Hip hop reads for the holidays

8 great books + 8 events worth peeling your ass off the couch for.

shineAh, December. What a wonderful time to stop giving a fuck about absolutely everything. I’m too busted for cable Christmas specials and so like many of you, my holiday season will be spent cringing as human atrocity after human atrocity appears in my newsfeed, like so many little lumps of reality-coal in my already perpetually slush-soaked stocking.

But as a wise old cartoon security guard once advised: “Well…try to have a Merry Christmas.”

So I’m gonna let this heart grow three sizes right now and recommend some winter reading that will fill your season with glad hip hop tidings and so on. Some of these are light, some more heavy, most came out this year, and all will provide a warm respite from our cold, hard device screens and their sorrowful refrain, if only for a relatively few short moments. Give them as a gift to the music fan you love most. (Yes, yes — I meant “yourself.”)

Check the Technique Vol.2: More Liner Notes for Hip Hop Junkies (Brian Coleman, Wax Fact Press):  The ruler’s back. From the author of rap journalism classic Rakim Told Me comes a second tome — and trust me, this Uzi weighs a ton — of first-hand, in-depth reporting, this time with 25 even deeper digs into rap’s greatest records by way of interviews and rare full-colour artwork. Like its predecessor, CTT2 will occupy your mind for a long time to come. Co-Flow, Black Star, Jazzy Jeff, Smiff N Wessun and Dr. Octogon are just a taste. Pounds of knowl. And if you don’t have Coleman’s earlier works, don’t sleep, either.

Rap indépendant: La vague hip hop indie des années 1990/2000 en 30 scenes et 100 albums (Sylvain Bertot, Le Mot et le Reste): The title says quite a lot, really. French rap scribe Sylvain Bertot has studied North American rap subcultures from afar, and this lofty read takes you from Halifax to Houston through the eyes of an overseas rap fanatic. Insightful both for Bertot’ s spot-on understandings and one-ocean-removed perspectives on the importance and impact of rap’s ever-influential underground on this side of the globe.

For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique (by Dan LeRoy and Peter Relic, 66 2/3): After tackling what he thought was the entire strange saga of the creation of the Beastie’s classic, genre-altrering sophomore in his compelling 33 1/3 series installment on PB, author Dan LeRoy was contacted by his co-author here, Peter Relic, who brought a few more facts to the table. And so here we have a sequel, so speak. I highly recommend seeking out a copy of LeRoy’s first text, but this will stand alone to the legions of B-Boys superfans out there as well as music bio aficionados. Full of random facts and a grab-bag of perspectives and insights, the book is not unlike the album itself in terms of the digging done.

Rage Is Back (Adam Mansbach, Viking Press) I’ll paraphrase what I said in this month’s print issue of Cult MTL in recommending this novel, released in paperback early this year: Rage is a sort of sci-fi, psychedelic, supernatural graffiti tale about street revenge with solid family values. And its narrator is about the closest to Holden Caulfield as we’ve seen. I’ll leave you with “just trust me on this.” Total fun.

Who We Be: The Colorization of America (by Jeff Chang, Viking Press): From the author of Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop — a book generally accepted as a gospel of hip hop culture and its history, and which I also strongly endorse — comes a new and extremely timely social study. This time out, Chang  examines a range of aspects regarding the last half-century of human relations in the ol’ U-S-of-A against the backdrop of two often polarizing four-letter words: “race” and “hope.” To be completely honest with you, I have only just begun the text, but so far it is living up to both my expectations of Chang and the waves of positive press his book has received in the mainstream. I am engaged, 75 pages in, and I believe many of you will be, too. The hardcover is coffee-table worthy, but this isn’t a book to be flipped through casually. That said, one of Chang’s strengths remains his ability to entertain while sharing an academic understanding of his subject matter.

Dead Obies: Montreal $ud (Bonsound): “Wait!” you’re exclaiming, “Isn’t that that album from  that local band, neither of which you, Darcy, have shut up about in the past year?” You are correct, except that this is DO: le livre de pocket, a Decoded-style, track-by-track, line-by-line deconstruction of their debut label release, its conceptual arc, and its place in modern Quebec society — or at least, the version that the group lives in. Entertaining, informative and a little cocky, don’t think for one second this is a vanity project. As I believe time will continue to tell, the Obies are gonna have the last word on anything that surrounds them in whatever language they please. You can order the book, which contains a download code for the digital album, from their Bandcamp, or pick it up at select Archambault and Renaud-Bray stores, as well as at several local indie record/book shops.

The Hip Hop Family Tree (By Ed Piskor, Fantagraphics) If we started at the bottom, Ed Piskor is here, with his already cultishly adored, two-volume graphic novel collection of rap’s roots in the five boroughs, as told in old-school rock comic fashion. Order online or, if you’re really lucky, pick up a copy at Crossover Comics on Notre-Dame W., where they try to keep it in stock and still had a few when last I strolled by. These are dookie-gold-chain d-o-p-e.

Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove (Ahmir Kaleb Thompson with Ben Greenman, Grand Central Publishing) Though it first appeared in hardcover in 2013, it bears mentioning again this year if for no other reason than the loss of longtime Roots manager Richard Nichols, who passed a few months back, but features prominently in the narrative as Quest’s oft-contradictory, transparent-to-a-fault footnote fact-checker. Luckily though, that is not the only reason to recommend it again. While a little rushed at times, it gives an inside look not only at the hardest working group in hip hop, but its heartbeat, Questo, and how he was wound to keep time.

I could go on, but these are the crème-de-la-crème rap reads of 2014. You can feel free to revisit what I recommended in 2012 if you can’t get enough.

If you absolutely must leave your couch and go partake in some party n’ bullshit this week, I got you.

Friday: Alright, admittedly, this little bit of history in the making at le Belmont tonight is worth rising from your ass-groove. Bahamadia makes her first ever Montreal appearance tonight with guests Georgia Anne Muldrow and Declaime aka Dudley Perkins, as well at the city’s own Jai Nitai Lotus and guest Kankick. Le Belmont (4483 St-Laurent), 10 p.m., $15

Saturday: It’s a Tribute to James Brown at Inspecteur l’Epingle, with Kobal, Kyou, Don Mescal and more. 4051 St-Hubert, 10 p.m., $7

True-school Montreal OG Rob Brown takes Datcha. 98 Laurier W., 10 p.m..

And at Espace des Arts, Fabolous — someone out there loves him — does his thing. 9 Ste-Catherine E., 10 p.m., $45 advance/$65 at the door/$100 VIP

Sunday: Barraca Rhumerie & Tapas hosts A Toast Dawg Christmas, with the local beatsmith decking the halls with boughs of funky shit. 1134 Mont-Royal E., 10 p.m.

And at Honey Martin’s in NDG, a new-ish weekly that I haven’t yet attended, but must soon, bills itself Jazz & Dilla, with live musicians, beatmakers and guest MCs each Sunday. Last week’s special guest: none other than Illa J, Dilla’s own brother. I wouldn’t miss a single one of these if I still lived in the hood. 5916 Sherbrooke W., 10:30 p.m.

Wednesday: It’s a Beaux Degats at Foufs. 87 Ste-Catherine E., 8 p.m., $5

After, head to TRH-Bar to celebrate officially legal, year-round skating at Peace Park as sanctioned by Mayor Coderre in recognition of the hard work put in by local skater/scenester/filmmaker/really nice dude David Boots. 3699 St-Laurent, 10 p.m., free 


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