Unless you know where you came from, it’s hard to know where you’re going. People have written about the musical geniuses of Hip-Hop all the way back to when rap first came out and through its early days of growth. KRS-One said, “You must learn.” Boost your brain and home library with these books about rhymes and life.
Why does the word “shout-out” get used so often today? To get gangsta music, white suburban kids bought it. When did graffiti start to show up in advertising? How did a once-subculture change and have an impact on the dominant culture? It wasn’t always like this. This month’s theme is historic.
‘Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies’ by Brian Coleman
Most old Hip-Hop records didn’t come with liner notes, but this fan and veteran journalist set out to change that. You can learn about how one sound engineer went crazy or the real story behind a famous cover photo on Check the Technique, which is a dream come true for rap nerds. Coleman wrote this 528-page masterpiece, then added more things to it in later editions. “Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies” (Wax Facts Press) came out soon after, and he says it “is better than Vol. 1 in most ways.” The author takes us from Biz Markie to X-Clan, Ultramagnetic MCs to Ice Cube, and back to the Beatnuts. He proves that he is a doctor of rap history. Coleman interviews artists, DJs, producers, and other people in the music business as he goes. For anyone who has ever read the tiny print on a cassette or wondered about the people who got a shout-out on a tape.
‘Goin’ Off: The Story of the Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records’ by Ben Merlis
As the players tell their own stories in this detailed oral history of an influential label, an unobtrusive guide helps them along the way. The likes of MC Shan and Marley Marl and Big Daddy Kane were all born there. People who were in this story might not have been easy to find, but the author’s perseverance and love for the genre paid off. There are times when Merlis gets lucky. In a record store, I saw Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow playing a 45 of “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss. They were playing it, too. People like Biz Markie use it in a lot of Hip-Hop songs, which made my head light up. I end up interviewing Cut Chemist, who is an expert on ’80s rap, and using a Juice Crew flyer that he made for the book in the process of writing it. As for Roxanne Shanté and all her spin-offs, or how The Genius almost joined the Juice Crew, or how Bid Daddy Kane ended up in Madonna’s Sex book, you’ll have to read this.
‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation’ by Jeff Chang
There is well-written prose in Chang’s book that talks about social issues from the beginning of the Boogie Down Bronx to the birth of The Source magazine. In the introduction, he says that this is “a nonfiction history of fiction, with some mystery and certainly no prophecy.” This leaves room for “many more versions to be heard,” which is what he meant. This book, which was written in 2005, is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about the culture.
‘Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop’ by Vikki Tobak
You should get Tobak’s high-end hardcover. It’s full of great photos from behind the scenes and interviews with photographers. HH’s biggest stars also write about their work in it. It goes from Tony Tone and Kool Herc to Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky. Fab Five Freddy is in charge of the art direction. The show at the Annenberg Space for Photography and a short documentary made by its foundation were both a big hit because they let people see contact sheets. When someone asks, “What did Hip-Hop sound like?” Tobak says this to explain why she made this collection. It’s important to look back at certain photographers and icons and see this huge collection of images. This story is very powerful.” Photos taken by the photographers in this book show how Hip-Hop started to become popular around the world before this book was even written about. It’s fun to look through these contact sheets to learn more about the artists and photographers. “Who doesn’t love seeing Biggie smile?” Tobak is still in charge of the traveling show while she works on her next two books.
‘Houston Rap Tapes: An Oral History of Bayou City Hip-Hop’ by Lance Scott Walker
If you think of Southern Hip-Hop and Houston Rap, you might think of the Geto Boys, but the roots go back to Zydeco, the “chitlin circuit” of black-owned nightclubs, radio DJs, and battle rappers. Peter Beste and Lance Scott Walker, who took the photos for Houston Rap, wrote a book called Houston Rap Tapes to go with the book. Hip-hop has been overlooked in every genre of music in Houston, but the city has made more Hip-Hop than almost any other kind of music. “This book is the result of more than a decade of interviews with people who are well-known and people who aren’t well-known. All of them have been important in making that history.” His many interviews with people from the Fifth Ward, Fourth Ward, Third Ward, and Southside of Houston show a rich history that the mainstream media hasn’t been able to cover in the same way.
‘God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop’ by Kathy Iandoli
She’s a veteran journalist, and Kathy Iandoli makes a good case for why women were the first people in Hip-Hop, even though they’ve had to fight for their own attention. Throughout the book, the author talks about the women in the music industry, from Cindy Campbell’s sister, Kool Herc’s, to Debbie D of Us Girls, whose movie, Beat Street, was based on her. The book also talks about the word “bitch,” which is used in a fair way. In order to finally have a book that talks about the four-decade history of women in Hip-Hop, Iandoli wrote God Save the Queens. Ironically, in order for women in Hip-Hop to finally be held in the same regard as men, we had to single them out to show off their achievements. I’m proud to be the person who wrote that. The book is clearly written by someone who loves Hip-Hop and wants to set some records straight. It should be on the bookshelves of anyone who wants to learn more about Hip-hidden Hop’s heroes.
‘Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sports’ by Barbara Smith
It’s not about the music, but no one can argue about how important these two brands were to the look of classic HH in the past. In this book, you’ll learn about two German brothers who fought behind the brands. If you’re into history, this is a great book for you to read!