The Stoner's Guide To Making A Hip-Hop Classic

Shea Serrano dissects just what makes a rap song, like, great

Imagine if you could relive one of those late-night, possibly drink- or pot-addled discussions you had when you were 17 about whether Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” made a more significant contribution to the history of rap music than Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message”, but in a book? Well, pop down that apple bong because the good news is, friend, you can.

The Rap Year Book by Grantland staffer Shea Serrano, is a knowingly subjective selection of the most important rap songs of each year from 1979 to 2014, with a spirited advocacy for each, plus diagrams where necessary. As Serrano declares, it is about sifting out the works that shifted the musical, social or even political landscape around them from those that are “just fun to move your body and arms and legs to”.

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But, this being the literary equivalent of Friday night round Jeff’s house, such discussions need a dissenting voice (a Tony, if you will). Thus, when Serrano argues that Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” was the song that mattered in 1989, Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene makes the counter argument for Tone-Loc’s “Wild Thing”. Or when Serrano plumps hard for DMX’s “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” to represent for 1998, up pops ESPN’s Bomani Jones on behalf of “Ha” by Juvenile.

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Are these important decisions? Of course not. Does that mean it can’t make for a fun discussion? Hell no! And indeed, it’s a lively debate that will continue for decades to come. Or at least until Tony’s mum drives round in her dressing gown to find out why he’s out so late when he’s got to help Uncle Jim paint the shed tomorrow.

The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano, foreword by Ice-T, is out on today (Abrams Image)

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