These days, when rappers pull out a pen and a pad, or even get on the computer or their smart phones, it’s not certain they do with the intent of writing a rhyme. More and more MCs are using their creative talents to turn a gift for words into literary works, instead of recorded tracks. Over the years, rhyme slingers from Prodigy to C-Murder to 50 Cent to Jay-Z have released their own tomes, ranging from memoirs to novels to guides behind their rhymes. Traditionally, only journalists, scholars and outsiders took aim at putting hip-hop in book form, but as the culture has expanded, more artists have cranked out material for the page, becoming players in the literary world. Most recently, Common, T.I. and Odd Future have released projects, with Nas’s coming down the pike. Here, XXL recaps the 10 best rapper-penned books of all time. Bookmark this.
I MAKE MY OWN RULES
Authors: LL Cool J and Karen Hunter
Release Date: September 15, 1998
First Line of Chapter 1:
“It took four hours of labor, sweating and pacing.”
Already a rap legend by 1998, LL Cool J turned heads with his brutally honest I Make My Own Rules (St. Martin’s Press), one of the first of its kind in hip-hop. The book is broken up into four parts, with LL’s “Spiritual Blackout” section drawing the most-heated reaction. He touches on everything from experimenting with cocaine and other drugs to being addicted to sex—at one point detailing sleeping with a pregnant groupie on a bathroom sink during the Panther tour in 1985, and shamelessly cutting off his kids and future wife for another woman in 1992. LL was later praised for sharing his ultrapersonal experiences, but it took some strong coaxing from co-author Karen Hunter to get James Todd Smith to reveal his indiscretions.
“He was in a different space by the time we got around to doing the book,” Hunter says, noting that the rapper had recommitted to his relationship in 1994. “To tell your story is more about letting people know, This is where I come from, these are the things that happened to me, and this is how I got through them. Because nobody gets through to be where you are without some fire. You gotta be pressed to become a diamond.”
REVELATIONS: THERE’S A LIGHT AFTER THE LIME
Authors: Ma$e and Karen Hunter
Release Date: September 16, 2003
First Line of Chapter 1:
“Elder Gus, one of the preachers at the Salvation Deliverance Church on 116th Street in Harlem, was leading the altar call on this particular Sunday.”
It’s tough to walk away at the height of professional success, but in 1999, Ma$e shocked his peers and fans alike when he announced he was leaving music. He had been through it all, while also releasing two albums, the multiplatinum Harlem World (1997) and Double Up (1999), before turning to the Lord and away from rap, a journey he detailed in Revelations: There’s a Light After the Lime (Atria Books).
The book helped draw the distinction between Ma$e and Mason Betha. Then, in 2004, Pastor Betha unexpectedly returned to rap. “There was a moment in the book where he says, ‘If I ever go back to rap, then you will know that I have fallen,’ ” says co-author Karen Hunter. “I remember questioning him about that: ‘Are you sure you want to put this in the book?’ And he was sure. Then, several years later, he went back.”
Still, after spending time with him, Hunter didn’t doubt the story they told in Revelations. “Going to his church, I can tell you that he was really committed to winning souls, spreading the word, just living a godly life.” Feels so good.
E.A.R.L.: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DMX
Authors: DMX and Smokey D. Fontaine
Release Date: October 21, 2003
First Line of Chapter 1: “My name is Earl Simmons.”
It was DMX’s passion and revealing honesty that helped the Ruff Ryder thrive as an artist in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and those same factors ensured that his book, E.A.R.L.: The Autobiography
of DMX (Harper Collins), was as gripping as the emotional prayers heard on his albums. The autobiography focuses more on the man than on his music, with the Dark Man opening up about violence, imprisonment, familial neglect and building his family during his formative years. The unpredictability that has marked much of the Yonkers rapper’s career was, unsurprisingly, also present during the writing process. What ensued for co-author Smokey D. Fontaine was months on the road, hundreds of hours of tape and full immersion in DMX’s everyday life. “I carried a micro-cassette [recorder] in my pocket everywhere we went. Had my hand in my pocket. We’d be in conversation, whenever we started getting into it, I’d press record,” Fontaine says. “We never had one scheduled time to sit down and talk about his life. It was all fly-on-the-wall. It was all completely organic.”
THE WU-TANG MANUAL
Authors: The RZA and Chris Norris
Release Date: January 4, 2005
First Line of Chapter 1: “And The Rza, he the sharpest motherfucker in the whole clan, he on point.”
Wu-Tang Clan’s Abbot, The RZA, offered rap scholars a comprehensive introduction to his group’s world with his first book, The Wu-Tang Manual (Penguin Group). The curriculum is broken up into four “Books,” each having nine sections, or “Chambers.” Book One familiarizes the reader with all of the Wu members, Book Two explains in detail the Clan’s varying influences (martial arts,
Five Percenter ideology, mafia culture, comic books, chess, etc.), Book Three breaks down several of the group’s biggest songs, and Book Four ventures into the signature musicality of the WTC.
The guide was devoured by fans, with many followers bringing it to shows for Bobby Digital to sign in person. “The book was able to catch people from different walks,” The RZA says. “Some people respected the Christian part of the book; some people were able to relate to getting knowledge of self.”
Manual was such a success that The RZA penned a follow-up, The Tao of Wu (2009), that focused more on his own spirituality. And he’s currently working on a third book, outlining the 36 principles that help steer his life.—by Adam Fleischer, Jesse Gissen, Mark Lelinwalla and Jayson Rodriguez
Image by Socrates Gomez
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