Hip-hop and the scholarship surrounding it are still young enough that its origin story gets repeated to some degree in every book written. In his Bedroom Beats & B-Sides (Velocity Press, 2020), Laurent Fintoni mercifully assumes the reader has a working knowledge of hip-hop’s modes of production and just gets right to it.
The book is built like a collection of mixtapes. Each chapter is a tape, each section is a track, and each track has a producer. It’s a meticulous way to get you into the brains behind the beats. It gives you the utility of a sourcebook and the enjoyment of narrative nonfiction. It’s really effective.
Fintoni has been writing about beats for two decades, and one thing he does that a lot of hip-hop writers don’t do is cover the hip-hop-adjacent electronic beats. There’s a line in there somewhere, and most writers don’t cross it. The beats, the sounds, and the producers do though, and so does Fintoni. Bedroom Beats & B-Sides presents a refreshingly broader picture of the culture, and it’s nothing if not thorough.
I spent most of the 1990s and a lot of the 2000s in Seattle, so reading Emerald Street: The History of Hip-Hop in Seattle (University of Washington Press, 2020) was both mildly nostalgic and wildly educational. I’m versed enough to have been asked to write the Pacific Northwest entry in the St. James Encyclopedia of Hip-Hop (Gale/Cengage, 2017), but Daudi Abe goes much, much deeper than I was able to, due to space of course, but mostly due to knowledge. He has it, I don’t.
Pre-internet Seattle was isolated by geography. It’s way up there in the corner of the country, not a destination and not on the way to one. Touring musicians would typically skip it completely. This gave the region its own sound, even where hip-hop was concerned. From Sir Mix-A-Lot (who also wrote the foreword) to Shabazz Palaces, from Blue Scholars to Oldominion, from Prose and Concepts to Source of Labor, from Kid Sensation to Criminal Nation, from Do the Math to Classic Elements, from my man B-Mello to super-producer Jake One… If every region is to have its own hip-hop history, let them all be as solid and celebratory as Daudi Abe’s Emerald Street.