Waiting for "Empire" Reading and Viewing List
Anyone even vaguely aware of pop culture right now has probably heard of the television show Empire. It recently became one of the biggest new shows on television. For those unfamiliar, it is the story of Lucious Lyon, a hip-hop mogul who runs an entertainment company called Empire Entertainment, and his family. The family includes ex-wife Cookie Lyons, who has just been released after a 17-year stint in jail for dealing drugs (the funds of which were used to found the record company) and three sons Jamal (the singer), Hakeem (the rapper) and Andre (the business mind). Given a diagnosis of ALS, Lucious must decide which of his sons is most fit to run the company in his stead.
Empire is ultimately a family drama but it uses the world of hip-hop music as its base and the story of Lucious is very similar to that of many modern rap moguls. The season has ended (and it won't be back on air until this fall) but for those who desire to learn more about the world of hip-hop that Empire depicts or maybe to brush up on what you already know, below are a wealth of resources to get you started.
For those who want a straightforward history, both The Concise Guide to Hip-Hop Music by Paul Edwards and American Hip-Hop by Nathan Sacks offer a thorough lesson on the origins of hip-hop music. There is an examination of hip-hop from the beginning with its start in the 1970s and continues to present day. There is also discussion of specific pioneers that began the movement.
Taking the stance of hip-hop as not just a music genre but a culture unto its own, Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop discusses not only the music but all of the other elements that make up hip-hop as a whole. Chang interviewed a plethora of people who were a part of the hip-hop generation and that includes DJs, rappers, artists and even gang members. This gives the book a note of real authenticity. Groove Music by Mark Katz follows a similar route but focuses on the actual music by discussing the evolution of the turntable, DJ battles and how digital technology has changed the hip-hop industry.
Rap is known to have originated in New York City, specifically the Bronx. In its beginnings, most rappers hailed from either that area or some part of NYC (including the greater New York area such as Mount Vernon and Yonkers). Then as the years passed, the West Coast also became well known for rap, especially the subgenre known as gangster rap. But in recent years another part of the country has taken up the mantel, and that is the South. More and more rappers have come up that call southern states home. Third Coast by Roni Sarig discusses how southern rap has come to dominate hip-hop and why. He writes about it as a matter of cultural history and also discusses specific artists that have played a part in its popularity including Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Lil' Jon and Outkast. Using a similar formula but discussing more recent acts, Dirty South by Ben Westhoff expands on the discussion of the South’s new role as a hip-hop mecca. Westhoff takes it a step further by visiting the neighborhoods where artists T.I. and Lil' Wayne grew up, hanging out with Big Boi from Outkast and even hanging out with some local rappers at an Atlanta strip club. The interviews give readers an inside view mixed with a history lesson.
A book that looks like it would be at home on the bookshelves of Lucious Lyon, Hip-Hop Inc: Success Strategies of the Rap Moguls by Richard Oliver evaluates the strategies of hip-hop’s most well-known moguls. Some of those featured in the book include Russell Simmons, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Dr. Dre. He discusses not only their personal stories but also the rise of hip-hop in the music industry. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop by Dan Charnas focuses not only on those who have succeeded, but also those who haven’t, in hip-hop’s over forty-year history. Readers get an inside look at the studios where the first rap records were made as well as the boardrooms where modern day deals are inked.
Although discussed briefly on the show, Lucious Lyon becomes the man he is because of the way he grew up on the streets of Philadelphia. He was left to fend for himself after becoming an orphan and got involved in the drug trade. His story is not unheard of in many inner cities across the country. Urban fiction, also known as street lit, is a genre mostly written by African American authors that focuses on urban environments and usually delves into the underside of living in the city. The stories tend to be explicit and feature sex, violence and profanity. For some, this can be off putting but the writers use it to bring authenticity to stories that show a way of life that isn't always pleasant. While the genre is not new it has seen a strong resurgence over the last ten years. Hip-hop music and urban fiction use different mediums but come from a very similar place in the stories they tell. For readers more intrigued by the dramatic elements of the show these fictional accounts will definitely keep you hooked.
This list below contains mainly series for those who like the more serialized element of Empire, but the authors listed also have other books that are single stories.
Book titles are plenty if you want to know more about the minds behind the music. Decoded by Jay-Z was extremely popular when it was released back in 2010. The book is an intriguing narrative of Jay-Z’s life which features words, images, and lyrics. The title comes into play because he shares the 10 codes that define him. Using a similar style but with multimedia included 50 cent released 50 X 50, a book that contains memorabilia such as lyrics, drawings, removable letters and album covers. Also included are rare photographs and recorded interviews. These items all come together to share the story of Curtis Jackson as well as his rapper alter ego.
Continuing with biography, writer Alvin Blanco takes the reader on a journey with The Wu-Tang Clan and Rza: A Trip Through Hip-Hop’s 36 Chambers. Blanco recounts the groups’ meteoric rise from an underground supergroup to an internationally known rap group. There is discussion of their albums as a group as well as individually focusing on the most popular artists including Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Ghostface Killa. If you have an affinity for the group producer The Rza also wrote his own book titled The Tao of Wu. Known for his production skills and fondness for East Asian philosophy, Rza writes the book as part memoir/part self help guide. He presents seven spiritual codes to live by formed from significant events in his life.
There aren’t as many titles on hip-hop in the area of children’s books but there are a couple of fun titles to share with little ones. Hip-Hop Dog by Christopher Raschka is a great story about a neglected dog who finds his purpose through rapping and rhyming. The story offers a fun way to explain what exactly rapping is and how it is often used share someone’s personal story.
The same can be said for When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip-Hop by Laban Hill a wonderful biography that details how one of the founders of hip-hop got his start. It delves into his career as a DJ as well as how break dancing, the dance style that defined hip-hop in the ’80s, became a movement all its own.
Hip-hop is not just about the music but also the personalities of the rappers that perform the songs. Being able to see and hear the artists perform offers another dimension to their story. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest is a great documentary that follows the rap trio A Tribe Called Quest when they reunite for a sold out tour across the U.S. ten years after their last album. Directed by actor Michael Rappaport it gives an insider’s view to the issues and personal conflicts that continue to plague the members of the legendary group.
Iconic rap group Public Enemy has a career that spans over twenty years. The documentary Welcome to the Terrordome: 20 years of Rap, Rock and Revolution chronicles their successful career and their legacy. It includes commentary from the Beastie Boys, Talib Qweli and others.
Nas: Time is Illmatic is another eye opening look into one of hip-hop's greatest minds. Illmatic was Nas's debut album and is considered a classic in the genre. In the documentary, he discusses his life growing up in Queensbridge, his influences and the difficulties he faced before making Illmatic. The doc also includes conversations with the producers of the album and artists who know the rapper personally. It is a nice intimate look at the creative process of making music and also the mind behind the music.
- Rap and Hip-Hop Culture by Fernando Orejuela
- The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama by Elijah Wald
- Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ by Mark Katz
- Atlanta: Hip-Hop and the South by Michael Schmelling
- Hip-Hop Desis by Nitasha Sharma
- How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder from World War II to Hip-hop by Dave Tompkins
- Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop by Adam Bradley
- The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-hop's Greatest Songs by Felicia Pride
- BMF: The Rise and Fall of a Hip-Hop Drug Empire
- Filly Brown
- Yes Yes Ya'll by Jim Fricke
- VH1 Storytellers featuring Kanye West
- The Tanning of America by Steve Stoute
- How to Rap by Paul Edwards
- The Breakin' DVD Collection
- The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur
- Rock the Bells
- Kings of Hip-Hop