Raising my son, Elan, has been a truly educational experience (also fun, scary, hard, or easy depending on what stage he and I happened to be in at the time). In some ways, he has qualities that remind me of myself and there are other parts that seem directly attributable to his dad. And then there are other things that are totally and uniquely his. One of those is his love of performing and specifically making hip hop music. I am simply in awe of Elan - he has been able to "work a crowd" since he was in middle school and his live performances have only become more and more inspiring over the years.
I’ve been asked to find books on hip-hop for numerous patrons so I decided to have a list of the best books on this subject ready for the next time I’m asked. I thought Elan would be my best source for coming up with a definitive list from the MCL catalog and in the course of formulating his list, he also wrote a brief essay on how he developed his love for hip-hop music.
Guest blogger Elan: From casual listener to hip-hop addict
When I first began listening to hip-hop at around eight, my drive may have been to distance myself from my parents’ music: The Beatles, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc. My classmates were discovering that the radio contained a station that played exactly what they wanted - the mainstream rap of the late 90s. These were good days.
It cannot be understated how much of an effect our peers truly have during adolescence. Three of my friends were making the leap from listener to participant and between rapping, beat making, and DJing, they had half the elements of hip-hop covered by sixth grade. A pivotal album was heard that year, Blazing Arrow, by the duo Blackalicious. We were blown away by the originality, the musicality of Chief Excel's production, Gift of Gab's insane lyrical dexterity, and the cohesiveness of the album itself. After only a single listen, we knew that contributing to this art form would be a life-long love affair.
In high school, making music became our escape from the mundane curriculum we were subjected to. It became my only creative outlet as we began putting on local shows for our peers. Although I was actively seeking out new artists to enjoy and learn from, my hip-hop education came from Vursatyl and Rev. Shines of the Portland hip-hop trio, The Lifesavas. Vursatyl and Shines held an afterschool class at Jefferson High School called You Must Learn. That's when I began studying the rich history of this culture. Books like Jeff Chang’s, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, and the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, helped me realize how BIG this thing we call Hip-Hop truly is.
These days I’m still making music, still reading, still putting on local shows, and I’m harnessing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment through my work with the non-profit, The Morpheus Youth Project.
If you’d like to do your own exploration of hip-hop culture, check out some of these books.