I’m a little late to game but I think these would be two great reads, especially for men who don’t read like my brothers:
Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx by Ivan Sanchez
Beyond the safety of New York City’s news headlines, Next Stop is a train ride into the heart of the Bronx during the late eighties and early nineties at the height of the crack epidemic, a tumultuous time when hip-hop was born and money-hungry slumlords were burning down apartment buildings with tenants still inside.
From one stop to the next, this gritty memoir follows Ivan Sanchez and his crew on their search for identity and an escape from poverty in a stark world where street wars and all-night symphonies of crime and drug-fueled mayhem were as routine as the number 4 train.
In the game, the difference between riches and ruin was either a bullet or a lucky turn away. Almost driven insane by the poverty, despair, and senseless violence, Ivan left it all behind and moved to Virginia, but the grotesque images and voices of the dead continued to haunt him. This book honors the memories of those who died. At times heartbreakingly sad and brutal, Next Stop shares with a whole new generation the insights and hard lessons Ivan learned.
Luis “Disco Wiz” Cedeño, the first Latino hip-hop DJ and an original member of what would later become the pioneering group the Cold Crush Brothers, isn’t in Wild Style or any of the other landmark documents that captured the still-nascent rap culture in the early 1980s.
By the time film crews and record labels caught on to Cedeño’s Bronx peers, the artist was already in prison for attempted murder. In one of the most memorable passages of his memoir, It’s Just Begun, he recalls first learning of “Rapper’s Delight” during an awkward jailhouse phone call with the Cold Crush Brothers’ Grandmaster Caz, whose routines the Sugar Hill Gang hijacked to make that pivotal song.
Still, while It’s Just Begun (written with Ivan Sanchez, author of the 2006 memoir Next Stop: Growing Up Wild Style in the Bronx) strives to cement Cedeño’s status as a founding member of hip-hop, music plays a surprisingly limited role in this hard-knocks Bronx tale.
Instead, an ever-mounting set of struggles—against an abusive, alcoholic father; rival Bronx gang members; sadistic jail guards; bleak postprison employment prospects; and more recently, two bouts with cancer—are steadily revealed in alarmingly short intervals.
Despite its riveting story, the writing in It’s Just Begun (which takes its name from a 1972 song by multicultural Harlem funk band the Jimmy Castor Bunch) is unpolished and stilted. But the rawness of it suits the bleak narrative: Cedeño’s grim tales are delivered with a bluntness that makes them feel more real than they would have been if they were polished up in pretty prose.—Jesse Serwer