Biggie. Tupac. Lauryn Hill. Lil Kim. Hip Hop. Late 90s. Let Me Hear a Rhyme was published in 2019 for today’s youngsters, but it was a trip down memory lane for this child of the 80s and 90s.
Like friends Steph, Quadir and Jarrell, I was in high school when Biggie and Tupac were murdered within months of each other. I remember the buzz from their post-mortem album releases and the anticipation of their high-profile murders being solved by the Los Angeles and Las Vegas police departments, respectively. Add to that, I too was dealing with the loss of a relative due to gun violence. Quadir and Jarrell find themselves mourning the loss of their friend. Matter of fact, the book opens with the repasse after Steph’s funeral.
As the novel unfolds Quadi and Rell still reeling from the murder of their good friend, who was a talented and aspiring rapper. The young men, along with help of Steph’s younger sister Jasmine set out on a quest to release Steph’s music to the world so he can be more than just another nameless, young, black male senselessly murdered. The police aren’t doing much to find his killer. This is a time before social media and hashtag memorials.
A source of tension is that the teens actually do become more preoccupied with getting the ghost of Steph signed to a record label rather than seeking justice for him.
A favorite scene in the book is when Jasmine’s mother doesn’t back down when bumrushed by wannabe goons at her own home. Not only does she slap one across the face, but she orders the other two to go to the kitchen and get a drink to calm down. Meanwhile, Jasmine is in awe of her mother. Black mothers are fearless and don’t play when it comes to protecting themselves and loved one. It reminded me of a time when my aunt got into an altercation with people in her condo complex. This little woman, barely over five feet, ordered her daughter to go in the house and dared the aggressors to harm her. I was awed and angry at her audacity.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme derives its title from what Steph’s friends often say to him to prompt him to perform for them. After his death, boxes of his notebooks and CDs (remember those) are found in his room, evidence of a young talent gone entirely too soon.
I enjoyed reading the novel. As a New York resident for the past 11 years, I was geeked to recognize street names and neighborhoods not too far from where I live. I most certainly recognized artist names such as Biggie, Tupac, DMX, Puff, Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim and Funkmaster Flex. I’m used to reading about artists before my time, but these artists are legit during my generation. Much like Angie Thomas’ novel The Hate U Give taught me the roots of Pac’s Thug Life tattoo (the hate you give little infants fucks everyone), Let Me Hear a Rhyme taught me the origins of the duo Black Star. Hip Hop artists Mos Def and Talib Kweli named themselves after Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey’s shipping company, which had a mission of providing transportation for Black Americans to move to Africa. This was a recurring thought by Nas’ character in the movie Belly, which Quadir went to see in theaters opening weekend.
This was my second Tiffany D. Jackson novel. As she did in Monday’s Not Coming, Jackson effortlessly sets up the reader with a plot twist or two, that are totally believable and make your heart drop. Though the novel is YA, which of course means teens butting heads with parents, some bullying, these characters are dealing with heavy real-life issues. It doesn’t get any heavier than grieving the loss of a friend or a sibling. I listened to the audiobook as I await the delivery of my pre-ordered copy of Grown, also by Jackson and was released on September 15.