Books are hot right now. You read that right. Yeah, audiobooks are cool for convenience. E-books are okay. But there's nothing like keeping it classic and buying old fashioned hardcover books. Ah that new book smell. Somebody needs to bottle that. And #Bookstagram has turned the art of reading into a dreamy collage of cozy candles, tea and plants— and yes, books.
Between writing my own book Fashion Killa and my monthly fiction book club assignment (We just read Razorblade Tears. Highly recommend), I don't get to read that many other music nonfiction books. But I had to share some amazing hip-hop titles by my fellow journalists that are inspiring me to 1. Get on my own 80,000 word count deadline and 2. Step my game up.
It's not easy to write a book about a rapper as beloved as Mac Miller. If you knew him, you know what I mean. He just loved hip-hop. He was a prolific mixtape artist with commercial success, including 2011's Blue Slide Park, which was the first independent album to top the Billboard 200 chart this century. The rapper made headlines with his romance with superstar Ariana Grande but for most of us who had the chance to meet or interview him, he was a fun-loving kid we were all rooting for. Mac Miller died tragically due to an accidental overdose in 2018.
Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller by Paul Cantor is "part love letter, part cautionary tale, never shying away from the raw, visceral way Mac Miller lived his life."
Whether you're a fan of Mac Miller or a casual listener, this book is a coming-of-age story with general appeal. The rapper's family criticized the unauthorized biography, which is something not uncommon for posthumous celebrity books, but I can say that the book is both thoughtful and well-researched. Even without the family's involvement, several of Mac's day ones and industry colleagues offer interviews and insight into his life and artistry. Cantor, who denied claims that he wanted to be exploitative, does a fine job of balancing critique and warmth.
It's a loving tribute.
You might not know the name J. Dilla but you know his influence. The Detroit producer isn't a household name outside of hip-hip, but his influence on artists in hip-hop, jazz and r&b is indelible. Questlove of The Roots calls him the best producer of all time. Kanye loved him. "I met J Dilla at Common's crib just down the street here in L.A. They were staying together, and I just remember looking at that MPC. And those drums came out of that MPC, arguably the best drums in hip-hop history. I just remember vibing with him and having so much respect, and just wanting to work with him more," said Kanye in 2013.
Sadly, J. Dilla died of cardiac arrest in 2006 before his genius was truly realized by the larger world.
Dilla Time delves into the life, musicianship and impact of the Grammy-nominated producer. Penned by veteran journalist (and my former editor!) Dan Charnas, the level of methodical research—over 150 interviews over the course of several years—is incredible. If you've read his book The Big Payback, you know he is a library of hip-hop and music industry knowledge.
The summary says it all: "Dilla’s beats, startling some people with their seeming 'sloppiness,' were actually the work of a perfectionist almost spiritually devoted to his music. This is the story of the man and his machines, his family, friends, partners, and celebrity collaborators.
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