Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010: The Year in Hip Hop Literature

The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas
New American Library
There's no other hip hop book quite like this, it's as simple as that! Charnas' tour de force is a direct and detailed account of the players and motives behind the "American dream" story tale that is hip hop. With a well-balanced combination of recounting and reporting, Charnas reveals a back-story that simply has never been told before... until now. It's a bit of a long read, but the frequent revelations and stories that make you go "wow!" and "really?" keep you from putting this book down. Highly recommended.

Decoded by Jay-Z & dream hampton
Spiegel & Grau
What more can I say? If you're a Jay-Z fan, you've probably already got this - and with good cause. Jay-Z, dream, Spiegel & Grau have crafted a book that's as exciting to read as it is to marvel over the artwork and aesthetic design. Part autobiography, part coffee table entertainment, Decoded is a book you can simply pick up, pore over and enjoy. Not just for Jay-Z fans too!

The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley, Andrew DuBois and more
Yale University Press
Given that I've already addressed the criticism over this encyclopedia of rhymes, I'll just say this: The Anthology of Rap accomplishes what it had set out to achieve. In the future, this book may be considered a relic, the first of its kind in the attempt to catapult rap poetry into the field of academia. I give props to professors Bradley and DuBois for taking that bold first step.

The Boombox Project: The Machines, the Music, and the Urban Underground by Lyle Owerko w/Spike Lee
Abrams Image
Video (and internet) may have killed the radio star, but New York-based photographer Lyle Owerko's dedication to the ubiquitous boombox earnestly and effectively (and rightfully!) romanticizes the days before e-networking and expendable MP3 files. Nostalgia abound, The Boombox Project perfectly encapsulates a significant epoch in time. To me, this is the next best thing to having seen it first-hand.

Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas's Illmatic by Micharl Eric Dyson, Sohail Daulatzai and more
Basic Civitas Books
As I wrote nearly a year ago in my review for Combat Jack's website, this book is "a brilliant companion to a brilliant album." The various opinions and points of view by the roster of contributors may have you looking and listening to Illmatic in an all new light.

Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Christopher R. Weingarten
Continuum Books
I've read about six or seven of the 33 1/3 books and this one's been my favorite by far. Christopher Weingarten did his homework here, providing a comprehensive profile of Public Enemy and rap's golden era - all packed tightly into a palm-sized book. Read my full review here.

Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon by Tayannah Lee McQuillar & Fred L. Johnson
Da Capo Press
Even I, a self-described "'Pac Stan" or "Pacavellian" (shouts to Rizoh), learned quite a bit about Tupac Shakur from this biography. Without glorifying or sweeping his blunders and dark moments under the rug, McQuillar and Johnson effectively identify the dual personality of 'Pac, appropriately nicknamed 2Pac. I didn't put this book down once until I finished it.

Understand Rap: Explanations of Confusing Rap Lyrics You and Your Grandma Can Understand by William Buckholz
Abrams Image
This novelty book achieves quick laughs, none of them cheap. For instance, Drake's line "swimming in the money come and find me... Nemo" is boiled down up into a silly, sixty-eight word-long explanation/translation, finally answering the question: "what's the opposite of 'layman's terms'?" Enjoy this one on the john... escort. #fakedrake

Back in Black Paperback:

Don't Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin': The Authorized Story of Public Enemy by Russell Myrie
Grove Press
I checked this one out a few months back and was glad I did. There's plenty of great stories and rap nerd trivia in here. It differs from Weingarten's 33 1/3 entry in that it follows PE throughout their entire career, from the very beginning all the way through the group's twenty years in music, marked by their 2007 LP How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul. Myrie provides plenty of exclusive interview material as well.

The Tao of Wu by The RZA
Riverhead Books
I reviewed/recommended this one around the same time last year. A great read by the Socrates of hip hop. Get it with The Wu-Tang Manual if you haven't checked that one out yet too.

Upcoming Releases (2011):

Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop by Michael P. Jeffries
University of Chicago Press, January 2011

Back in the Days: 10th Anniversary Edition by Jamel Shabazz, w/Fab 5 Freddy & Ernie Paniccioli
powerHouse Books, March 2011

Hip Hop Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement by Reiland Rabaka
Lexington Books, March 2011

Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went from Street Corner to Corner Office by Zack O'Malley Greenburg
Portfolio Hardcover, March 2011

Slave to a Page: The Book of Rhymes by Nasir Jones(!)
HarperCollins, April 2011

The Wu-Tang Clan and RZA: A Trip through Hip Hop's 36 Chambers by Alvin "Aqua" Blanco(!)
Praeger Publishers, April 2011

My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep's Prodigy by Albert "Prodigy" Johnson(!) & Laura Checkoway
Simon & Schuster, April 2011

Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood by Ice-T(!) & Douglas Century
Random House Publishing Group, April 2011

I Mix What I Like!: A Mixtape Manifesto by Jared A. Ball
AK Press, April 2011

Jay-Z: Essays on Hip Hop's Philosopher King by Julius Bailey
McFarland & Company, Inc., April 2011

Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-Hop by Denise Sullivan
Lawrence Hill Books, July 2011