William Upski Wimsatt
Soft Skull Press
If I had to review this book in just one sentence, I’d say simply this: It’s the best book I have ever read. However, clearly I shouldn’t just leave it there, I should go into detail about just how much I liked this book, and what an impact it had at the time it was first released and its subsequent re-birth when it was reprinted.
Upski, it says on the back cover’s blurb is the “only down white boy in hip-hop” according to Cashus D of the Zulu Nation and it is obvious that Upski does know exactly what he’s talking about. A white boy growing up in Chicago, he decided at a young age that hanging out with the black community would be cool, and became a [graffiti] writer. His tales in this book cover the state of graf, the community it surrounds and embraces, hitch-hiking across America, b-boying, rapping and everything else that you might think hip hop involves and even things that you don’t.
At the start of the book, he warns the reader that this won’t be a well organised book and indeed it is set out as somewhat of a fanzine, with chapters starting halfway down a page and sometimes completely changing the subject. But you never get the impression that things don’t fit together perfectly, it really does read seamlessly and that’s down to Upski’s flow, which is as familiar and warm as your best friend, but as informative and educational as a lecture.
It’s not just Upski’s narrative in this book either, there are interviews with writers, rappers, and even a homeless Chicago native which gives the book so much depth, because the words come from those who have lived what they speak of. He includes letters that he wrote to editors of magazines and stories of people that ran with him back in the day and it is this personal spine running through the book that gives it the edge over other more rigid books I’ve read on the subject.
The opinions in this book over the state of hip hop and the sorry decline into gangster rap still stands true today despite the original copy being published over 10 years ago. And because it stands the test of time, you can be sure that what you’re reading is important and should be consumed as quickly and as readily as possible. This book is a must buy, without a shadow of a doubt.