A massive tip of the hat to the A.V. Club for the wonderful discovery that the online store of American bookseller Barnes & Noble has an entire section entitled ‘Rap and hiphop musicians – Biography – Children’s nonfiction‘ and, by subsequent implication, that there is a burgeoning subgenre (seventy-four entries!) dedicated to ensuring the youth of today has a foundational knowledge of, say, the Roxanne Wars. No more will parents have to endure the awkward conversation that ensues when their progeny ask ‘Dad, what’s a Queen Latifah?’, able instead to hand over one of the six titles deemed suitable for kids that will answer any questions they might have about how exactly Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children.
Subjects covered range from Golden Age icons like Run-D.M.C. and Salt-N-Pepa to latter day pop cultural behemoths like Kanye West and, tenuously, the Black Eyed Peas, with stops along the way for the kid-friendly (Lil’s Romeo and Bow-Wow, a full thirteen titles on noted non-cusser Will Smith), the expected universally beloved icons (Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Andre 3000), the less expected, more hardcore material (kids have to learn about Biggie and Tupac sooner or later, I guess), the even less expected (‘look, my daughter can take or leave Missy Elliott‘s rhymes, but she can’t get enough of Timbaland‘s beats, alright?’) and some controversial inclusions (never mind anything else, Chris Brown does not qualify as a rap or hip-hop musician). Bafflingly, there are as yet no members of Wu-Tang Clan covered, even though everyone knows that Wu-Tang is for the children.
Many of the books seem to spin aspirational life lessons from their subjects’ stories (Soulja Boy ‘capitalized on digital technology to build a fan base and sell millions of singles and ringtones’, apparently), presumably eliding or at least glossing over such roadblocks along the way as Dr. Dre pushing Dee Barnes through a door or the time Jay-Z maybe sort of stabbed Lance Rivera. That anyone would even realise that children and teenagers don’t know all of this by default, of course, is just another reminder that Eminem is forty, MCA is dead and you’re not getting any younger either.
Artist’s impression of a pro-literacy campaign spearheaded by Bun B follows.