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One category of books that is growing in popularity these days is music books. Always a good source of material about African-American culture, recent music titles run the gamut--from black music trivia books, to biographies of Dr. Dre, Death Row Records' Suge Knight, Aaliyah, jazz vocalist Betty Carter and soul singer Otis Redding, to books about the music business, hip hop, reggae and the blues. Here's a sampling of what's available.

Aaliyah: An R&B Princess in Words and Pictures by Kelly Kenyatta, Amber Books, August 2001 $10.95, ISBN 0-970-22243-2

Although her life was cut short, Aaliyah Dana Haughton established a music and film career that survives. Her impressive career began at a young age and continued through her teenage years. But it was her debut album Age Ain't Nothing But a Number in 1994 that would make Aaliyah an overnight sensation.

In his biography of the young star Aaliyah: An R&B Princess in Words and Pictures, writer Kelly Kenyatta chronicles the singer's life from her days on the road with her aunt Gladys Knight to her controversial relationship with R. Kelly, to her stellar music and film career that ended with her tragic death in a plane crash. Fans of "Baby Girl" will find this book refreshing, with its focus on Aaliyah's life and her desire to achieve her dream of becoming a star and how she made that dream a reality.

The book reflects the optimism that Aaliyah expressed in a MTV interview: "You should wake up every day and love what you do. And I honestly do, from the bottom of my heart to the depths of my soul."

Westside: The Coast-To-Coast Explosion of Hip Hop by William Shaw, Cooper Square Press, February 2002 $16.95, ISBN 0-815-41196-0

Putting his skills as a reporter and journalist to work, William Shaw chronicles the lives of seven young men in South Central Los Angeles who aspire to become successful in the music industry. Their lives in the inner city are filled with violence and hardship, not so dissimilar to the street life portrayed by rappers that have made "thug life" famous.

You Forgot About Dre: The Unauthorized Biography of Dr. Dre and Eminem by Kelly Kenyatta, Amber Books, January 2001 $10.95, ISBN 0-970-22249-1

Dr. Dre and Eminem are two very recognizable names in the hip-hop community, and Kelly Kenyatta's biography gives fans of both entertainers insight into their climb up the hip-hop ladder.

Dre's music roots go back to his days as a writer and producer for the rapper Easy E, and it was this relationship that led to the creation of the group N.W.A.--Niggaz With Attitude. The group earned a reputation for its gangsta rap, hardcore lyrics and the controversy surrounding the single "Fuck tha Police."

Later, Dr. Dre became a partner in the infamous Death Row Records. At Death Row, Dre produced several hit albums including Doggystyle, Snoop Dogg's debut album.

But after legal troubles with the record label, Dre departed Death Row and started his own label, Aftermath Records. One of Aftermath's best-selling artists, Eminem, debuted his album, The Slim Shady LP, which sold millions.

Suge Knight: The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Death Row Records by Jake Brown, Colossus Books, March 2002 $21.95, ISBN 0-970-22247-5

The name Suge Knight is infamous in the world of hip hop. As head of Death Row Records, Knight created a "family" of rappers, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. Jake Brown's profile of Death Row, examines how Suge Knight, through his relationship with rappers and others in the music industry, changed the American music business.

Knight's early years growing up in Los Angeles--specifically, Compton--and how that influenced his role as head of Death Row records are also explored. Suge's reputation for strong-arm business tactics and how that approach was used to bribe and manipulate are also documented. For those interested in the music industry, the book offers insight into the business-side and a bit of hip-hop history.

Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters by Robert Gordon, Little, Brown and Company, May 2002, $25.95, ISBN 0-316-32849-9

Long before the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, there was Muddy Waters. The inventor of electric blues, Waters has influenced generations of rock and roll musicians, a pretty impressive career for someone who came out of the cotton fields. In this definitive biography, music fans learn all there is to know about this true rock and roll legend.

Take Care of Your Music Business by John P. Kellogg, PJ's Publishing, 2000 $29.95, ISBN 0-967-58730-1

The music industry is more than creating a hit record. There is a lot of work that goes on behind-the-scenes. New York lawyer John P. Kellogg provides vital information on the ins and outs of the music business. The guide offers helpful information about key players in the music business, including artists and songwriters, producers, lawyers and accountants.

