PTW Pick - Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Let Me Hear A Rhyme gives us a glimpse into the world of Brooklyn through the lenses of Quadir, Jarell, and Jasmine in the late 90s. Set a year after Biggie dies in 1998, the book is almost like a love letter to him in my opinion, the lives he affected and the emcees that he birthed. Biggie’s death affected all who loved hip hop, but there is something special about this lens within the epicenter of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn which almost serves as another character in the book.
Quadir and Rell lose a friend in Steph, a young talented emcee who was sadly murdered. The unfortunate incident brings them together with Jasmine as they come up with a plan to get Steph signed even though he’s no longer living. In the midst of their hairbrained scheme, Jasmine also wants to find out who murdered her brother.
Tiffany D. Jackson is a writer after my own heart. From introducing important lingo from the time like “murked” and “deadass” to referencing important shows from the time like Living Single and highlighting Ms. Hill’s timeless album The Miseducation. Jackson also has a knack for creating a mystery that keeps you turning the page. You think one thing only to be confronted by another and her ability to jump from character to character and create flashbacks without you getting lost is unmatched.
The nuance that only hip-hop lovers would find is thoughtful. Like the kids hearing “Can I Get A” by Jay Z and playing it off. This stuck out as many attribute BIG’s passing to Jay-Z's opportunity to really rise to the top of the rap game.
A departure from the bit darker Allegedly and Monday’s Not Coming which were both novels based on actual stories, Let Me Hear a Rhyme brings more upbeat energy without compromising what we know to be Tiffany’s signature style as a writer. She also mentioned that this was one of her most personal works as a Brooklyn native.
I love that the acclaimed author mentioned at her tour stop in Philadelphia at Uncle Bobbies that she writes YA that she craved as a child. So many young black readers were forced into series like The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High which were great starter reads but didn’t reflect our experiences at all. Although some parents may feel apprehensive about letting their teens read such deeper subject matter, Tiffany responded with simply, “They can handle it.” I know I could, which led me to read the adult books that my mom passed onto me.
In the same talk, the interviewer presented the idea of this A and B side within the book and I felt there were so many places that could be true. It was like each character had an A and a B side and it was definitely presented that way for Steph who seemed to be one thing, but was painted as another.
Quadir was trying to live up to something but really wanted a better future for himself. Jas was this rebellious and “woke” teen but also wanted the simple things like attention from a boy. And Jarrell was this jokester that was actually really smart and had a whole lot of potential to live up to. Each character had their presenting sides and the truth along with the secrets they that left them unsure of their own contributions to Steph’s untimely death.
Jackson’s care with characters is duly noted. Jarrell is not afraid to show his emotions. She explores the complexity of grief both through the teens and their parents and how it relates and affects one another. Her sensitivity in showcasing black boys felt extremely intentional to me.
The great part about books like Let Me Hear a Rhyme is that adults can also enjoy them. When I first went to pick up The Hate U Give because I kept seeing the cover, it shocked me that it was in the YA section. Dare I say, that I may have even hesitated to purchase it, but decided to anyway. But writers like Angie, like Tiffany, make it very easy to dive in.
Let Me Hear a Rhyme is a nostalgic, heart wrenching story, that even though it includes a tragedy, will leave you feeling uplifted and satisfied by the end. There are moments where you’ll laugh, maybe want to cry or be sitting on the edge of your seat but if you know Jackson’s work, you almost welcome it.
Make sure to grab your copy and write a review. And always support your local bookstores when you can.