A Hip-Hop Booklist

These fiction, poetry, and nonfiction titles will engage casual readers and hip-hop aficionados alike.


These fiction, poetry, and nonfiction titles will engage casual readers and hip-hop aficionados alike, delving into the genre’s multilayered origins in rap, rhythm and soul, poetry, and other influences. The authors will have your head bobbing, toes tapping, and fingers digging in the crates for songs from the not-too-distant past.



Elementary Nonfiction

Weatherford, Carole Boston. The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop. Illus. by Frank Morrison. Little Bee/Bonnier. 2019.
This outstanding picture book explores the origins and the “pillars” of hip-hop: graffiti, break dancing, rapping, and DJing. The lyrical, sparse text and colorful illustrations reminiscent of urban street art make it an ideal read for younger children and middle schoolers alike. Weatherford helps readers connect the dots on the historical time line of hip-hop, noting the influences of rhythm and soul, along with older poets on the genre.


Middle Grade Fiction

Zoboi, Ibi. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich. Dutton. 2019.
Ebony-Grace Norfleet is a young girl from Huntsville, Alabama, who is staying with her father in New York City for the summer. Her love of NASA and Star Trek make her an outsider among kids steeped in the newly emerging culture of hip-hop. Her summer ends up being a cosmic mash-up of broken friendships, break-dance crews, and epic rap battles, enlightening readers along the way about the rise of hip-hop.


YA Fiction

Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. HarperTeen. 2018.
Xiomara, who calls herself the Poet X, adds meaning to life by putting pen to paper. Although the 16-year-old’s passion is poetry, the lyrics of hip-hop give color to her world. The connection between hip-hop and slam poetry is highlighted brilliantly in this Printz Award winner.

Giles, Lamar. Spin. Scholastic. 2019.
Social media’s role in how a rap artist achieves stardom takes center stage in this novel. DJ Parsec is a hip-hop artist known for her unique sound and her ability to rock a party. Her star is just beginning to rise when she is tragically murdered. Her two best friends—enemies of each other—must put aside their differences to find her killer.

Jackson, Tiffany D. Let Me Hear a Rhyme. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. 2019.
Steph, a young Brooklyn rapper, wants to use his rhymes to elevate rap and his people, but he is murdered before his first single is released. His two best friends and his sister dive into a dangerous rap game to make him a star—pretending he’s still alive. The crack epidemic’s effect on the culture of hip-hop is skillfully portrayed in this novel.


Morrow, Bethany. Take the Mic: Fictional Stories of Everyday Resistance. Arthur A. Levine. 2019.
This YA anthology of resistance includes works by Jason Reynolds, Laura Silverman, Samira Ahmed, and others. The short stories address consent, religion, and racism, just as hip-hop did in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The book will encourage youth to grab a megaphone and share their concerns with the world.

Thomas, Angie. On the Come Up. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. 2019.
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be a rapper. She uses hip-hop to deal with the pain of her father’s untimely death, her unstable housing situation, and to give voice to the racial profiling and assault she experiences at the hands of white security guards at school. Bri struggles while pushing fast for stardom, but ultimately finds her voice.

Woods, Jamila, ed. BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic. Haymarket. April 2018.
This collection of blistering poems explores the beauty and complications of being black and female. More than 60 writers address racism, colorism, misogyny, and the hip-hop industry’s dearth of black female voices.



(all titles are adult, but suitable for YA readers)

Abdurraqib, Hanif. Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest. U. T. Press. 2019.

A treatise on the origins of hip-hop highlights A Tribe Called Quest’s influence on hip-hop culture. Abdurraqib dives deep into the creation of beats and sounds that were manipulated to help hip-hop artists stand out in a crowded music industry. The book skillfully exposes the origins of East Coast—West Coast rivalry in the industry and the emergence of Southern hip-hop.

Baker, Soren. The History of Gangster Rap: from Schoolly D to Kendrick Lamar: The Rise of a Great American Art Form. Abrams Image. 2018.

Readers learn about the rise of gangster rap in New York City before it migrated to the West Coast, spawning superstars such as Easy E, Dr. Dre, Ice T, and Ice Cube. The narrative of hip-hop unfolds alongside accounts of concurrent cultural shifts. Written in the style of album liner notes.


Common. Let Love Have the Last Word: A Memoir. Atria. 2019.
This book is Common’s (Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn) take on his evolution as a hip-hop artist, father, and son. His love of the genre and the elements of the craft are clearly evident in each chapter. Making music is not just Common’s profession, it’s also a place where he finds solace.

Day, Daniel R. Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir. Random. 2019.
Fashion designer Dapper Dan is a self-made man who rode the tide of hip-hop into the upper echelons of rap royalty. His book catalogs his beginnings as a street hustler, dresser of pimps and gangsters, and later of hip-hop artists looking to boost their reputations. His quick mind and savvy business sense helped the designer navigate legal battles with fashion executives. He credits his success to a devotion to learning and reading.

Mane, Gucci. The Autobiography of Gucci Mane. S. & S. 2017.
An autobiography that follows the evolution of Radric Delantic Davis (Gucci Mane) from drug dealer to rap mogul and influencer. His story offers insight into the music industry’s connection to the drug trade and the rise of Southern rappers.

Ross, Rick & Neil Martinez-Belkin. Hurricanes: A Memoir. Hanover Square. 2019.
William Leonard Roberts II, also known as Rick Ross, is a drug dealer turned rapper from Miami. In this account, Ross chronicles the perils of collaborating with other rap artists, beat makers, and music labels, along with his legal battles. The book provides the context for his rise to superstardom and his place in the hip-hop history time line.

Desiree Thomas is currently teen librarian at Old Worthington (OH) Library.

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Eric Mangol

Two other books to consider for elementary and middle school readers is "What is Hip-Hop?" by Eric Morse and "Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat" edited by Nikki Giovanni.

Posted : Jan 10, 2020 01:06



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