Rap Made Me Do It: Ten Books I Read Because Of Hip-Hop

When rappers reference items they consume--whether Cristal, Clarks Wallabees, or chronic--listeners seek them out, either out of curiosity or a desire to be like their heroes. And thanks to hip-hop's tendency to occasionally serve as an educated, sound-advice-giving older sibling, those references can sometimes motivate listeners to pick up a book. I always loved reading, but sometimes I needed a bit of advice as far as what to check out next, and the literary references dropped by MCs often served as my introduction to new wings of the library. Here, in no particular order, are ten books that rappers have turned me on to over the years.

1.The Spook Who Sat By The Door by Sam Greenlee
Reference: CL Smooth, "All The Places": "Known to be the spook who sat by the door..."

The mention was subtle, but the title is so distinct and abstract it caught my attention immediately. Not too long after hearing "All The Places" I passed a bookseller's stand around West 4th Street. The title caught my eye, and the book--about the first black dude in the CIA retiring and coming home to Chicago to train the gangs as freedom fighters--changed my life. Revolutionary but gangsta to say the least.

2. Pimp by Iceberg Slim
Reference: Jay-Z, "Who You Wit?": "Iceberg Slim baby ride rims through the suburbs..."

I had heard Iceberg Slim's name before, but never thought anything of it. One day, the video for "Who You Wit?" was playing and my dad heard the reference and asked, "Iceberg Slim huh? You kid's still read Slim's stuff?" Huh? "You know, Robert Beck." What? My dad, being my dad, brought the autobiographical Pimp home the next day, and I still have it. It's one man's gruesome, funny, and still relevant account of how he pimped his way into the history books.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Reference: The producer with the same name

I always read song credits as a kid. So when I saw this book in my girlfriend's FIT dorm, I snatched it up and read it almost overnight. It was another life-changer. A kid dreams of treasure and crosses the desert to pursue it. If this story doesn't motivate you to get out and get something, nothing will.

4. The Making Of A Slave by Willy Lynch
Reference: Talib Kweli, "Re: Definition": "How To Make A Slave by Willie Lynch is still applying..."

The title fascinated me so much I actively sought it out at Talib Kweli's bookstore in Brooklyn. (Remember Nkiru Books on Flatbush Avenue, before it moved to Washington?) The book--a guide to breaking slaves' spirits and getting the most out of them, written by the plantation owner and inspiration for the term "lynching"--reads like a distorted Dog Whisperer, and Kweli was right... it still applies today.

5. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Reference: Tupac Shakur's The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory (recorded under the name Makaveli)

I read this one a few months after Tupac's murder because I didn't believe he was dead. Also, I had been (falsely) informed that Niccolo Machiavelli was an advocate of faking your death to fool your enemies. This took me months to read and reread and though it was interesting at times I couldn't really apply this 1513 book to life on the Lower East Side in the late '90s. And I'm pretty sure Pac's dead.

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hmmm, more like Ten Books I Read About On The OkayPlayer Forums! how can you mention Iceberg Slim without Ice-T? there are about 50 more essential songs referencing Malcolm X that came before Dead Prez. the kweli one has to be armah's 2000 seasons. and the book the alchemist has nothing to do with the producer! come on, do the knowledge!


You're an idiot. This article is brilliantThis guy stated so clearly that it's what inspired HIM to read the books listed. It has nothing to do with your opinion about what kweli book he should've mentioned or who had the best Malcolm X reference. Don't be so hypercritical and you might learn something. 


Haha, yeah this is an epic list fail!


Well...it's what songs inspired HIM to read the books.

I'm sure Ice-T inspired more to look into Pimp than Jay-Z, and maybe he deserved a mention, but at the author's speaking on how the Jay-Z song got him to read Iceberg Slim.

And I reckon that's one of the best things we can ask of hip-hop - dudes deride you for expecting to be taught by rappers, but if they can get a listener on to some real literature and inspire them to further themselves then the genre's still working.

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