Are you worried your 6-year-old doesn’t appreciate the 2pac albums you bump every Saturday morning?
What do you do when your child shows no interest in Big Daddy Kane, yawns during Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and plugs his ears to avoid your discussion of New York rappers?
If these problems sound familiar, there may a new item to ease your troubles. Bun B’s Rap Coloring And Activity Book, a collaboration between the rapper Bun B and the writer/illustrator Shea Serrano, shows kids who’s who in the hip-hop world, or, at the very least, keeps them coloring.
Or not. The book is intended “for adults,” Serrano told the site allhiphop.com. “Kids shouldn’t listen to rap music and definitely shouldn’t listen to the rappers that we [include]...If it lands in a kid’s lap, then cool; he’s going to like it…but we’re kind of making this for rap fans.” To the Village Voice: “It’s not built for kids—it’s more for music fans.”
So kids— stay in school! And don’t buy this!
Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book contains illustrations of some 40 rappers, hailing from East, West, North and South. A few came up back in the ‘80s, but most started in the ‘90s and ‘00s. A couple of female MCs make the cut, but, as in hip hop itself, we find largely male faces staring back from the book’s pages.
Who is Bun B? Certainly not the rapper awarded “most likely to have his name on a coloring book.” As one half of the duo UGK, Bun B helped establish southern rap, first as an art-form, and eventually as a commercial force when the southern rappers a few years behind Bun knocked down the door he inched open, sweeping the genre to national prominence.
In the UGK albums, the first of which came out in the early ‘90s, you can find Bun B’s low, booming raps, usually dark, matter-of-fact narratives about poor neighborhoods, drug deals, murders and prostitution. Bun’s bars come paired with lush beats, filled with ‘70s-sounding funk guitar and rhythms that stretch and unfurl, comfortable in their power and appeal. The other member of UGK, Pimp C, died in December of 2007. Bun soldiers on. A survivor. A professional.
He also doesn’t play much of a role in the book—according to Serrano, he mainly “lend[s] his street cred and occasionally his face.” Serrano, responsible for the pictures and words, has written and drawn for a number of publications and seems to be an all-around witty guy. He invents funny fake Twitter conversations, for example, with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard for Grantland. He reworks scenes from the show Breaking Bad to include the rapper Drake.
Serrano draws in black and white, so artistic readers of the Rap Activity And Coloring Book may feel free to bring to life whatever looks they favor on this collection of MCs. Hoping to see Drake wearing tie-dye? Make your dreams come true. The rappers come with accessories—hats, tats, watches, $100 bills, suits and boom boxes—all of which can be colored to your specifications.
For even more fun, the book includes games based on rap-fan in-jokes. The drawing of Bay-Area rapper E-40, famous for inventing new slang, comes with a word search (hidden words include “Fo’ Sheezy,” “Po-po,” and “Scrilla.”)
The rendering of Chamillionaire, who hit the big time in 2005 with his album The Sound Of Revenge (it contained some guest verses from Bun B) appears next to a maze. As with most mazes, you have to figure out how to get from the beginning to the end, but here the obstacles happen to be police cars. We find the rapper Common, whose rhymes sometimes get weighed down by his existential crises, accompanied by a true-false test. Readers must determine which lines Common actually delivered in his song “The Questions.”
Spoiler alert: He did ask, “...if I’m an intellectual, I can’t be sexual?” He didn’t say, “...do you have soy milk instead,” though maybe he should have.
Some of the drawings suggest educational intent (beyond hip-hop education, that is). Ludacris’ face comes on a grid so that aspiring artists can practice putting together a drawing, piece by piece. We also have an opportunity to recreate the safe-sex promotion of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, from TLC. She famously wore a condom over her left eye-glass. If you have a pair of scissors handy, you might be able to recreate a facsimile of that fashion statement.
Serrano’s statement about adults as the book’s target audience makes some sense—young’uns probably won’t get the jokes. But they’re probably more likely to embrace the coloring and the word search. (It’s sad that only crossword puzzles and Sudoku have been designated “adult-worthy” thinking games.)
Hip hop has been the dominant form of popular music for a while now. Most stars who don’t rap collaborate with rappers or use rap producers to make their beats—Timbaland helps Justin Timberlake, Mike Will Made It put together “We Can’t Stop” for Miley Cyrus. Pharrell works with everyone. Even country music has experienced the infiltration of hip-hop—youngsters like the singer Jason Aldean or the group Florida Georgia Line are not averse to rapping a few lines.
So it’s actually surprising that books similar to this, books explicitly aimed at capturing young hip-hop minds, haven’t become more of a thing. Rap owns the world, so all aspects of it can be monetized for all ages. Why hasn’t Disney put out a movie about an aspiring MC, a sort of 8 Mile meets Mulan?
The main problem with Bun B’s Rap Coloring And Activity Book? It’s hard to figure why some artists made the book, while others were left out. Macklemore shows up, but not the more famous and more innovative white rapper, Eminem. Questlove lives here, but not the rapper from his hip-hop group, Black Thought. No Missy Elliott…no Rakim… only one member of the Wu-Tang Clan.
A reason may be suggested in the end notes. The artists only included the MCs who gave full permission for their likenesses to appear in the book. Still, it feels haphazard.
Aside from that, color this a nice effort: There’s art, humor and education, fun for young and old…and, of course, money to be made.
Just like in hip hop.
Elias Leight’s writing about books and music has appeared in Paste, The Atlantic, and Popmatters. He is from Northampton, Massachusetts, and can be found at signothetimesblog.