understand the hip-hop feminine mystique.
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‘Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [Entertainment] Business,’ Thembisa S. Mshaka
Chances are if you love hip-hop you have tried at least once to make it your profession. Whether an artist, entrepreneur or something in between, most hip-hop aficionados want to work within the culture. For that reason, Thembisa Mshaka offers one of the most thorough guides (released in 2009) into the music business. Uniquely written from a woman’s standpoint, even men can learn from her stories.
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‘The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop,’ Dan Charnas
Another excellent career guide, this 2010 book by Dan Charnas, who was once employed by Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin, has a few stories to tell about the business behind hip-hop. Charnas travels through the tax brackets the genre has climbed with detailed explanations on how hip-hop reached each pinnacle. You’ll soon understand why Jay-Z opted to overcharge for what they did to the Cold Crush.
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