Otis!: The Otis Redding Story by Scott Freeman, St. Martin's Press, December 2001 $23.95, ISBN 0-312-26217-5

The late soul singer Otis Redding's hit song "Sittin' on The Dock of the Bay" was his biggest hit, and it was also his last recording. Redding died in a plane crash three days after he recorded the song.

Scott Freeman gives the first full-scale biography of one of the pioneers of popular music. In Otis!, readers get to know more about the man from Terrell County, Georgia, who was determined to succeed and who, albeit posthumously, ultimately did.

Reggae Wisdom: Proverbs in Jamaican Music by Swami Anand Prahlad, University Press of Mississippi, March 2001, $22.00, ISBN 1-578-06320-5

Reggae music is much more than island rhythms and beats. Many reggae songs incorporate proverbs in the lyrics--proverbs that are deeply rooted in Rastafarian culture. Artists such as Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Peter Tosh all used proverbs in some of their most popular songs.

Swami Anand Prahlad did extensive research exploring the connections between some of Jamaican proverbs and Rastafarian-inspired music. The book gives credence to the idea that reggae artists are much more than entertainers. In fact, they are "warrior/priests" who act as educators, social and political critics, prophets and advisors.

What's Your HI-FI Q? by Scott Poulson-Bryant and Smokey D. Fontaine, Fireside, June 2002, $12.00 ISBN 0-743-22955-X

Think you are a music guru? Well, this book will put you to the test. From the disco infernos of the 70s to the ghetto fabulous hip hop of the 90s, this trivia book will keep even the most knowledgeable music aficionados guessing. Compiled by music journalists Scott Poulson-Bryant (Vibe) and Smokey D. Fontaine (The Source), What's Your HI-FI Q? not only picks your brain about the best music black entertainers have done, but lets you take a stroll down memory lane.

Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter by William R. Bauer, The University of Michigan Press, March 2002, $29.95, ISBN 0-472-09791-1

Betty Carter is a jazz legend all her own. Her influence on the music world is evident in the new generation of musicians that followed her, embracing her style--from Cassandra Wilson to Erykah Badu. By taking in the vocal and music styles of Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Miles Davis, Carter created a unique sound.

Assistant professor of music at Rutgers University, William R. Bauer, brings this biography of Betty Carter to life. The book not only pays tribute to Carter's fantastic musicality, but also reveals her shrewd business and marketing skills.

Did Ya Forget?: The Ultimate Black Music Trivia by Chandell Bey, 1stBooks Library, October 2001 $3.95, ISBN 0-759-66226-6

The entire spectrum of the African-American experience is expressed in black music. With such intensity and heartfelt emotion, black music seems impervious to other cultural influences, which is why this book is a good source in understanding the roots of our musical history.

Chandell Bey puts your black music knowledge to the test. With three levels of music trivia, readers are quizzed on everything from blues to jazz to hip hop. Not merely for entertainment, this book provides "edutainment." According to Bey, it's "educating while entertaining simultaneously." What a way to learn more about black music and have fun while doing it.

R&B (Rhythm and Business): The Political Economy of Black Music edited by Norman Kelley, Akashic Books, March 2002 $24.95, ISBN 1-888-45126-2

Norman Kelley takes a look at who actually profits from the success of black music. Though African Americans have created wonderful music--blues, jazz, R&B, hip hop, and rock & roll--you might think that the black community would profit from its music success. But of the ten largest black businesses, not one is a record company. --Janine Gardner

Q & A with Norman Kelley

BIBR: What was the inspiration for the book?

Kelley: I thought it interesting that blacks create music, but we don't control the industry.

BIBR: What's the solution?

Kelley: There is no solution per se. Black music could be used to jumpstart economic development, but we've never accepted music as something that could generate wealth.

BIBR: What about these hip-hop summits?

Kelley: These hip-hop summits say nothing about contracts, health benefits, accounting or work-for-hire clauses. The summits are virtual politics for a music that has almost been drained of any real progressive content.

BIBR: You skewer black intellectuals noting that it's easier to make a rap album than to address the inequities in the music industry?

Kelley: I read an article by Manning Marable, who went to the hip-hop summit. This guy, who's supposedly a Marxist, offers no analysis of what's going on. [Intellectuals] latch onto hip-hop to latch onto hipness. They're interpreting black culture for the market with the most money.

--interview by Angela Bronner
COPYRIGHT 2002 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1623
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