Hip Hop is Happening in YA Lit, a guest post by Lisa Krok
The Grammys have often failed to recognize hip-hop artists in the most notable award categories. Based upon the lack of representation of Black performers in the Motown tribute, the Grammys clearly still have work to do. However, the steps toward progress are in motion, with huge wins for Childish Gambino and Cardi B. Childish Gambino’s “This is America” won Grammys for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Rap/Sung Performance, and Best Music Video. The Song of the Year honors writers of songs, while the Record of the Year honors the recording artist. “This is America” was the first rap song to win these two distinguished accolades. Additionally, Cardi B was the first female solo artist to win the Grammy for Best Rap Album for “Invasion of Privacy”, alongside several other award nominations. This year Childish Gambino and Cardi B made history, and Young Adult Lit is here for it!
Three strong and exceptionally talented Black YA authors have hit the trifecta with books that are new releases or coming soon and reflect hip-hop culture. As rapper and social theorist KRS-One stated, “Rap is something you do, hip-hop is something you live”.
Many teens will already be familiar with author Angie Thomas from (NYT Bestseller for 100+ weeks) The Hate U Give (Balzer + Bray, 2017) book and movie. The Hate U Give has received multiple awards and honors, including YALSA’s William C. Morris Award, a Coretta Scott King honor, a Printz honor, and the National Book Award long list, just to name a few. Thomas, a former teen rapper herself, recently released On the Come Up featuring Bri, a female teen rapper trying to make it big. Living up to a dead father who was a rap legend is tough. Combine that with racist actions from school security, a recovering addict mom desperately trying to make ends meet, and competition in the ring, finding your voice is difficult and is sometimes misconstrued by those who want to knock you down. Thomas passionately and realistically portrays the harsh realities of being Black and poor, while pushing forward and going for your dream. On the Come Up released February 5, 2019 from Balzer + Bray.
See Epic Reads track-by-track breakdown of Spotify’s On the Come Up playlist, along with a rap name generator. Playlist features tracks from Biggie, Common, Cardi B, Tupac, Nicki Minaj, Queen Latifah, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliott, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, Lauryn Hill, and many more legends. Selections for the playlist were chosen by Angie Thomas.
Lamar Giles is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books, and was an Edgar award finalist for both Fake ID (Harper Collins, 2014) and Endangered (Harper Collins, 2015). Additionally, Overturned (Scholastic, 2017) was a 2018 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. Giles also edited the WNDB anthology Fresh Ink (Random House, 2018) and contributed to anthologies Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America (Balzer + Bray, 2019) and Three Sides of a Heart (Harper Collins, 2017). He is best known for his crime fiction, and in his newest release, Spin (Scholastic Press, 2019), takes on a murder mystery involving DJ Paris Secord, aka DJParSec. This fast-paced mystery starts off with DJParSec’s two estranged friends, Kya and Fuse, under suspicion for her murder. When some of the ParSecNation fandom spins off into an ill-intended Dark Nation side, Fuse and Kya band together to uncover the true killer. Tough female protagonists + hip-hop + murder mystery = a winner for Lamar Giles. Spin was released January 29, 2019 from Scholastic Press. Giles also has a middle grade fantasy forthcoming, The Last Lastay-of-Summer from Versify/HMH on April 2, 2019.
Spin has a Spotify playlist, too!
Check out these tracks inspired by DJParSec, featuring Cardi B, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Missy Elliott,
Lil’ Kim, Drake, J. Cole, Beyonce, Jay Z, and more.
Tiffany D. Jackson is a master of twist endings, as evidenced by the shocking revelations in Allegedly (Katherine Tegen Books, 2017) and Monday’s Not Coming (Katherine Tegen Books, 2018). Jackson’s awards and honors include 2018 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers for Allegedly, and most recently the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for Monday’s Not Coming. Additionally, Monday’s Not Coming received a Walter Dean Myers honor and was named a SLJ Best Book of 2018. She adds her own contribution to this hip-hop book fest with Let Me Hear a Rhyme (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019). Jackson collaborated with Malik “Malik-16” Sharif, who provided the lyrics within the novel. Set in the 1990’s in Brooklyn, friends Steph, Quadir, and Jarrell are mourning the loss of Biggie Smalls, who they felt represented their neighborhood via his music. When Steph is shot and killed, his two friends conspire with his sister, Jasmine, to commemorate him. When they unearth shoeboxes full of recordings of Steph’s songs, they promote him as “The Architect”, while the producer has no idea that he is promoting a dead client. This amusing situation adds levity to the mystery, as the team of three begin to uncover what really happened to Steph. Let Me Hear a Rhyme is forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books on May 21, 2019.
“I think about the lyrics in so many hip-hop songs and understand why Steph made me listen to them. Life has never been easy for black folks, and survival means doing things you wouldn’t do normally. Can I really judge someone trying to live?”
– Jasmine, Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Great songs tend to have a “hook”, and so do great books. The three aforementioned novels each have a KILLER first line:
- “I might have to kill somebody tonight.” – On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
- “I did not kill Paris Secord.” – Spin by Lamar Giles
- “You’ve probably seen this scene before: Ladies in black church dresses, old men in gray suits, and hood kids in white tees with some blurry picture printed on the front and the spray-painted letters RIP.” – Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
The hot, striking covers, cool beats, and captivating hooks make all three of these selections great for many types of readers, including the most reluctant of readers. Books like these, and rap music itself, lend themselves to many creative opportunities for teens to break down lyrics and even write some of their own.
So, if rap = poetry + rhythm, then poetry as lyrics can work in many different ways.
“A poet’s mission is to make words do more work than they normally do, to make them work on more than one level.“ – Jay Z
Teens may also be interested in trying their hand at Poetry Slams, a la The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Tips about poetry slams can be found here:
Angie Thomas stated at an event in 2018 that hip-hop has given a voice to urban America. See Angie’s comments here:
Lastly, give the amazing Bahni Turpin’s audiobooks a listen. Turpin narrated Allegedly, The Hate U Give, On the Come Up, and DJParSec’s portion of Spin, among many others. Her voice is a perfect fit for the characters in these stories. Please see the links below for more information about Bahni Turpin, We Need Diverse Books, and these three fantastic authors.
– Lisa Krok is a longtime fan of hip-hop, especially Queens Latifah and Nicki, along with the legendary Biggie. Her rap generator name is “Bad Swerve”. Lisa is a die-hard YA reader and a Ravenclaw, with a passion for reaching reluctant readers. She served on the 2019 and 2018 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers teams. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.
Filed under: Teen Fiction
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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