The Perfect Pair: Hip Hop and Street Literature

Over the Christmas break, I was able to catch up with some friends.  As always, the conversation eventually leads to discussions about new books and music.  After one particular call, I thought heavily about how hip hop music and Street Literature compliment each other.  I am a product of the 80's generation which was the 'golden age' of rap music.   The baselines of early hip hop music are classic and remain embedded in one's memory.  These masterpieces are nothing like today's music that often times lacks a turn table and message.  A DJ Kool Herc/Grandmaster Flash/Jam-Master Jay tape, old school boom box and a recreation center was all teens needed during that time to have fun.

My Favorite Hip Hop Painting
This attitude toward hip hop has spilled over into my job as a school librarian.  I am not your traditional librarian that plays classical music behind the circulation counter and shushes the students.  Some days I'm playing ole school rap (yes the kids sing along to it), some modern hip hop, dancehall reggae, house, steppers and gospel music.  The kids never know what to expect once they enter my library.   Sometimes the discussions about who made the song first are quite hysterical to the casual onlooker.  It's all good because they are thinking out of the box and practicing the classic art of debate.

Hip Hop and Street Lit is such a natural pairing because it makes the overall work 'real'.  Some authors have cleverly inserted hip hop music into their tales of the street.  NiNi Simone is a popular young adult Street Lit. author that does this very well.  At the beginning of each chapter of her books, she includes the lyrics of the song and artist.  For example, in her book 'Upgrade You' Simone starts off the chapter with the lyrical quote, "You used to love me...." - Faith Evans.  These simple lyrics describe the pain Seven will experience when she discovers her boyfriend Josiah has another girlfriend, Tori.  The songs set the tone for each chapter and gives the reader a preview of what will happen.

                                                                                     Jay-Z and Beyonce's "Bonnie and Clyde '03"

Now I took you down the hip hop memory lane because I recently re-read "Ride Wit' Me" by Deja King.   The story is about Mercedes and Dalvin, Chicago teens and children of drug kingpens.  (I also loved this story because it took place in the Chi)  Their fathers give these kids everything materialistic they could ever want.  Never did the two rivals believe their kids would fall in love with each other...but it did happen.  As much as Mercedes father tried to break up the relationship, both teens were determined to stay together.  Jealously, teen bullying and peer pressure are common themes present in the story as seen in other popular young adult literature.   This book is also very popular in my library; so much that I have to physically go to the students class to remind the student to return the book.  Does this sound familiar to you fellow librarians?  I've also heard that some librarians circulate this book instead of Sista Souljah's, "The Coldest Winter Ever" because of the positive starred review from School Library Journal.

                          DJ Tribute to Jam-Master Jay

King has written a moving modern day Romeo and Juliet story centered in the hood.  I appreciate the reserved coolness of Dalvin and his bravely.  When Mercedes father told him not to see his daughter anymore he said, "No disrespect Mr. Clinton, but you can't forbid me to do anything."  I just wanted to stand up and cheer for this young man.  Most teen boys would not have had the courage to stand up for themselves in the manner that Dalvin did.  "Ride Wit Me," is a fast read and kids today can still relate to this story that was first told in 2006.  I remembered when I first read this story, I immediately thought of Jay-Z and Beyonce's, "Bonnie and Clyde '03."  As described in the story, Dalvin needed a 'ride or die' chick just like Jay-Z.

Hip hop music and Street Literature are tales of the streets.   These are stories that are fast paced, funny and sometimes violent.  They give us advice, describe a stress that most couldn't endure and empower us to change.   A world without both would be unthinkable.


  1. KC, thank you for sharing your methods for engaging your students at your library. Your work is awesome! And I am in total agreement with you about Hip Hop and contemporary Street Literature.

  2. Thanks for your comment and support Vanessa!