Celebrating Top Books about Hip-Hop History and Culture for National Reading Month

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March is National Reading Month and what better way to celebrate than reading about the music you already love? Check out our roundup of some of the best books about hip-hop history, culture, and the people who shaped it all!

The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop by Jonathan Abrams

A genre essential, Jonathan Abrams tells the story of five decades of hip-hop using over three hundred interviews conducted over three years with the DJs, executives, producers, and artists who both witnessed and themselves forged the history of hip-hop. 

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Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley

Many argue that hip-hop is modern day poetry and in this book, author Adam Bradley examines rap history’s top artists through a literary lens and argues that we must understand rap as a complex craft and its own genre of poetry.

LL COOL J Presents The Streets Win: 50 Years of Hip-Hop Greatness by LL Cool J, Vikki Tobak, and Alec Banks 

In this visual masterpiece, LL Cool J teams up with journalist Vikki Tobak and Rock The Bells’ editorial director Alec Banks to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop, blending together exclusive interviews and stunning imagery in what might be one of the genre’s must-own books.

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang (with an introduction by DJ Kool Herc)

Most people think history books are dry and boring, but not this one! In what Amazon calls “a powerful cultural and social history of the end of the American century, and a provocative look into the new world that the hip-hop generation created,” Jeff Chang explores the history of hip-hop not just from a musical perspective, but also analyzes the impact that it has had on American culture, politics, and society over the past five years. 

Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap by Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar

This W. E. B. Du Bois Book Award winner takes a deep dive into hip-hop’s essential character, exploring its roots as well as its ever-changing sense of identity and impact on American culture.

The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop by Clover Hope and illustrated by Rachel Baker

What better way to celebrate Women’s Month than with this custom illustrated book that showcases over a hundred women in hip-hop including pioneers such as Roxanne Shanté, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and more, as well as more current artists like Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, and Lizzo. Combined with amazing artist renderings of each piece, this book describes the women who have helped make the hip-hop genre what it is, while describing how they eschewed gender and cultural norms in the process.

The History of Hip Hop by Eric Reese

The first of a three-part volume series, this book explores a different aspect of the genre’s vivid voice including its musical origins, the hip-hop vs. rap debate, subgenres within the hip-hop genre, and how hip-hop influenced art, culture, fashion, and ultimately, global history.

Icons of Hip Hop: An Encyclopedia of the Movement, Music, and Culture by Mickey Hess

A true encyclopedia, this reference guide provides an in-depth coverage of some of hip-hop’s most influential individuals and the role that they played in shaping hip-hop music and culture. Throughout the book, sidebars highlight things such as artist rivalries, geographic influence, public scandals, legal challenges, the impact that technology had on the genre, and how elements of hip-hop were inspired by the icons mentioned in the book.

God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop by Kathy Iandoli

Another book that focuses on females in the genre, this book highlights the important role that women have played in making hip-hop what it is today while exploring issues of gender, money, sexuality, violence, body image, feuds, objectification and more within the industry. 

Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by Vikki Tobak and forward by Questlove 

A must-own for hip-hop heads, this picture book, which was rated one of Amazon, NPR, Pitchfork, and TIME’s 25 Best Photobooks of 2018, uses BTS photos (from analog times to digital days) from over  100 photoshoots alongside interviews and essays from industry legends to take readers on a chronological journey from hip-hop’s earliest days to modern times. 

Bonus: Vikki Tobak is also the author of 

Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History, a visual masterpiece that explores how artists have used jewelry as a form of expression within the hip-hop genre.

Artist-centric books and biographies:

There are also dozens of artist biographies and books that focus on an individual artist including The Gucci Mane Guide to Greatness, It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him, Decoded (Jay-Z autobiography), The Rose That Grew From Concrete (collection of Tupac’s previously unpublished poetry), The RZA, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane, The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle, Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller, Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography, Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm, E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography of DMX, Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem, and many more.

While there are too many books to mention here, American Urban Radio Network has a great list of ten books to check out

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