Saturday, March 7, 2015

How To Write the Concise Guide To Rap

The Concise Guide To Hip-Hop Music is the latest book by Paul Edwards, the How To Rap guy. I missed How To Rap 2, but I'm glad to see him broaden himself up topically this time around. Even the original How To Rap didn't seem like a particularly useful tool for aspiring artists to learn how to rap; but it worked fine as an enjoyable collection of hip-hop anecdotes by a nice variety of hip-hop artists. And this book is the same as the other books in the sense of its form and style... the book is a collection of individual paragraphs transcribed from interviews with tons of hip-hop artists. And that's still a very entertaining way to structure a hip-hop book.

But now it's no longer constrained by having to act like a tutorial. Being simply a "guide" to "hip-hop music," pretty much anything any of these artists has to say on the genre fits in perfectly. The book is divided into three general categories: Hip-Hop 101, Influencers (where artists talk about each other), and Hip-Hop History. All those subjects are nice and vague, so anything interesting anyone had to say could be worked in. And those categories are broken up into lots of shorter sub-categories, like Diversity, Lack of Innovation and Experimentation or Debunking Hip-Hop Myths (although a bunch of the book's "myths" and "facts" seem to be just very subjective opinion). Some of these are as short as a single page. But that's fine, because I don't think we want to read long diatribes on subjects like these, we just want to visit them for as long as our favorite artists have something interesting to say about them and then move on; and that's what we're given.

And by favorite artists, I'm not even going to try to list everybody quoted in this book. It's a lot. Old school, new school, east coast, west, indie, major. I'll just list some at random to give you an idea: Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, Domino, Brother J, Tech N9ne, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Prince Paul, Kool G Rap, Rah Digga, MC Serch, Bill Adler, Charlie Ahearn, Mannie Fresh, CJ Moore, Doug E Fresh, Coke La Rock... It's a really impressive and seemingly endless line-up. But it's not all the artists' words. Edwards gets in here to introduce every topic, and generally be the glue between rappers' thoughts to turn the book into a more cohesive read. It's handy and well-written if you don't know much about the topic and very easy to skip if you do.

Some of the artists quotes are very short and only loosely fit the category they're in. For example, there's two and a half pages dedicated to Drum Machines. Q-Tip's full contribution under this heading is as follows, "[On the song "Excursions,"] I put a reverse [Roland TR-] 808 behind it, right before the beat actually kicks in." That's it; that's the whole thing, in and out. The section starts with a couple introductory paragraphs explaining what drum machines are by Edwards, and then quotes by Kurtis Mantronik, Schoolly D, Big Daddy Kane and Rakim, and then that Q-Tip quote. As any kind of overview or or text on drum machines, I guess you could say it fails; but I think that's just because, like How To Rap, this book still isn't quite what it pretends to be. As just an interesting collection of thoughts and tidbits about drum machines by some great hip-hop artists, it works perfectly fine. That's this book in a nutshell.

This Guide delivers on being concise, too. It's noticeably shorter and even a little bit smaller than How To Rap. Especially when you consider the last 49 pages are "Notes" and the index [How To Rap was like 35% index, too, as I recall], and that every page is full of headings, subtitles, and line breaks between every artist's quote. It's a very breezy read. And even so, it's hard to resist skipping around, finding your favorite artists or the most interesting sounding topics rather than reading from start to finish. But that's fine; I'm sure the author knew that's how most of us would approach the book, and it works perfectly. The press info for this guide calls it "the first book of its kind," which I think is pretty misleading. Apart from the title switcharoo, it's really the third book of its very specific kind. But that's cool, because the first left us wanting more, and this book delivers exactly what we wanted - even if it's not exactly what it claims to deliver - and in a slightly freer and more rewarding manner. An entertaining book for anybody interested in hip-hop music, not just aspiring rappers. Sign me up for #4.

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