GrubStreet instructor and author Candace McDuffie shares her experience writing 50 Rappers Who Changed The World. Arguably one of the most mainstream music styles today, rap was in fact born centuries ago in West Africa with historians or “griots” who used to tell stories of the past over the beat of a drum. But it wasn’t until the 1970s in New York that rapping as we know it was born and began to flourish. Filled with stylish illustrations and a short biography of each artist, this book is a celebration of the musicians who shaped the genre and changed the world. You can learn more and purchase a copy of 50 Rappers Who Changed The World here.
When first asked to write 50 Rappers Who Changed The World back in October 2019, I was initially in disbelief. Since I started freelancing back in 2006, all I’d heard from anyone who discovered my side profession was how I should write a book. Of course, they skipped over the logistics of it all: picking a genre, writing then conceptualizing said book, finding an agent, sending out the manuscript to various publishers. From the outside looking in, it seems simpler than it actually is. And while it’s not necessarily every writer’s dream to become a published author, I thought a book would happen for me sometime in the distant future.
Not only is it difficult and incredibly time consuming to write a book, but it also requires a higher level of vulnerability. I’ve made it a point to be very cognizant of how I want to use my platform and the messaging I aim to promote. In addition to entertainment, I write about racism, intersectionality, feminism, and other social and political issues. Although these topics are important to me, writing an entire book on such pressing matters was something I didn’t know if I had the capacity for. 50 Rappers Who Changed The World was right up my alley and combined my passion for music journalism and Black culture; the fact that it would serve as an educational tool was the proverbial icing on the cake.
After signing the contract in December 2019 and meeting face-to-face with my editor on a trip to London that same month (Hardie Grant is based in the UK), I soon discovered that the author schedule I agreed to was rigorous but entirely feasible. My publisher provided me with a stellar in-house editor, illustrator, and designer. I was also given a lot of creative freedom and handpicked all of the artists featured in the book. My excitement for this project made it easier for me to rearrange obligations in order for 50 Rappers to come to life in just a year’s time. I cut down my hours at work (my full-time gig is that of a preschool teacher), cut back on freelance assignments I would accept, and made a structured writing plan. However, right when I hit the ground running, the pandemic happened and changed life as we know it.
Not only did I have to balance the pivot to teach preschool completely online while writing this book, I couldn’t stay silent about the disproportionate impact Covid-19 was having on people of color. I wrote about it three separate times for three different publications. Then the cultural zeitgeist redirected itself to never-ending instances of police brutality — which also disproportionately affects Black people — so I wrote about that, too. I thought that camping out on my mom’s couch in upstate New York for a month, while all of this was happening, would help with the mental health issues that would arise, but it didn’t. I would start therapy to cope with debilitating depression in July — the same month that I officially announced my book to the world.
2020 was the hardest year of my life while also being one of the most professionally fulfilling. 50 Rappers Who Changed The World is in its second reprint and the feedback has been phenomenal. Since its release, I’ve been mulling around the idea of writing another book down the line. But for now, I’m taking it one day at a time, teaching preschool in-person, checking in with my therapist bi-weekly, and processing my resolve. If at one of the lowest points in my life I could still somehow channel enough creativity to complete the biggest undertaking of my career, what’s stopping you from starting yours?