#BlackIsBeautiful: Let’s do it for the culture: Books that celebrate the roots and origins of hip-hop music

The following books celebrate the beauty and roots of hip-hop music and culture. Casual readers and hip-hop aficionados will be thoroughly engaged with these books while bobbing their heads  to the beats of their favorite “Master of Ceremonies” (MC) or newly discovered ones.

Young Adult:

Let Me Hear a Rhyme: by Tiffany D. Jackson

Lyrics: by Malik “Malik-16” Sharif

  • ISBN-10 : 0062840320
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0062840325

 Its 1998 in Brooklyn New York and Stephon “Steph” Davis could have been one of the hottest emcees to come out of Brooklyn. Just like his idol, Bed- Stuy rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. Unfortunately just like Biggie, Steph was also murdered. 

While cleaning Steph’s room his sister Jasmine and his grieving friends, Quadir and Jarrell, discover CD’s  and tapes left behind by Steph.  The friends decide that Steph’s legacy can’t be left behind and come up with a plan to promote his music under a new rap name: The Architect. Steph’s music catches the attention of a music executive from a major label and now they must keep up the facade while also trying to uncover the truth of his murder.  Let Me Hear a Rhyme is a homage to Hip-Hop culture, the  late 90’s and Brooklyn, New York.  Hip- hop lovers of all ages will love this ode to rap legends of this never-forgotten era of hip-hop.

On the Come Up: by Angie Thomas

  • ISBN-10 : 0062498568
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0062498564

On the Come Up brings us  back to Garden Heights, (the neighborhood in Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give), in which we meet Brianna.  Bri attends an arts school with the dream of becoming a famous rapper, just like her father before his untimely death by gang violence. Bri’s journey is deeply personal. She uses hip-hop to deal with the situations surrounding her, such as her fathers death, her unstable housing situation, and also to bear witness to the racial profiling in her school.  Bri dreams of finding success in music based on her own merit as she has the knowledge and passion to get it all on her own.  While On the Come Up deals with heavy topics it is a joy to read and a celebration of African-American culture.

Middle Grade:

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich: by Ibi Zoboi

  • ISBN-10 : 0399187359
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0399187353

Ebony Grace Norfleet is a young girl from Huntsville, Alabama who loves Star Trek and NASA. She considers herself a self-professed nerd.  When trouble hits her family in her beloved Huntsville, she is sent to spend a week in Harlem, New York with her Dad. It’s the early 1980’s when Ebony arrives in Harlem and it feels like a different world! Harlem is vibrant and booming with the rise of hip-hop culture and music. Ebony feels like a complete outsider, but as her summer progresses she discovers that 126th street has a lot of things in common with her beloved Huntsville.  

Young readers/elementary:

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip-Hop by Carole Boston Weatherford, with illustrations by Frank Morrison

  • ISBN-10 : 1499804113
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1499804119

Explore the origins of rap music in this outstanding picture book! Readers will have the opportunity to explore the origins of rap and its ancestors. The Roots of Rap is a homage to the emergence of rap from poetry, folktales, spiritual and street-rhymes.  The vibrant illustrations make the pages of this book come to life! Each brilliant expression showcases the creativity of rap music and hip-hop culture.  There is no way around this book; it is for the culture and entire generations of music lovers to come.

When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop  by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

  • ISBN-10 : 9781596435407
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1596435407

It’s the summer of 1973 in the Bronx, New York. Cindy Campbell threw a back-to-school party and her brother Clive spins the tunes. That would be the day his life would change forever and he would be known as DJ Kool Herc.   Herc’s innovative style as a DJ from stretching the breaks in songs from seconds  to minutes allowed dancing; rappers and MC’s to play a role in the musical fusion that became hip-hop. This scintillating celebration of the roots of hip- hop and DJ Kool Herc will definitely have readers feeling the beat!

Elisa Garcia is a Supervising Librarian of Teen Services at the New York Public Library. She is motivated to foster a love of reading in reluctant teen readers and therefore strives to introduce them to a diverse world and experiences through books. Mentoring new librarians, Elisa has savored the opportunity to broaden her scope in promoting diversity in librarianship by building on her love to help our communities and instilling in others the passion she has for libraries and readers as a whole.

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Shauntee Burns-Simpson

The February 2021 GLLI theme, #BlackIsBeautiful, is curated by guest editor, Shauntee Burns-Simpson.

Shauntee Burns-Simpson (MLIS) currently serves as the 2020-2022 President of BCALA. She is the Associate Director of School Outreach for The New York Public Library. An ambassador for libraries and Youth Librarian, President Burns-Simpson enjoys connecting people to the public library and its resources. She works closely with at-risk teens and fosters a love of reading & learning with her innovative programs. In addition to leading BCALA, she chairs the American Library Association Office of Diversity, Literacy, & Outreach Services (ODLOS) Committee on Diversity.

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