Hip-Hop artists are some of the most captivating, colorful, and compelling people in The Culture. The lives they’ve lead and the stories they can tell naturally make them great subjects for biographies and who better to tell those stories than the MC themselves? Hip-hop memoirs can give us a glimpse into an artist’s creative world, help us understand what shaped the artists into the people they have become, teach us about the music biz, or sometimes all three. We’ve put together a list of 13 excellent hip-hop autobiographies you should check out that’ll put you up on game about your favorite artist and The Culture as a whole.
Jay Z – Jay Z: Decoded
Jay Z’s 2010 book Decoded is a muti-facited book. Part memoir and part critical self-analysis, detailing the experiences that shaped his music. The book is at it’s best when Jay turns his eye to his own lyrics, unpacking the sly profundity underpinning his writing and really showing how seriously he takes the art form of rap. But while Jay is quite open and expressive when it comes to using his unique, astute perspective to comment on wealth, race and class in America, he is still an intsenly private person so there are some topics (his relationship with Beyoncé most prominent among them) that he glosses over or avoids altogether. That has changed a bit recently but again this book was written in 2010. Still, when it comes to rap autobiographies, Decoded can be considered one of the best of the best.
DMX – E.A.R.L
2Pac – The Rose That Grew From Concrete
Common – One Day It’ll All Make Sense
From one of hip hop’s most respected MCs to a Hollywood star, and activist for the people and The Culture, Common is a man that has achieved much and has a lot to say. In this memoir he covers a lot ranging from his childhood on Chicago’s South side to his emergence as one of rap’s biggest names.He goes into his beefs with the likes of Ice Cube and his friendship Kanye West. He lets people know that just because he makes positive music, doesnt mean he’s perfect or that every aspect of his life was always positive only that he does his best to walk a positive path like any of us. An interesting aspect of the book is that he starts each chapter with a letter to someone and in certain spots he even lets his mother step in and discuss some of his major life events from her perspective.
Scarface – Diary of a Madman
From Geto Boys legend and renowned storyteller Scarface, comes a passionate memoir about how hip-hop changed the life of a kid from the south side of Houston, and how he rose to the top and helped usher in a new generation of rap dominance. Scarface shares how his world changed when he heard Run DMC for the first time; how he dropped out of school in the ninth grade and started selling crack; and how he began rapping as the new form of music made its way out of New York and across the country. It is the account of his rise to the heights of the rap world, as well as his battles with his own demons and depression. Passionately exploring and explaining the roots and influences of rap culture, Diary of a Madman is the story of hip-hop; the music, the business, the streets, and life on the south side Houston, Texas.
Questlove – Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
Part memoir, part history of hip-hop. Questlove is a self-professed music dork who just so happened to start one of the most groundbreaking groups in hip-hop and wrote a book talking about it all. His father was a pioneering doo-wop singer as was his mother and the whole family sometimes went on tour, like a funkier version of the Partridge Family with Quest behind the drums. He drops plenty of gems throughout the book like declaring that the “single most influential moment in the history of hip-hop” was an episode of “The Cosby Show” in which Stevie Wonder, as a guest star, demonstrated how to make a sample. He talks about so many things, from the future of hip-hop to Jimmy Falon to The Root’s legacy. It’s educational, funny, and interesting. Worth it just to read about Prince’s post-Grammy roller-skating party.
Reverend Run – It’s Like That: A Spiritual Memoir
As 1/3 of Run-DMC, one of the first rap acts to achieve nationwide recognition and top-selling albums, Run seemed to have his life perfectly set up for him. But the dizzying effects of fame soon left Run feeling empty and dissatisfied. Feeling stuck, he went through the motions in public life while grappling with his loss of direction and a family life that was falling apart. And in this memoir is the story of how he turned his life around, discovering his spirituality and a special connection with God. Now an ordained minister, Run talks in this book about his profound life change and getting the message out to the community. A spiritual memoir unlike any other, It’s Like That captures the ups and downs, and the joy that one can only find through righteous living. This is an absorbing tale from one of the most popular and complex performers of our times.
50 Cent – Pieces to Weight
50 Cent has lived an extrodianry life that was really movie worthy before he even blew up and this autobiography focuses mainly on that aspect of his life. Growing up in Jamaica, Queens, he was born to a 15-year-old drug-dealing mother who was killed under mysterious circumstances leaving a young 50 to take over the family business at the age of twelve. 50 gives some of the grittiest retellings of life in the hood that you’ll read anywhere starting with how the crack epidemic hit his neighborhood. Living hard, he has been stabbed, shot nine times (one bullet in his face) and has survived a number of assassination attempts. He then compares those days to his early days in the music industry in a fascinating way. But he doesn’t glorify it he just writes about it frankly and bluntly but with a writer’s flare that keeps you engaged.
