15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

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Add these books to your summer reading list.

Now that hip hop is over four decades old, a wealth of essential stories and criticism surrounding the genre has been made available at your local bookstore.

Although it can be tempting to skip past its storied foundation and dive deep into curated playlists to discover the next buzzing rapper, much to the demise of hip-hop's older generation, it's never to late to listen to the sage advice of those who conquered prior and take some time to "do the knowledge."

This article explores 15 important titles from hip hop's rich body of secondary literature, from volumes like Decoded, which unpacks the lyrical brilliance of Jay Z, KRS-One's The Gospel of Hip-Hop, which drawing from philosophy and religion to show how hip-hop is much deeper than just the music, to newer published works such as radio personality Charlamagne Tha God's new best-seller Black Privilege, which posits a new roadmap to success as a man of color, and Shea Serrano's The Rap Yearbook, which breaks down hip hop's history one influential hit single at a time.

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Decoded - Jay Z, dream hampton

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

1. Decoded - Jay Z, dream hampton

Decoded is a rare gem of a book in which Jay Z, one of the celebrated lyricists of all-time, breaks down a carefully curated collection of his songs and explains the meaning and inspiration behind them. The book weaves autobiographical information and lyrical annotations; according to Hov himself, his intention behind writing such a stylized book was to argue that hip hop lyrics are poetry in their own right and to tell a generational story of perseverance to which anyone can relate.

The Big Payback - Dan Charnas

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

2. The Big Payback - Dan Charnas 

While researching his 645-page leviathan The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. author Dan Charnas conducted over 300 interviews with record executives, artists, producers, radio hosts, DJs, journalists, managers and other music industry veterans over a four-year period. The book also serves as the direct inspiration for the VH1 series The Breaks, which Charnas co-created and executive produces.

Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists - Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabe Alvarez, Brent Rollins, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

3. Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists - Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabe Alvarez, Brent Rollins, Chairman Mao, Gabriel Alvarez

Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists has been praised as an irreverent and easily digestible encyclopedia of hip hop knowledge. Much like its title suggests, the book is a compilation of lists created by various authors, ranging from the Ego Trip staff to renowned artists like Chuck D and Biz Markie.

 

The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed - Shea Serrano

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

4. The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed - Shea Serrano

In The Rap Year Book, Shea Serrano takes the reader from 1979 to the present day and makes the case for the most influential song released each year. With illustrations by Arturo Torres and a forward by Ice Cube, the book also features infographics, lyrics, informative footnotes and counterpoints from other esteemed music writers.

The Wu-Tang Manual - RZA, Chris Norris

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

5. The Wu-Tang Manual - RZA, Chris Norris

RZA's first book, The Wu-Tang Manual, is an introduction to the philosophy and history behind the Wu-Tang Clan. The book showcases the influence Asian culture has had on the iconic rap group, detailing how a love for kung-fu movies quickly grew into a serious study of martial arts and Eastern philosophy and spirituality, all of which is reflected in their legendary discography. The Wu-Tang Manual is divided into four books of nine chambers each and features key information about the multifaceted universe of the Wu-Tang Clan.

The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument - KRS One

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

6. The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument - KRS-One

The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument is KRS-One's philosophical masterpiece that explores hip hop as a way of life. The book, which spans over 800 pages, is modeled after the Christian bible and explores deeper spirituality and divinity of hip hop culture as a new religion. "The Teacha" also explains how one can change their current circumstances to build a future that has Health, Love, Awareness and Wealth (H-LAW) at its core.

Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation - Jeff Chang

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

7. Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation - Jeff Chang

Can't Stop, Won't Stop chronicles hip hop's formative years and humble beginnings, featuring portraits of some of the genre's most integral key figures, such as DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, Ice Cube and more. The book ties together numerous interviews from a variety of subjects, including graffiti artists, gang members, rappers, activists and DJs. Chang has been praised for the book's extensive research and top-tier writing.

The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop--and Why It Matters - Tricia Rose

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

8. The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop, and Why It Matters - Tricia Rose

In Hip Hop Wars. Tricia Rose argues that the genre of rap music has become the primary way to talk about race in America. She also analyzes the controversial aspects of hip hop, critically discussing both sides of each presented argument. As Rose reflects on the current state of the hip hop industry, she calls for a creative and cultural renaissance.

How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop Emcee - Paul Edwards

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

9. How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop Emcee - Paul Edwards

This book is designed as a how-to, breaking down the key components of the art of rapping. Edwards called on the likes of Cypress Hill, Nelly, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, will.i.am and more to lend their expert advice about emceeing. The book focuses on key components such as delivery, content, flow and rhythm, and is a book that every aspiring rapper, could benefit from reading.

The Anthology of Rap - Adam Bradley, Andrew Lee DuBois

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

10. The Anthology of Rap - Adam Bradley, Andrew Lee DuBois 

The Anthology of Rap explores how rap was borne out of a poetic tradition. With a focus on lyricism, the book explores the beloved genre of music through a lyrical lens, drawing from over three hundred lyrics throughout the course of three decades to showcase the power that words can hold.

E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX - DMX, Smokey D. Fontaine

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

11. E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX - DMX, Smokey D. Fontaine

This autobiography is a perfect example of how hip hop can save one's life. The book takes fans through the personal journey of DMX, detailing how the now-iconic artist turned to his music to rise above the difficult hand life dealt him.

The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy - Steve Stoute, Mim Eichler Rivas

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

12. The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy - Steve Stoute, Mim Eichler Rivas

The Tanning of America focuses on the necessary understanding that corporate America needs to have in order to reach and engage its new generation of consumers. The book showcases how marketing wiz Steve Stoute has made a name for himself as someone who consistently brings his knowledge and understanding of hip-hop culture to the table in order to help brands and companies become more successful and in-tune with their target audiences. A must-read for anyone interested in hip-hop, marketing, branding, consumerism and popular culture.

The Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop - Ben Westhoff

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

13. The Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop - Ben Westhoff

This book highlights how the South is just as much a key player in rap music as the revered and rival East and West coasts. Westhoff combines being a critic of music with his knack for investigative journalism, detailing some of the South's most interesting stories, debates, beefs and culturally significant moments.

Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It - Charlamagne Tha God

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

14. Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It - Charlamagne Tha God

Black Privilege is the new book by inflammatory media personality and radio host Charlamagne Tha God. Never straying from his own authentic perspective and brutal honesty, "hip-hop's Howard Stern" draws from his own wealth of experiences to inspire others to create their own opportunities, to own their mistakes and to refuse to give up on their dreams.

The Next, Next Level: A Story of Rap, Friendship, And Almost Giving Up - Leon Neyfakh

15 Essential Reads for Hip-Hop Fans

15. The Next, Next Level: A Story of Rap, Friendship, And Almost Giving Up - Leon Neyfakh

The Next, Next Level is a novel inspired by the relatable tale of an aspiring rapper who has been trying to make it for years and is battling the uncertainty of if they ever will find success as a career musician. The book is a personable account of one rapper's hunger for fame, the everyday struggles that come with being an independent artist and the inner monologue of whether or not it will be worth it one day.

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