50 Years of Hip Hop: 8 Books to Appreciate the Love of Jam

Hip hop speaks to the soul in all the right places. With the mixtures of beats, tunes, and lyrics, you’re bound to learn something new about yourself.

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Hip hop changed the game in the music industry. Artists like Tupac, Ice Cube, Jay Z, Eminem, Nicki Minaj, to recent names like Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Chance the Rapper, Ice Spice, and so MANY more make such an impact in the music world! Here are some books to read up to understand the history of the makings of hip hop.

*If you live in the Brooklyn, New York area, be sure to check out the books from there as well by clicking here!

1. The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano

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With the help of Shea Serrano, venture through every year to witness the debate of which rap song was the most culturally impactful since the beginning of rap from 1979 to the present day. Serrano also talks about the most monumental moments in rap music which consists of essential artists’ backgrounds, racial issues, hip-hop’s greatest successes, and the overall struggle of life itself. Covering from East to West Coast, discover rapper feuds, who topped the charts, and brought the house down on stage. You’ll also find infographics, lyrics maps, and fun trivia facts you might not have known.

2. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang

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Jeff Chang discusses the impact hip-hop had in association with the post-Civil Rights era, defined by deindustrialization and globalization. Hip-hop was the start of a multiracial polyculture and a generation of transfiguring American politics and culture as a common theme in verses. Chang also conducts interviews with DJs, b-boys, rappers, graffiti writers, activists, and even gang members and how they view hip-hop. He manages to get intel on some of the founders and creators of what we know as rap today: DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Chuck D, and Ice Cube.

3. God Save the Queens by Kathy Iandoli

God Save the Queens by Kathy Iandoli- book cover- woman with aqua- hand- grasping- a- gold- knuckle- duster-hip-hop-lyrics

Unlike the previous two books above that mainly focused on men, Kathy Iandoli takes a closer look at the contribution from the women’s side. As with everything else, women are always pushed to the sidelines, and hip-hop is no different. But as of 2023, we’ve witnessed the most significant female rappers, such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, kill it at the charts. In this book, you’ll find the originators of hip-hop from female artists. Starting us off would be Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, and more. In their lyrics, you’ll find words about gender, money, sexuality, violence, body image, feuds, objectification, empowerment, and so much more.

4. Original Gangstas by Ben Westhoff

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In the 1980’s Los Angeles, California, faced a massive crack epidemic and police brutality problem. To fight against the power, rap groups such as N.W.A. gave a voice to the people. But they weren’t your typical fresh-cut leaders. Known as a drug dealer, a low-name producer, and a high schooler, the world wasn’t ready for what was to come. You know them now as Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, and Ice-Cube.

Here you’ll find the start of Death Row Records and how it launched the careers of Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur into legends. And read about the uphill battle between New York and Los Angeles on the West and the East coasts between rivalries of members, record labels, and of rap. At gangsta rap’s peak, Tupac and Biggie Smalls were unfortunately murdered, creating a divide between who and what murdered these superstars. Find never-before-told stories of all tales of triumph and tragedies.

5. The Come Up by Jonathan Abrams

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The Come Up tells you the essential comeuppance of hip-hop from the East Coast — so many stories with little exposure pre-Internet days. But look no further because Jonathan Abram is not holding back. Over three hundred interviews over three years, you can get details from executives, producers, and artists that have witnessed the craze of hip-hop history. It starts all the way back from the south of the Bronx and how it transferred over to New York City and beyond.

6. Free Stylin’ How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry by Elena Romero


Hip-hop changed more than the music industry, and that’s a known fact. Elena Romero discusses how designers and manufacturers took in streetwear clothes and enhanced them in clothing lines. These styles were always unique, but prior to the 1980s, everyday consumers wouldn’t even look that way.

In order to appeal to younger consumers, the fashion industry hired Black designers and entrepreneurs, who started seasoned fashion in the making. What began as streetwear, or hood-like clothes, became a multimillion-dollar fashion line. This book traces back to the hip-hop roots of race, ethnicity, and culture and how that plays a part in commercialism through the practices of bandwagoning.

7. The History of Gangster Rap by Soren Baker


What makes The History of Gangster Rap different from other historical books is its dive into different subgenres of hip-hop, the conspiracy theories surrounding Biggie and Tupac’s murder, and discusses the movie Straight of Outta Compton and how it has impacted pop culture. It’s important to note how much rap has affected society. You’ll also find insightful interviews of infamous rappers sharing their stories. 

8. Hip Hop World by Dalton Higgins


Hip-hop changed the entire world. In this book, spread your wings across the seas to Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, and more places that elevated hip hop with satirists, comedians, Civil Rights-fueled funk, musicians, and spoken poetry. Dalton Higgins shows the different rap language that has influenced standard American English and furthers the discussion of sexual taboos. Higgins also discusses European countries that have influenced rap music as a whole.

Hip-hop is a popular genre of music for a reason, and you can find that through its history. For more articles about hip-hop and rap, click here!