I’ve come across several booklists about music and, unsurprisingly, it’s mostly pop stars that you hear on that pop music station that you avoid unless they play your favorite song. Rarely do I come across a list of books that center on hip-hop, R&B and urban pop stars. That makes me sad because hip-hop and urban musicians have made a huge impact on American and International pop culture. Don’t believe me? Just open up Tik-Tok and scroll. Between hip-hop dances, old school hip-hop fashion and AAVE (African American Vernacular English) it’s hard to dismiss the dominance of Black music artists in America.
But even with all the proof, some people still don’t consider Black music as authentic music. Hip-hop is a global influence that started with Black and Latine kids from inner cities. Arguably, you can draw a lot of similarities between hip-hop, disco and jazz — all American phenomena pioneered by Black musicians. Even with that working knowledge, as a reader and music lover, I would love to see more books about the lives of hip-hop and R&B sensations. So, I figured there was no time like now. I’ve gathered a handful of books about BIPOC musicians from several musical genres (both fiction and non-fiction) for you to enjoy.
Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas
Finally, a comprehensive book that serves as part biography, part musical history of the producer known to the world as J Dilla. While he wasn’t a household name like The Neptunes or Diddy, his impact on hip-hop, specifically the neo-soul movement will never be forgotten. His beats and productions have produced many hits for artists such as Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Q-Tip. This book illustrates the late musician’s process of creating music while shining light on the personal life of James Yancey.
Music Is History by Questlove
Superstar drummer Questlove is probably the biggest music nerd in the music industry. In this book, Questlove examines modern music as well as how pop culture has influenced music since the ‘70s. Exploring sub-genres like blaxploitation and American politics, this book serves as a reference for how urban music has shaped and highlighted the concept of what Black identity and genius is.
Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band by Christian Staebler, Sonia Paoloni, and Thibault Balahy
Arguably America’s most famous Indigenous band, this graphic novel paints the sacrifice and politics of Redbone. Known for their hit song “Come and Get Your Love,” Redbone made it a mission to use music as a vehicle to stand up for Native American people and social justice during the Civil Rights Movement. Even though their songs seem to be more popular than the band itself, this graphic novel depicts all the challenges the group faced to get their music and message heard to the public.
Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston by Gerrick Kennedy
If you are a Whitney Houston fan, you are going to want this book. This book gives insight to her rise to stardom and how she felt once Black fans started to turn their back on her. Eventually, she overcame that but she couldn’t shake all of her demons.
Hendrix: Electric Requiem by by Mattia Colombara and Gianluca Maconi (May 31)
Calling all Jimi Hendrix fans! This beautiful graphic novel will make the perfect gift for a Hendrix or music fan in general. The graphic novel depicts the guitar legend’s life from his home in the south to his stardom. Hendrix never forgot where he came from and it has always reflected in his music.
Chronicling Stankonia by Regina N. Bradley
Unlike other books on this list, this book is written for academic purposes. Dr. Regina N. Bradley does an amazing job of reminding us how important the south is to hip-hop culture. Outkast remains one of the best groups in hip-hop and what makes them even more special is that they are from the dirty south. Bradley challenges us to acknowledge how southern culture influences Black identity and music.
Hip-Hop: A Cultural Odyssey by Jordan Sommers
Talk about the biggest, heaviest hip-hop book you’ve ever seen! I received this book for my birthday and it’s the size of a coffee table. Filled with billboard-sized images from some of hip hop’s notable photographers and unreleased interviews from hip hop journalists, this book is for all the die-hard fans.
Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah by Kathy Iandoli
If you grew up when Aaliyah was alive you were probably a high fan of hers. Beautiful, talented and mysterious, the late R&B singer was just as cool as she was talented. While her short life was filled with scandals, her imprint on music, fashion and film continues to live on to this day.
Dreamgirl: My Life As a Supreme by Mary Wilson
When the late Mary Wilson released this book in the 1980s, it was the most talked-about book in urban media. The Supremes were the best-selling girl group of all time. However, with their success came trouble and heartbreak, and Wilson tells it all unapologetically.
One Love by Cedella Marley
Bob Marley made such an impact on reggae music. He was able to bring reggae to the international stage and extend Black diaspora musical genius. In this children’s book, the story uses one of his most famous songs to spread a positive message about self-love and acceptance of others.
MPLS Sound by Hannibal Tabu, Joseph Phillip Illidge, and Meredith Laxton
If you or someone you know loves Prince, they will enjoy this comic. Set in Minneapolis, a fictitious group named Starchild aspires to be the next big musical act in town. But the bar is set pretty high, especially when the most popular musician on the planet lives near them.
Queen of Urban Prophecy by Aya de Leon
There’s no secret that the hip-hop industry thrives on perpetuating misogyny and sexism. Deza is a rapper and once she snaps a chance to headline an all-female MC tour, she starts to see more opportunities. Suddenly, her career begins to fall apart because men in the industry constantly undermine her. Even though this isn’t a true story, it’s about time for hip-hop to have its own #MeToo movement.
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