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For an industry that has spun countless rags-to-riches tales over the past four decades, it’s hardly surprising that the rapper-penned memoir overshadows all other entries in the hall of fame for hip-hop books. Granted, this extensive library is filled with numerous classics that focus on everything but the artist—the majority of which document the genre as an art form (How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC) or the progression of hip-hop as a culture (Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation)—but none are quite as thrilling as the rap memoir.
Although you can learn a lot about an MC by listening to their records, autobiographies offer insights through a different lens: a long-form glimpse into the world of hip-hop seen through the eyes of its key players. These books are equal parts entertaining and inspirational. At their best, they function as both celebrity tell-alls and self-help therapy sessions.
Earlier this month, Common and Rick Ross became the latest rappers to join the hip-hop literary canon. Common's second memoir, Let Love Have the Last Word, comes out on May 7. Ross’s first book, Hurricanes (co-written by Neil Martinez-Belkin, who also co-authored The Autobiography of Gucci Mane) is set to arrive on September 3. In preparation for these forthcoming must-reads, let’s take a look at the most fascinating hip-hop memoirs to date.