The Dirty Version (Harper Collins $25.99) by Buddha Monk and Mickey Hess is the biography of the deceased MC known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard from the Wu-Tang Clan. If you remember him (and of course you do), you recall the wild dude singing, dancing and acting a fool all over the place; he was mesmerizing. Buddha Monk—his childhood friend, manager, handler and go to partner-in-music—captured all of that and the historic rise of Wu-Tang here. What he truly relays is the humanity of the man born Russell Tyrone Jones. “Dirty… had a way of talking to people in general that would bring them around to his way of thinking. You don’t hear about Dirty being a peacekeeper, but Dirt could talk a ni**a with a gun down in a second.” Monk captures that charisma and charm, but also the joy and pain that fame brought ODB, as well as the drugs, the women and the demise. It’s a great work in honor of an individual who tried to walk the best line he could.
Herbie Hancock: Possibilities (Viking $29.95) by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey tells the rise of the man who won his first Grammy for “Rockit” in 1984 and had already created the fantastic jazz classic Head Hunters nine years earlier. A mind blowing who’s who of jazz music, this biography is worth the first seven chapters alone to read how Hancock’s mentor Donald Byrd put him in the game. Not to mention everything Hancock learned from Miles Davis as part of his quintet. But there’s even more here, like how each of his bands formed, their trials, their synergy, their growth, and his maturation as a musician. While his music takes center-stage in this work, Hancock as a man also shares all-time personal lows: the premature death of his sister, his crack addiction, and his flaws moving along the journey of life. Amazing work here for musician and fan alike.
Brooklyn’s Promised Land: The Free Black Community of Weeksville, New York (NYU Press $35) by Judith Wellman is the story of an African-American majority community founded on the heels of the Emancipation Proclamation in Brooklyn, New York. What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights was bought and sold to people of color escaping North from the South. Many of these residents’ lots were farms; some were homes, schools and churches. U.S. Census reports noted the growth of the number of residents, their households and their occupations. But what happened to them? They lost land as Eastern Parkway was built and the elevated Long Island Railroad was erected along Atlantic Avenue. Once the city planner laid out the grid of streets and homes, only a few historic buildings remained of what once was. This is a must-read for any person of color (certainly any Brooklyn resident) to understand the history of the grounds they walk upon.
Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in “Post-Racial” America (Atria $23.99) by director Justin Simien is the coffee-table book your White friends might use to get a party going… or end it on a horrible angry note. In all seriousness, the book is pure comedy. And like all good comedy, it is satirical commentary—about mainstream society, by African-Americans. Well illustrated with charts and illustrations, it’s thick with quizzes like “R U a post-racist?” and “Are you the token Black friend?” to “Are you tokening your Black friend?” A favorite is the “N-Word Decision Tree” chart. If you started shaking your head, then you’re reading this right. Enjoy.
Brook Stephenson is a writer, journalist and founder of the Rhode Island Writers Colony for writers of color. See more about him at brookstephenson.com.