Wright describes his childhood in the cotton fields of Mississippi in this debut memoir.
The author, who fronted the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band, is best known for his hit 1970 funk song “Express Yourself,” which has been widely featured in movies and ad campaigns and provided the signature sample for the 1988 NWA song of the same name. Yet in this book, the first in a series of planned memoirs covering the entire course of his life, there’s almost no talk of music. Rather, it concerns his earliest years as one of 12 children born to an impoverished sharecropping couple in the Mississippi Delta. As a child in the 1940s, Wright worked beside his parents in the fields, “picking and chopping cotton sunup ’til sundown—WITHOUT ANY PAY!” The author claims that his memory stretches back to three months before he was born, and he displays a preternatural maturity in depicting the complex, often combative relationships between members of his family and the neighbors, fellow sharecroppers, and landowners that made up their hardscrabble community. The exploitative extremes of sharecropping are so troubling—and so reminiscent of depictions of slavery—that readers will find it almost inconceivable that such practices represented the status quo in some parts of the country as recently as the 1950s. This volume ends with Wright’s escape to Los Angeles, with a future of music and self-expression yet to come. Although the conclusion finds the author still in elementary school, readers will be left with the sense that the young Wright has already lived a lifetime. The book’s presentation is a little odd, with awkward formatting and a lot of stock photos. However, Wright is a highly adept storyteller with an excellent sense of detail and momentum. The overall reading experience is almost akin to sitting on the porch of a small, rickety farmhouse listening to the author spin yarn after yarn. “This is my story and most of it is one hundred percent true,” writes Wright, and in so doing he summons a whole host of American memoirists who’ve managed to transmute tragedy and fear.
A remarkable, well-told story of youth.