First,I read the book through, soaking up the impassioned and powerful artwork of Frank Morrison. My take-away was that the source of the music was people rising up from urban streets who demanded that they be heard and created music and art (graffiti) that compelled attention. Although I had heard some of the names of the artists through the zeitgeist, I didn't really know who they were. So I went to You Tube, looked up the artist, opened a new window where I could read the lyrics as I listened to the music and watched the videos. I was determined not to miss a beat.
Weatherford introduces her musical history in The Roots of Rap with:
"Soulman James Brown shouting, 'I'm black and I'm proud.'
"Giving birth to funk--bass lining pulsing loud.
"BA BUMP BA BUMP BA BOOM BOOM BUZZ-- BA BUMP BA BUMP BA BOOM BOOM BUZZ"
This music was played at volume to the max in boom boxes and cars, filling public spaces with sound that invited dancing. Not just toe-tapping dancing but amazingly athletic break-dancing on sidewalks. I watched the B-Boys--the best of the best. Who know the human body was capable of such moves? Why haven't they been adopted to liven up the floor exercises in gymnastic competitions and add points for difficulty? Next came the Jamaican reggae beat that was embellished by DJs who man-handled turntables, improvising live and in real time a novel mix of already recorded music, creating a genre called "dub." D. J. Kool, known as the founder of hip-hop, interacted mightily with his live audience who kept up with his off-beat approach and rat-a-tat lyrics that are both fervent and witty. Weatherford was a kind guide to this greenhorn as she gently shared her knowledge of music that she has come to love. So if rap is foreign to you, this not just a book to read. It is a course in music appreciation.
In the back-matter there is a "Hip-Hop Who's Who" that can keep a playlist-builder busy. Rap has no limit in its range of expression, from anger to yearning to a celebration of life, which makes it popular world-wide. It is an amalgam of diverse cultures, beats, songs and poems. Some of it may be too raw for the very young. But then, some very young children have already experienced a harsh reality not of their own making. Whatever it is, there's a rap song for that.
In this one-of-a-kind picture book about music without a sound track Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morisson have created an introduction to a universal form of communication that is echoing around the world. Go catch the wave.