“The thing that’s most gratifying to me is that the artists themselves like it and respect it, ’cause I’m trying to tell their story,” says BRIAN COLEMAN from his home in Somerville. “If Fredro from Onyx likes the book, that’s what matters to me.” Coleman is the author of Rakim Told Me, one of the most widely praised hip-hop books in history. A first-hand account of hip-hop classics, the self-published book created such a buzz that Random House asked him to update and release a much bigger book. Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies (Villard) hits stores June 12.
“There are some parts of Rakim Told Me, but it is Volume II,” Coleman explains. “The De La Soul chapter is beefed up, I went back and got Prince Paul and Dante Ross. For the Ice-T chapter, I was able to track down Afrika Islam.” All told, Coleman doubled the amount of hip-hop information, to 500 pages, including and excluding some things from Rakim. Check is 36 chapters on the making of 36 hip-hop classics — everything from the Fugees to Too $hort. His new deal gives him international distribution, a huge helping of publicity, and, of course, money.
“It was good money. It was enough money to make me want to give it a shot.” After working for years as a jazz publicist and hip-hop freelancer, Coleman had months to work on the book. “The time I had, that’s what should happen, you can actually focus on writing. It let me do what I wanted to do. For the Beastie Boys chapter [“Check Your Head”] I talked to every single person involved in making that record. It gave me the luxury to do that. It was nothing but amazing, I’m really excited.”
Coleman has only praise for the publisher and his editor, Adam Korn, and he expects the new book to get some international exposure for Wax Facts Press, his tiny Somerville publishing house. “Until the book comes out, it’s very much a purgatorial thing. It’s like having a kid. It’s all been pretty crazy, but all good. I got no complaints. What I did before couldn’t be any smaller, it was just me!”
Now, Random House has placed his book under its Villard imprint, alongside Jeff Foxworthy and The Cubicle Survival Guide. The early buzz was garnered through just 10 copies for back-cover quotes: Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots wrote the intro, and hip-hop author Ronin Ro calls it “truly essential rap history.” Coleman hopes to have book parties all over the US featuring the DJs and artists who inspired him, parties similar to the two he threw at the Milky Way in June 2005. These will be much larger. “I’m not a big fan of book signings. I don’t go to them, I don’t see the point of them — I mean, you want MY autograph?? — I want the music to be at the center of everything.” Expect events in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and maybe more.