There’s been some solid music released this year. Spitters like Cordae, the Dreamville squad, Benny The Butcher, Nas, Pusha T, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, and many others have released standout projects, keeping the bar high. Yes, we love examining, twisting and breaking down lyrics, beat selection, and even album artwork. But we’re also music history nerds. We love to read books written by or about our favorite artists.
Lucky for us, this year has also brought about fun and informative reads. Whether you want to understand the social structures that shaped one of the best MCs to ever handle a microphone, or the addiction that’s haunted so many vocalists—or if you just want to celebrate the women who’ve shaped popular culture—there’s a book for that. Below, we compiled the best music books of 2022, so far.
It Was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him
Journalist Justin Tinsley is the latest documentarian to add to the tree of life after the death of The Notorious B.I.G. Back in May, Tinsely unveiled a well-researched biography of the late-wordsmith and hip-hop legend. Using interviews with those close to Biggie, Tinsely goes an extra mile by examining the sociological terrain like poor schools, Ronald Reagan, and the War on Drugs.
Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm
J Dilla is probably your favorite producer’s favorite producer. Dan Charnas, author of The Big Payback, shines a well-deserved light on Dilla’s life and musical career with Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla. Charnas stitches together cultural history, musicology, and biology to chronicle Dilla’s journey from his childhood in Detroit to his rise as a Grammy-nominated producer to the rare blood disease that caused his untimely death.
Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop
Veteran journalist Danyel Smith adds another line to her resume—not to mention also to the fabric of American culture—with the recent release of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop, which delves into the achievements of Black women in music. Mixing cultural history, criticism, and memoir, you’ll be hard pressed to find a read as fun or informative on the subject as this.
For readers who appreciate a dive into fiction, Enter the Blue should find a spot on your bookshelf. In a search to save her teacher who lay comatose after collapsing during a performance, Jessie Choi finds herself meeting jazz legends, learning about the storied history of Blue Note Records—a jazz record label created by Alfred Lion in 1939—and, along the way, she’s forced to face her deepest fears.
DJ Screw: A Life in Slow Revolution (American Music Series)
DJ Screw single handedly created a hip-hop culture in Houston. Screw’s invention has inspired superstars like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and A$AP Rocky. And via interviews from family, friends, and Chopped and Screwed nerds, he finally gets his due.
Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller
Most Dope works as a reminder of Mac’s passion for hip-hop and his gifts as a MC. But the new book from music journalist Paul Cantor absolutely soars as a cautionary tale about drug addiction.
Didn’t We Almost Have It All: In Defense of Whitney Houston
Gerrick Kennedy dives into the life of one of the all time great vocalists, Whitney Houston, examining a journey rife with addiction, abuse, and fame. It’s hardly a story untold at this point, but for fans of Houston it’ll fit nicely on the shelf.
Every Good Boy Does Fine: A Love Story, in Music Lessons
In Jermey Denk’s stirring new memoir, the genius-piano player details his own coming of age. Using music as a metaphor, Denk unveils universal truths about life, exploring his own piano studies, Julliard PhD, relationships, and sexual identity through the lens of diligent practice.
Ugly Beauty: Jazz in the 21st Century (Culture, Society & Politics)
Here, Phil Freeman answers probing questions like, Has streaming lessened the value of music? What meaningful musical traditions are left to explore? Are there any sounds that are truly off-limits? For those who find their minds mulling over similar queries, your first stop ought to be here.
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