Over the years I’ve become a late-blooming hip hop head. There are some folks who can give you the time, the place and the name of the sandwich they were eating when the very first rap recording in history ever came out (for the record, I’m not 100% sure where to find the answer to that query). Either way I’ve really come to develop a great love, respect and admiration for the artform…and I’ve got my public library to thank for that.
What? There’s no rapping in libraries! Wouldn’t you get kicked out if you tried to break dance on a table? That’s not exactly what I meant, but nonetheless I’ve been able to explore the music of a wide variety of artists here at DCPL (Spoil-Sport Alert: most if not all of the library’s collection of rap albums are edited…so if you listen to rap just for profanity you may be a bit let down). In addition to the Library’s quite impressive collection of hip hop music, there are also incredible books here about the history and origins of hip-hop culture, the artform of rap music, and its impact on the world at large.
One incredible glimpse into the world of hip hop music is the book Decoded by Jay-Z, one of hip-hop’s most prolific, critically-acclaimed and widely recognized artists. His book is more than a biography of his life and times but it is also a compelling and insightful tribute to a genre of music that continues to expand and evolve. Reading Decoded has inspired me to give Jay-Z’s music a second listen (and to reach into his back catalog for some of his earliest music). It’s worth noting that this is the first book that I’ve ever read in digital format—I read it on my iPhone using the Kindle app and checked it out in eBook format through the Library’s digital downloads page. It was an appropriate way to read this book—all the better to listen to Jay-Z’s music while reading about the experiences and the culture that inspired his lyrics. Reading his book has given me a greater appreciation for his talents as a lyricist and an artist. Also I’ve been inspired to check out the other great hip-hop artists name-checked by Jay in this book—as icons, contemporaries or, in some cases, as rivals.
In addition to Decoded, the Library has an extensive collection of books exploring the artform of rap music and hip hop culture. To list all that the Library has to offer would take more time and space than I’ve got here but there are a few that I’d like to mention here:
Know What I Mean? Reflections on Hip Hop by Michael Eric Dyson: I truly enjoyed the great critical analysis and earnest insight on hip hop music and culture that Dyson offers in his book.
Beats, Rhymes and Life: What We Love And Hate About Hip Hop edited by Kenji Jasper and Ytasha Womack: This is a really good compilation of essays by hip hop journalists and notable writers. Like the aforementioned Dyson, the editors of Beats, Rhymes and Life are hip hop fans, writing passionately and openly about an artform that they cherish.
Other People’s Property: A Shadow History Of Hip Hop In White America by Jason Tanz: Author Jason Tanz explores the opportunities and implications of hip hop music’s journey from the inner city to Middle America in this fascinating book.