Words carry energy and depending on the passion–combined with high-quality storytelling–carried by the master of ceremony, listeners develop a solid understanding of the narrative–even if one hasn’t had the first-hand experience with the narrator’s accounts.
Enter Logic’s latest album, Everybody, currently No. 8 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The 27-year-old rapper does a few things on his third studio effort. First, he brings listeners into his racially complex orbit: a space filled with mental abuse from his drug-addicted mother. Logic, who’s bi-racial, places fans between the clash of his conflicted parents–a white mother, who according to Logic disliked “niggers,” and an absent black father, who was also addicted to drugs.
To add to his discomfort, the rapper — born Sir Robert Bryson Hall II — raps about identifying with African Americans. However, he possesses caucasian features that made identifying with African Americans a difficult feat and resulted in caustic attitudes tossed in Logic’s direction from blacks and whites alike. Despite the former, and many other, discomforts, the Rockville, Md., native hammered away to become one of the most skilled, potent and auspicious lyricists in hip-hop.
Logic’s story on Everybody parallels stoic and engaging autobiographies like Malcolm X’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Huey Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide, Bobby Seale’s Seize The Time, and George Jackson’s Blood In My Eye, and more recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ letter to his son, Between the World and Me.
Harrowing situations turned into success stories humanizes heroes, and offer deeper insight into the meaning of success. Logic’s long-suffering, relationship with his drug -addicted parents, his experiences with being called a “nigger,” as well as his alleged “white privilege” inspired VIBE to unearth some classic memoirs from celebrated writers, thinkers, and activists.
1: Kevin Powell, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey Into Manhood
Author and activist, Kevin Powell reflected on his eventful journey from boyhood to manhood. In this memoir, Powell retraces the steps and obstacles that led him to become a successful and famed writer, hip-hop journalist, activist, and member of the first season of MTV’s The Real World. Powell also reveals his experiences with alcoholism, depression, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem and much more.
2: Barack Obama, Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Former president of the United States, Barack Obama, recalls his boyhood in Kansas, Indonesia, and Hawaii as a lackadaisical high school student. Written with a swagged-out lyrical prose, Obama vents his frustration with his absent father, striving to find pieces of black culture to incorporate into his personal life, and much more. Despite graduating from prestigious universities like Harvard and Columbia, Obama credited his time as an organizer on the Southside of Chicago as the most informative education that he’s received.
3: Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
In Invisible Man, one of the most important literary pieces ever written, Ellison pens a story from the POV of a nameless narrator as he describes growing up in an all-black community, getting expelled from an HBCU and moving to New York City where he becomes the spokesman for an all-black organization in Harlem before finding himself in the basement of an invisible man. A deeply profound story of one’s experience of what it’s like to be a black man living in America.
4: Ernest J. Gains, A Lesson Before Dying
This is one of VIBE’s favorite books. In a Lesson Before Dying, the story’s main character, Jefferson, is convicted of a murder—one he did not commit—and sentenced to execution by the State of Louisiana. Jefferson’s mother wants her son to die like a man. With this and the help of his lawyer, Jefferson decides to spend the rest of his life learning to read and write.
5: James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
In this fictional story, Johnson tells the story of a bi-racial man, living in the post-Reconstruction Era, who’s forced to choose between embracing his African-American culture by expressing himself through “Rag Time” music or using his white-skin to get by with white privilege.
6: Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land
Brown chronicles his life through fictional character Sonny, who grew up in the slums of Harlem, U.S.A., during the 1940s and 50s. This is a harrowing coming-of-age story of Sonny’s experiences with violence, murder, gangs, drugs, sex, robberies, etc., to his reform that begins with getting his G.E.D. This is the all-too-familiar story of ghetto children falling prey to drug addiction, prison or violent deaths, yet it’s fascinating that we have stoic voices of the ones who survive these harrowing environments.
7: Nathan McCall, Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man In America
McCall recalls his life in Portsmouth, Va., where his criminal activities led to a five-year prison sentence for armed robbery. During McCall’s prison stint, he devoured literature and history books. After prison, McCall enrolled in and eventually graduated from Norfolk State University with a journalism degree. Working as a news reporter, McCall then had to deal with racism in newsrooms.
8: Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi
Coming of Age in Mississippi is Moody’s unfiltered autobiography of growing up in a Jim Crow Mississippi. Born to a family of sharecroppers, as a child Moody cleaned the homes of white people to help support her family. She later received a basketball scholarship at Tougaloo College, an HBCU near Jackson, Miss. As a civil rights activist, Moody was part of the racially diverse group of college students who participated in the well-known sit-in at Woolworth lunch counter in Jackson. Moody’s story teaches readers how not to get comfortable with life’s obstacles.
9: Assata Shakur, An Autobiography
Shakur recounts her experiences that led to her becoming an activist. She bravely details her weaknesses as well as her strengths and many of the events that resulted in the demise of the many revolutionary groups at the hands of the FBI. After escaping from Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979, Shakur fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum and remains there today.
Other important and hopeful memoirs include, but not limited to, are Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery; Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave; Harriet Anne Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Richard Wright’s Black Boy; Ishmeal Beah’s A Long Way Gone; Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom; and James McBride’s The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.