Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Let Me Hear A Rhyme by Tiffany Jackson

Rating: ★★★★ | Macmillan | Contemporary | Release Date: 05/21/2019
After Brooklyn teenager and aspiring rapper Steph is shot to death, his two best friends and sister hatch a plan to give Steph the legacy he always dreamed of. They use his recordings to turn him into Brooklyn’s hottest rapper and unexpectedly uncover secrets to solve Steph’s murder.

This book takes place in 1998 and normally I side-eye YA authors writing books that take place in the ’90s because it feels like it’s pandering to adult readers of YA but in this book, it just works. The '90s setting feels essential to the story and not just like a nostalgia trip because it was such a significant time in hip-hop and Black culture.

Gatekeeping in the music industry was different back then and our characters have to hustle to produce and publicize Steph’s music. If this took place in modern time they’d just have a GoFundMe, upload the recording to SoundCloud and be done.

Each of our three protagonists gets their own separate plots and it felt like there wasn't as much follow through on the individual storylines which was kind of disappointing. particularly with Steph's sister who falls in with militant Black Nationalists. We never fully get into what is going on with her and I feel like it could have been a book on its own.

This is a full-cast audiobook and all of the narrators were new to me. My favorite was Nile Bullock because he actually sounded like a teen. He doesn’t do voices, which was a little confusing, but he easily and naturally navigates the 90’s New York slang. By comparison, Korey Jackson and Adam Lazarre-White sounded significantly older. Our sole female narrator, Adenrele Ojo, has a teen voice that sounded a little whiny and like she was always on the verge of tears. There are a few moments of rapping and singing in this book and I really wish they’d brought in someone... those sections just felt awkward.

In the acknowledgments, Jackson says this is a personal story for her because she was a teenager in Brooklyn during this time and pieces of her are weaved into book. I think her experience brings a refreshing authenticity to this YA about grief, music and what it means to be seen.

This book is also the perfect read-along with 2019’s other hip hop YA On The Come Up by Angie Thomas, they both say interesting things about the legacy of hip-hop and Black youth.

I….I think this book may have taught me how to play Spades….

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