Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Best Books of 2006

The best hip-hop scholarship book of 2006 (& maybe 2007?)

More roundup lists for ya. This one’s for the books. Most, if not all, were originally published in 2006…

Zen’s Favorite Books of 2006 With More Pictures Than Words
* Jessica Abel :: La Perdida (Pantheon)
* Robert “Wisk” Alva and Robert “Relax” Reiling :: The History of Los Angeles Graffiti Art (Volume 1, 1983-1988) (Alva & Reiling)
* Banksy :: Wall and Piece (Century)
* Boogie :: It’s All Good (powerHouse)
* Charles Burns :: Black Hole (Pantheon)
* C100 :: The Art of Rebellion 2: World of Urban Art Activism (Publikart)
* Martha Cooper :: Street Play (From Here To Fame)
* Per Englund & Mlamli Figlan :: The Beautiful Struggle (Dokument)
* Vincent Fedorchak :: Fuzz One: A Bronx Childhood (Testify)
* Zaha Hadid: Thirty Years of Architecture (Guggenheim Museum)
* James and Karla Murray :: Burning New York (Ginkgo)
* The Nasty Terrible T-kid 170 (powerHouse)
* Murray Walding :: Blue Heaven: The Story of Australian Surfing (HGB)

Zen’s Favorite Books of 2006 With More Words Than Pictures
* Paul Beatty, ed. :: Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor (Bloomsbury)
* Will Blythe :: To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever: A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry (HarperCollins)
* Taylor Branch :: At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (America in the King Years) (Simon & Schuster)
* T. Cooper & Adam Mansbach :: A Fictional History of the United States (with Huge Chunks Missing) (Akashic)
* Mike Davis :: Planet of Slums (Verso)
* Ewen + Ewen :: Typecasting: On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality (Seven Stories Press)
* Amde Hamilton :: Me Today You Tomorrow: Journey of A Street Poet (Classic Cut Musiz)
* Marlon James :: John Crow’s Devil (Akashic)
* Rattawut Lapcharoensap :: Sightseeing (Grove Press)
* Michael Pollan :: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin Press)
* Simon Reynolds :: Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (Penguin)
* RJ Smith :: The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940s and the Lost African-American Renaissance (Public Affairs)
* James G. Spady, H. Samy Alim, and Samir Meghelli :: Tha Global Cipha: Hip-Hop Culture and Consciousness (UMUM Press)

A special note on this last book, because it came out really late in the year, and I think it’s a really important one.

Philly journalist James Spady’s works–including Nation Conscious Rap (1991) and Street Conscious Rap (1999)–have been an essential resource and reference for serious hip-hop scholars for years. I used his books heavily in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. (I was also very honored to lecture at one of UCLA professor Samy Alim’s classes last year.)

Spady, Alim, and Meghelli’s Global Cipha picks up where those classics left off. All the books in this series are eclectic collections of interviews that span a wide range of artists, from pioneers to of-the-moment rappers, DJs, and b-boys. They’re also critical snapshots of key moments in hip-hop history. The arc of this trilogy moves from the Afrocentric American rap of the late 80s and early 90s toward the rise of African rap in the diaspora at the turn of the millennium.

Spady is an unsung hero of hip-hop studies. For me, he’s up there with Davey D as one of the finest hip-hop journalists in the world. Like Davey, he knows the culture up down and sideways, and he’s a fine, probing interviewer. (When Spady interviewed me, I think I learned more about myself than he did about me!)

And, like B+ in It’s Not About A Salary, Spady, Alim and Meghelli are keenly concerned with letting the artists speak for themselves, not mediating their voices. There is an essay at the beginning of Tha Global Cipha that provides a context for the decentered hip-hop being produced now–the hip-hop of a thousand local scenes, all with potential global audiences, a network of infinite creativity and possibility. But then the authors mostly stand back and fire questions to their subjects, some of whom people like me have always wanted to but never been able to track down. Now, these books tend to be over 500 pages each–this one is 700+. So some interviews are more compelling than others. But overall the words are truer and more enduring than a lot of the hip-hop scholarship that is out there.

To get the first two books, you may have to hand over a small big fortune to an internet seller. But to cop Tha Global Cipha, head over here right now or contact the authors directly at Black History Museum Publishers, P.O. Box 15057, Philadelphia, Pa. 19130. They tell me they’ll knock off 10% off the $25 list if you note that you read about it here. (You still gotta add $5 for postage and handling.)

Fam, trust that I wouldn’t plug it if it wasn’t worth it.

posted by @ 7:05 pm | 1 Comment

One Response to “Best Books of 2006”

  1. EAT MY SHORTS says:

    Yo Jeff

    I just read your Jay Z article in Nation. It was good. I dont understand it though. Is it an album review or just a profile?

    Also, The first important writer ( which you are definitely one) to give Kingdome Come a good review will get props from me, people scared to like this album.

    Y’all need to be brave.

    Like I said great article, I didnt understand the last paragraph though. Somthing about he head will be safe.

    If Jay dont inspire and young black out there I dont know who will. Not just music, just the fact that he still alive. I mean, a lot of black moguls are middle class and God bless them 4 it, but u find most of Jay’s critics are black middle class intellectual who read too many Marcus Garvey books. With all due respect to the Marcus Garvey. They got it all twisted. Greg Tate been spewing his BS forever do we still tolerate him? He probably still want rappers to sell their publishing for gold chains like in his golden era.

    I am rambling now and losty my train ofthought but just to say it was a good article and dont sleep on Kingdome Come.

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