I posted a review of The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop, by Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison, on Goodreads, and I’m expanding on it slightly below.
I was excited about this book and assumed I would love it because of the subject matter, but I guess I’m a little disappointed and feel the need to talk about it.
For readers who don’t already know much of this history (which I assume is going to be most children who encounter this book, including those who are fans of contemporary rap and hip hop)1 the text moves so quickly and resorts to so much listing and name-checking without context that they will likely need to go to some other sources if they want to actually make any sense out of it. (Like maybe the book should come with a link to a YouTube playlist or something? At least a bibliography or discography.) There are moments in which it gives off a vibe that you should just already know these things, and if you don’t you should be a little embarrassed to raise your hand and ask, which in my opinion isn’t a great vibe for a children’s book.
On the other hand, for older readers and actual hip hop heads that do know, the illustrations will be perfect but I think the text reads kind of corny, while the back matter is extremely dry. Maybe I’m overthinking this or expecting too much, and the main point of this book is actually just for kids to flip through and look at the awesome pictures. And if they are interested in hip hop it works fine for that. It is just slightly frustrating when there are so many great stories that could be shared from the history of hip hop, but this book hardly gives readers a single hook into learning or exploring more about any of it. It also makes me wish that some actual rappers would write some children’s books about rap (and about everything else, for that matter.)
For better context, pair this with When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop (a great example of a specific engaging story from the early days of Hip Hop) or the Hip Hop Family Tree graphic novels (although I can’t remember whether those are particularly kid-friendly) to give a peak into some of those stories. And if you want to hear the actual music, since the book doesn’t reference any kind of playlist, these yearly History of Hip Hop mixes are one great resource.
- As evidence of just how obscure this history is, here is Lil Yachty, not just a casual young fan but an established recording artist in contemporary rap, essentially claiming he doesn’t know or care much about rap history: https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7487023/lil-yachty-interview-fall-preview