It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know your roots. From the birth of rap through its early days of evolution, much has been written by and about the musical masters of Hip-Hop. In the words of KRS-One, “You must learn.”
How did today’s street poet laureates come to be? Find out the real deal on their life stories through the power of their own pens. There’s no time like the present to beef up your brain and home library with recommended reads about rhymes and life. Now that Hip-Hop’s 45 years old, it’s high time to get started on some pertinent summer reading.
One Day It’ll All Make Sense by Common
Told with the same rhythm and candor you’d expect from Common, the story of Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn Jr. growing up on Chicago’s South Side shows range and depth. Who else would have their mother write the forward and share stories throughout? This 322-page tome, written by the rapper-actor-activist himself, is spiritual, uplifting, and heartfelt.
Decoded by JAY-Z
JAY-Z breaks down the stories behind the rhymes while imparting hard-won wisdom that should be music to the ears of any artist or entrepreneur. Decoded is not a blueprint for success but rather intimate thoughts shared by a billionaire rapper who renders the story of his upbringing in the Marcy Houses housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, like it was yesterday. In it, he offers these words: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Draw your own conclusions.
Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
This is a collage-style creation told in an informal yet entertaining way, which might be expected from the drummer of Jimmy Fallon’s TV house band. But those in the know regard him as the Grammy Award–winning co-frontman of the Roots. Questlove begins his story from his upbringing in 1970s West Philly as the son of a 1950s doo-wop singer, always unafraid to question himself along the way (which he does throughout) to founding the Roots, aka the last Hip-Hop band on Earth.
From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens by 50 Cent With Kris Ex
Even in book form, Curtis James Jackson III embodies the sentiment of his well-known lyric “Get rich or die tryin’.” His story begins back in the time B.C. (before crack), giving us the lowdown on other successful Queens inhabitants he calls “notable Negroes” before showing us to a shotgun seat to his days of hustling drugs, dodging bullets (there’s still a fragment lodged in his tongue), running from cops, and a serendipitous meeting with Jam Master Jay. The beefs, the boasts, the bulletproof vests are all here, but his book The 50th Law, written with Robert Greene, best-selling author of The 48 Laws of Power, might appeal more to those interested in succeeding in business.
The Tao of Wu by RZA
Part self-help prescriptive, part spiritual guide full of hood lessons, RZA’s recollections of life growing up in “at least 10 different projects” never devolve into self-pity. Instead, he whisks us to places that enlighten us about the Wudang Mountains in China, mud huts in Africa, film directors in Hollywood, and world religions, proving that the author is, as he says, “always down to learn.”
Gone ’Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island by Lil Wayne
Young Weezy’s prison diary offers a glimpse of the real human behind the bravado. He experienced his first taste of fatherhood from a phone while behind bars and rapped with fellow inmates, all while earning an estimated $20 million from carefully planned record releases.
My Infamous Life: The Autobiography of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy by Albert “Prodigy” Johnson and Laura Checkoway
Prodigy opens up about his time with Mobb Deep, and before that, his childhood of privilege, and a family tragedy. It’s a New York story best enjoyed on audiobook, in the author’s own voice.
Diary of Madman: The Geto Boys, Life, Death, and the Roots of Southern Rapby Brad “Scarface” Jordan and Benjamin Meadows-Ingram
Geto Boys’ rapper Scarface pulls no punches in telling how Hip-Hop changed the life of this kid from Houston’s South Side. He recounts how he went from being “another nigga with no father” to attempting suicide as a youth to becoming the Godfather of Southern Rap. The voice feels real and raw, just like you’d expect from the mastermind behind hits like “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”
The Way I Am by Eminem with Sacha Jenkins
Marshall Mathers takes us from his school lunchroom rap battles to the stories behind his hit songs, allowing readers to roll with D12 and analyze his Slim Shady persona for themselves, all mixed with photos, lyric scribblings, and an homage to his homie, Detroit rapper Proof.
Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva! by Big Freedia with Nicole Balin
How did a self-described “fat sissy” find salvation in church, survive Hurricane Katrina, and come to rule the New Orleans Bounce scene? It’s a wild story of contradictions, as only an alt-rap superhero can tell it.
* Banner Image: 50 Cent with his book "From Pieces to Weight" in New York City / Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage