Who says rap’s not a lit-steeped genre? Did Jay-Z’s memoir not top the New York Times best-seller list? Did the Roots not allude to both Chinua Achebe AND W.B. Yeats in their album Things Fall Apart? Did Method Man not name his member Charles Dickens in “The What,” with Biggie Smalls? Sex, death, best of times, worst of times: There’s plenty of overlap between hip-hop and Literature with a capital L, which is why we think these books would make excellent titles for rap songs.
No Country for Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
The mean streets are certainly not a safe place for the elderly, and this hardcore hip-hop song would warn seniors to stay inside when the shiz starts to go down. Canes and walkers are no match for a nine-mil and a lowrider. Sample lyric: “Quit chompin’ your gums, ol’ man/ Or I’ll show you my guns.”
Stiff, by Mary Roach
This song could go one of two ways. Option one: Mess with the wrong gangsta, and you’ll be stiff, as in rigor mortis will have set in, as in you got capped, as in you’re dead. Option two: Less dying and more booty popping, with another appearance by Charles Dickens.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
The rap opera would be an extended conceit in which Golding’s hellish deserted island is reimagined as a prison, and the tyrannical band of boys who occupy it as inmates. Ralph and Jack would freestyle battle, and the song would feature a hauntingly angelic chorus of littluns.
Sexing the Cherry, by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s novel is a postmodernist work of magical realism set in 17th-century England that calls into question the historically established gender dichotomy. The Crunk song of the same name, however, would veer completely from these themes, hanging instead on the words “sexing” and “cherry,” as slang for a specific part of a virtuous young woman’s anatomy.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, by Edward Albee
The oft-revived 1962 play is about the brutal unraveling of a deeply unhappy marriage. The Snap song is a long display of braggadocio in which the rapper insists he is not afraid of Virginia Woolf because Virginia Woolf is a girl and he ain’t afraid of nobody anyway. It would sample the 1984 Ghostbusters theme song.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores, by Gabriel García Márquez
The perfect vehicle for a conscious rapper like Mos Def or Common to approach the intersecting social issues of mental health, misogyny, and the sex industry. It would feature Talib Kweli and be labeled “Explicit,” though there would be a cleaner radio version.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Once again, two directions we could go here. The first requires very little imagination. Sample lyric: “You don’t have to hunt for my Moby Dick.” The more original direction would be a critique of the artist Moby as representative of the intrusion of electronica on the hip-hop genre.
What book title would make the best hip-hop song?