Patrick Neate’s top 10 hip-hop books

Patrick Neate is the author of Where You’re At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip Hop Planet. His second novel, Twelve Bar Blues, won the 2001 Whitbread prize for best novel.

1. The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty won’t thank me for describing him as the premier hip-hop novelist but, if there were such a genre, that’s what he’d be. This is a genuinely wet-yourself-funny tale of race and identity about growing up as a young black man in LA.

2. Hip Hop America by Nelson George

Arguably the best recent study of hip-hop by arguably its best critic. Nelson George eschews a simple timeline and draws instead on personal experience to explain just how hip-hop came to dominate American popular culture.

3. Westsiders by William Shaw

A vivid and riveting account of the life of hip-hop wannabes in the broad no-mans-land between success and the streets of South Central LA. Always brutal, never unsympathetic and completely compelling.

4. Egotrip’s Book Of Rap Lists

Hilarious, encyclopaedic, alternative hip-hop primer. Favourite lists include ’10 MC Hammer songs you can’t dance to’ and ’10 reasons why Will Smith loves Miami’ (Number 10: ‘If he’s lucky, Will sees his main man Sly Stallone at clubs.’).

5. Six Out Seven by Jess Mowry

Not strictly hip-hop but one of my favourite novels and worth a place in any top 10. Coming of age tale of a small town boy picking his way through the grisly reality of Oakland gangland.

6. The Art Of War by Sun-Tzu

I must confess I haven’t read it but this 2500-year-old book of military strategy has been name-checked to me by so many hip-hop heads, the Rza in particular, that I guess it must be important. “Though effective appear to be ineffective,” says Sun-Tzu. A comment on the state of hip-hop?

7. Rap Attack: African Rap To Global Hip Hop by David Toop

The daddy of hip-hop books. First published in 1984, this loving explanation of hip-hop’s origins paved the way for every analysis that has followed.

8. Pimp by Iceberg Slim

A netherworld documentary that educates and chills in equal measure. A bible for all aspiring pimpologists and a field study for all aspiring pimpnographers.

9. No Logo by Naomi Klein

Vital reading for late night sessions listening to Wu-Tang and Dead Prez and breaking down the global state of play while scratching your beard.

10. Black Noise: Rap Music And Black Culture In Contemporary America by Tricia Rose

The most successful attempt to relocate hip-hop music within wider social and cultural contexts. It does, however, occasionally slide into hilariously obscure academic speak. When you’ve finished scratching your beard to Naomi, scratch your head to Tricia.


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