So what have you done this year? Read any good books?
As the end of 2011 is approaching, we tend to look back and reminisce about what has happened this year. It’s also when the “Best Of” lists start to form. They usually come on television or publications counting down “The Best Songs of 2011” or “The Biggest Disasters of 2011”. You get the idea. Well, we have our own list. We at Soul Train decided to come out with “The Hip-Hop Books of 2011”. From Russell Simmon’s Super Rich to Prodigy’s My Infamous Life, we will review what has become a growing entertainment industry, Hip-Hop Books.
Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label
Looking through Def Jam Recordings is similar to reminiscing about our own past. Anyone who has grown up on hip-hop has watched the iconic label grow up. We can always recall what we were doing the moment we heard a certain song for the first time. From Rick Rubin’s dorm room to dubbing Russell Simmons as the “Godfather of Hip-Hop”, the book holds 20+ years worth of memories. DJR includes their all-star roster – Slick Rick, LL Cool J, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Kevin Liles, and Lyor Cohen. It’s filled with their photos and personal tales of the good times and the obstacles. It’s a rich history. Not to mention paying homage to Def Jam, who helped mold hip-hop, is way past due and much deserved.
Personal Favorite: Recalling Rubin and Simmons started Def Jam for their love of hip-hop, not for money, and seeing what it has become today.
One Day It’ll All Make Sense
(Common and Adam Bradley)
This is an introspective memoir into the life of Rashid Lynn, a man most of us know as Common, the conscious rapper who created “Retrospect for Life” and the greatest concept song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” The rapper/actor brings us deeper than ever in his New York Times Bestseller. From his troubled yet stable youth to his lifelong friends, he tells us his story of love, tragedy, and success. This is Common’s, or rather Rashid’s, story of becoming the man he is today and exposing a sincerely beautiful soul.
Personal Favorite: Common writes personal letters baring his soul to those closest to him, including his mother Dr. Mahalia Ann Brown, father Lonnie Lynn, daughter Omeye, Erykah Badu, and the late, great J. Dilla.
In the hip-hop industry, rappers usually fight to stay on top. No one ever volunteers to leave the game. But J-Zone is not like any other rapper. This is an analytical man. He has studied the hip-hop world and probably understands it more than most people out there. Root for the Villain highlights J-Zone’s life, but it’s his outrageous tone and blunt honesty that makes the book such a great read. It’s not another “I-made-it-and-this-is-my-story” book. It’s more about another side – one that’s not popularized in hip-hop. His description – “I witnessed my life-long passion for music dissolve in 12 hours and my final album sell a whooping 47 copies in its first month for sale. I left my little-known spot in a small, niche quadrant of the hip-hop world and joined my fellow overqualified stiffs with useless college degrees in the world of dead-end jobs.”
Personal Favorite: This is one of the realest stories ever. It’s easy to see the glitz and glamour when making it in the music industry, but J-Zone tells what happens when things don’t work out. Even though he tends to carry a mocking tone, J-Zone is inspiring and is not afraid to tell you about the highlights, mistakes, and letdowns.
(Russell Simmons and Chris Morrow)
No, this book is not about getting money. It’s about being rich in life. Material things do not determine our happiness. It’s something we obtain within ourselves. Yoga and eating organically are vital to being “super rich” as we should always take care of our bodies. Clearing out the noise and meditating to free our minds gives us the ability to be completely present. We shouldn’t be expecting the past to repeat or constantly looking towards the future as our lives are happening right now, in the present. These are the things we should work towards to be rich in life. One of the most important, yet difficult, aspects to one’s personal transformation is to let go of the results. Just enjoy the work and if you don’t love it, leave it alone. Yes, I realize that’s easy for a rich guy like Russell Simmons to say, but it is true and a possible, gradual change.
Personal Favorite: The one thing Russell does is uplift. His tactics to live a better life is honest, relatable, and right to the point. I have practiced them and have not looked back!
(Prodigy, Laura Checkoway)
Like his raps, Prodigy doesn’t hold anything back in his story. The gritty details of his beef with CNN (Capone-N-Noreaga), countless fights, arrests, and many infidelities are all documented in this no-holds-barred book. By his grandmother, Prodigy was born in privilege and as a youth, surrounded by music royalty, such as Diana Ross. Yet, when hit with a family strife, he found solace in his raps and in hip-hop. His relationship with Mobb Deep rhyme partner, Havoc, has survived the craziness and hardships of the music game, not to mention their personal strains. Rapping for decades and respected by the industry, Prodigy still stands strong. My Infamous Life is portrays a true fighter with a heck of a story to tell.
Personal Favorite: Prodigy divulges details of his personal encounters, positive and negative, with well-known figures in the music industry. He’s not trying to keep it politically correct at all. He’s just telling his story like it is.
You may have seen Justin Bua’s work. The print of his painting “The DJ” has been selling crazy units at Target for years. In his book, Bua features his top 50 most influential hip-hop figures, which are accompanied by how each artist influenced him. The talented artist exaggerates features, such as Snoop’s extended profile and neck, in every one of his pieces. It’s a way to identify his work. Well, that, and his intricate details as shown in portrait of Jay-Z slouching in his throne on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a great book for those who love art and hip-hop. Justin Bua is ill with his style. “Likeness is great, but it’s secondary. I want to capture what’s beneath the surface. That’s dangerous.”
Personal Favorite: I’ve eyed Bua’s DJ piece at Target for a minute. It catches the eye because the fingers are so exaggerated. The same trademark is there with his portraits of the Hip-Hop artists. Even though some with “fragile egos” have asked the artist to tweak his pictures, he keeps his style true to himself. It’s refreshing.
Hip-Hop Books to look for in 2012:
Drake – Drake: Fame (his bio in comic book form)
M.K. Asante Jr. – Buck
Jennifer Hudson – I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down
Jewell Caples – My Blood, My Sweat, My Tears
Soul Train Hip Hop Gallery to see photos of a few Legends of Hip Hop that have performed on Soul Train over the years.
Zoey Flowers is a freelance writer and Hip Hop lover. She was a representative for various major record labels and has contributed to other music websites, television, and radio shows. Follow her on Twitter @zoeyflowers