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Five Rap Albums That Sound Like Debut Memoirs

I’m working on a story that needs to flow like these hip-hop manifestos

Andrew Ricketts
6 min readSep 30, 2022

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Memoirs dig up the nasty gristle of each neglected gut part and hold it up to merciless, sterile light. They’re distinct from biographies because they don’t retell the timeline of a life. That would be boring and unfeeling, like the original intro I wrote for this essay. (Read it below.) We depend on memoirists to curate the important themes within a life and jam them down our throats.

“Memoirs are my favorite genre to read and explore because they give focused information about a specific aspect of the author’s life. They’re distinct from biographies because they use a finite theme to bring into bold view one embodied aspect of the first-person point of view. We learn early on to see our lives as stories with standout chapters and crucial sections.”

Rap is autobiographical and, like writing, it must punch. Sucker punch, swift jab, uppercut, whatever. Rap bars need to hit you when you think you’re looking but you’re not. The defining question of hip-hop is “what now?” Further distilled, it means “what do you bring to it?” How will you enrich this endless archive with your own story?

In sixth grade, we had tabletop beatbox freestyle sessions. Steve B. was a capable percussionist, as was my friend Akie. They’d hit the steady “boom-boom-clap” while we shouted verses. If at a loss for words, you could do what Steve did and recite existing hits.

“It was all a dream/I used to read Word Up! Magazine” was how Steve opened his turn on a breezy fall day in 4th period lunch. Then, he re-spat Biggie’s seminal verse with sparkling aplomb to the point it sounded new to us. His Polo rugby shivered to the thumping milk cartons and the warbling rubber bands on his braces curdled every verb in exact time. We broke into cheers.

“Used to” was the memoirist’s stamp in Biggie’s verse that I didn’t pick up on back then. I used to read the Source Magazine. I used to prep rhymes in my head for the tabletop beatbox. I used to, but I don’t anymore so this memory flares because it feels present. That’s memoir. That’s good rap.

I’ve been listening to JID’s The Forever Story for a month now and it’s a…

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Andrew Ricketts

I’m a Caribbean and American writer from New York. My stories are about coming-of-age, learning how to relate, and family. It’s a living, breathing memoir.