Shea Serrano–writer for Grantland (RIP), former school teacher, proud Houstonian, and the best follow on Twitter–has started something of a revolution. His latest book, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed has become an enormous hit and made the New York Times Best Sellers list through an incredible Twitter campaign. With prize giveaways, “money bomb” style buying challenges, and some amazing combination of confidence and gusto, Serrano and his FOH Army basically willed the book to incredible heights. In fact, you can read more about it all from our good friend Josh Corman over at Book Riot.
All of the fun Twitter stuff aside, the book is amazing. It’s well written, funny, clever, and is a delightful deep dive into the history and evolution of rap. The various charts and illustrations (by Arturo Torres) add amazing depth to an already incredible read, making each chapter seem more like a rap comic book. If you haven’t had a chance to read The Rap Year Book yet, I highly recommend you take a look (and help sell out Amazon for the third time).
Because he’s such an awesome dude, Shea agreed to answer a couple of questions I had about his book while driving around Houston (which is not an unstressful thing, I can tell you), check it out below!
How many print runs has the publisher had to do so far?
We’re on the third print run so far. They printed a ton for the third one, more for the third one than the first two combined, which is crazy. (Editors note: Sounds like a fourth run is on the way!)
What’s the most controversial chapter of the book to this point?
I actually haven’t heard too much from people about it yet. I think because of the way they’re presented, it’s more of an argument. Especially with the rebuttals included with each chapter, I think that people are looking at it and saying, “I get it.” I thought there would be more, and that the 2012 chapter (“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) would be it, or 1994 since it’s not a NAS song.
For a year where there wasn’t a clear winner, did you make a list of songs and then do like pros/cons for each?
Before we started, we had all the years written out (1979-2014), and we came up with 10-15 songs for each year. These were 10-15 that were important, either because they were very successful or artistically important. Then I summarized each one and why it was important. Once they were all summarized it became pretty clear once you read the blurbs, that’s how we figured out which was the most important for any of the years.
Who are your favorite, current, TX rappers and which one has the best chance to make the ‘Most Important’ song list in the future?
This group called The Outfit, TX (Editor’s Note and Shameless Personal Plug: I interviewed The Outfit, TX too, watch for it this week) from Dallas and they make this really amazing music that is attractive to me. Their sound is so distinct and unique that if shit lines up on them a lot more people are gonna hear about them.
If there was a contest for like a ‘Rap Scene Championship Belt’, what years did Houston own the belt?
Definitely 2004, because there were several platinum albums by Houston artists that came out that year. You can make a case for 1991 when Geto Boys came out with We Can’t Be Stopped, although I’m not sure I believe it all the way. There’s an argument for sure, but it’s one you’re probably gonna lose. Another argument can be made for 1996, with UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty. You’re gonna lose because of Tupac, but they’re in the conversation at least.
What’s the most copies you’ve seen any one person buy so far?
A woman, Jessica, bought 12 copies and she was sending them to other folks on Twitter. Another guy named Billy bought 7 of the e-book and was e-mailing the codes to random people. It was real cool, so I sent these people original copies of the art as a thank you because that’s ridiculous.
Did you get yourself anything special made when you hit the New York Times Best Sellers List?
No, it was more a feeling of relief when it happened. At first it was a joke, we thought we’d sell 1000 the first week. So when it started to blow up and turned into a thing, it was crazy because there began to be a real chance [of getting on the Best Sellers list]. When that happened, then there are real expectations, and there’s the chance of looking like a jackass, so when it finally happened in was a huge relief because I don’t have to tell people “I didn’t make it.” Making the list doesn’t happen to a lot of people, so it’s a really cool thing.
Actually, my wife did make me carne guisada that night, which is my favorite dinner.
Who’s your favorite Kentucky player in the NBA?
Harrison Twins. Andrew Harrison is my favorite UK player of all time, because of the press conference after they lost to Wisconsin.
Where should we watch for your writing?
Watch Twitter. There will be some basketball stuff in a couple of weeks, but we’re still getting things lined up.
Thanks again to Shea, and make sure to follow him on Twitter: @SheaSerrano.