Ice-T – Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption-from South Central to Hollywood
He’s a hip-hop icon credited as one of the creators of gangsta rap turned TV/Film star in the #CultureClassic New Jack City and Law & Order: SVU. Known for being raw, uncensored, and unafraid to speak his mind, Ice talks about his orphan upbringing on the gang-infested streets of South Central, his brief stint in the Army, his career as a hustler, and his fateful decision to turn away from that life and forge his own path to rap stardom. He also shares never-before-told stories about Tupac, Chris Rock, and a hilarious tale about Flavor Flav wrecking Ice’s car on the way to Red Lobster, among others. And he offers up candid observations on marriage and monogamy, the current state of hip-hop, and his mentoring of at-risk youths. With insights into the cutthroat worlds of the streets and Hollywood, Ice is the memorable story of a real American OG.
Jermaine Dupri – Young, Rich, and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul
Jermaine Dupri is a legit legend in the music industry. His songwriting and producer credits are too long to list and at his peak he was one of the most powerful African-Americans in the entertainment industry. By 20 he had produced a platinum album, become a millionaire; and was operating his own record label, So So Def. More than your average memoir, Young, Rich, and Dangerous is a road map for thousands who dream about making it big in the realm of entertainment or in the boardroom. What really happens behind the music? Dupri traces his experience in the music business, providing priceless advice for aspiring rappers, producers, or executives who want to follow his footsteps. Enriched with never-before-seen photographs from studios, parties, and awards shows with our favorite celebrities, Young, Rich, and Dangerous allows all readers an inside look at the most exciting moments of this hit-maker’s life.
Queen Latifah – Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman
Pioneering female MC turned Hollywood star Queen Latifah is one of rap’s most recognizable female artist of all-time. Her autobiography released in 2000 leans more towards the motivational tract and the narrative is based around some of the major events in her life: her parents’ divorce, her experiences growing up in inner-city Newark, her initial forays into rap and her brother’s death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24. She also talks about drug use, God, romance and sex in a frank and heartfelt way. The main goal is inspiration so unfortunately there is little insight into her creative process or her decision to move into acting. But her positive message and attitude is infectious, and readers are bound to come away inspired. It’s a must for female hip-hop fans.
Wyclef Jean – Purpose: An Immigrant’s Story
In Purpose, Wyclef recounts his path to fame from his impoverished childhood to international fame and fortune with The Fugees. The son of a pastor and grandson of a Vodou priest, Wyclef was born and raised in the slums of Haiti, moving with his family to New York when he was nine and his struggle to had to translate for his parents while still trying to master English himself, and just train to “fit in”. When Wyclef chose to pursue a career in music over theological school his father nearly disowned him and it take a decade for them to mend their relationship. He also details the inside story of the group: their rise and fall, and his relationships with Pras and Lauryn Hill. Wyclef also looks back with candor at the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 and his efforts to help rebuild, including the controversy surrounding Yéle, his aid organization, and his exploratory bid for President of Haiti. Wyclef’s story is one of inspiration, full of drama and humor, told in compelling detail.
Prodigy of Mobb Deep – My Infamous Life
One half of the legendary duo Mobb Deep and a highly regarded wordsmith in hip-hop is just the surface of who Prodigy is. He was born into a family that included notable jazz musicians, singers, dancers and academics. His grandfather was famed saxophonist Budd Johnson and his great-great grandfather founded Morehouse College. Prodigy fit right into his family’s creative lineage but he faced many challenges outside of the studio. Violence, drug abuse, beefs, and mistakes abound as he takes readers back to New York’s mid 90’s hip-hop scene. Anicdotes include the time Prodigy’s rhyme partner Havoc accidentally shot the record executive who they were trying to get to sign them, and Mobb Deep booking a show with a rival rap crew just so they could jump one of the rappers. It’s a fascinating hip-hop tell-all from a member of rap’s most infamous rap crews of all-time.
That’s our list of hip-hop biographies you should add to your collection ASAP. Let us know what you think and if there’s any one we missed on Twitter @CFTCulture.
Written by @TalentedMrFord