Off the Shelf: Three Books That Changed My Life

According to my elementary school social studies class, the most crucial indicators of civilization are language, art, and literature.  Depending on whom you ask, the measure of a person’s cultural currency is directly related to the music they listen to and the books they read.  The music part is relatively easy; social networks, blogs, digital music sharing and streaming platforms, and good old fashioned word of mouth keep us in the know and ensure that a steady flow of fresh sounds finds its way into our headphones.  The books, maybe not so much.  With the shuttering of major and locally-owned book retailers around the country, the days of hitting up a bookstore and browsing for hours (one of my favorite past times) have become fewer and further between; even with the rise of e-readers and the vast collections of books now available in digital form, there still may be titles we miss every now and again.  This is especially true when it comes to books that take a more critical or analytical view of music as it relates to race, class, and politics.

If you’re a frequent visitor to, then there’s no doubt you’re up on the latest artists bringing new vision to the soul, R&B, and hip hop landscape and beyond.  While you’re treating your senses to some of that sweet ear candy, kick it up a notch with one (or all) of the titles below, each of which comes highly recommended by yours truly.  Check it out:

Right to Rock The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race by Maureen Mahon

Published in 2004, Right to Rock details the creation, vision, and groundbreaking work of the Black Rock Coalition, founded in New York City in 1985 by journalist Greg Tate, guitarist Vernon Reid (of Living Colour), and producer Konda Mason.  In addition to giving readers an intimate exposition of the BRC, Right shines a spotlight on black rock groups and artists and the black rock n roll movement, which has been largely ignored and abandoned even by mainstream African American popular culture.   Fans of bands like Living Colour, Fishbone, and Bad Brains will find this book an essential addition to their bookshelves, while those for whom these bands and this genre may not be as familiar will certainly learn something new about the diverse entity we call “Black music”.  (Duke University Press)

I Got Thunder: Black Women Songwriters on Their Craft by LaShonda Barnett

Sarah Lawrence College professor LaShonda Barnett dives into the beautiful world of lyric craft in this exquisite collection of interviews with some of the most beloved African American women musicians and artists of all time.  From Abbey Lincoln to Toshi Reagon; Miriam Makeba to Chaka Khan; and Dionne Warwick to Joan Armatrading, Barnett talks one on one to these women about the art of songwriting, the struggles they face as women in the music business, life lessons gleaned from falling and rising, and the myriad inspirations that led them to music in the first place.  As a songwriter, this book grabbed me by the heart as I found kindred spirits among these brilliant women of song.  Anyone with a love and appreciation for the artists profiled in the book will enjoy their stories.   (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2007)

Hip Hop’s Inheritance: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Feminist Hip Hop Movement by Reiland Rabaka

There have been numerous tomes devoted to hip-hop as a cultural phenomenon, and several which seek to study hip-hop from a critical cultural perspective.  To that list add University of Colorado, Boulder professor Dr. Reiland Rabaka’s 2011 release, which offers readers an in-depth discussion of hip-hop’s roots in earlier African American popular art forms and socio/political urgencies, but takes the conversation even further by addressing the role women have played and continue to play in the hip-hop movement.  With the intricacies of gender often being downplayed or polarized in many debates and dialogues about hip-hop culture and its far-reaching global influence, Hip Hop’s Inheritance blends issues of gender, race, and creative aesthetics with the author’s profound love and respect for the art form from both an historical and contemporary point of view.   You remember when you fell in love with hip-hop.  Now, be reminded why. (Lexington Books)

 –Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter from Dallas, TX.  Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, and follow her on Facebook at and on Twitter @wildhoneyrock.






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