This August marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, one of America’s most significant native musical genres. According to the 50th anniversary website, at a house party in the Bronx in 1973, “DJ Kool Herc plays two copies of the same record, a technique known as the merry-go-round where one moves back and forth, from one record to the next, looping the percussion portions of each track to keep the beat alive. And amongst this community of dancers, artists, musicians and poets…Hip-Hop is born.” I’m no expert, but I do enjoy a wide variety of hip-hop music. Here are six of my favorite books on the subject in the last several years.

Who better to start us off than Jay-Z, cultural icon and arguably the best rapper of all time? In Decoded (2010), he set the bar sky-high for any other rapper seeking to write a book. Our starred review called it “classic,” and the critic noted the author’s potent “two-pronged attack, in which narrative chapters alternate with in-depth explanations of the lyrics to his favorite compositions.” Jay-Z’s acumen in the studio and on stage translate effortlessly to the page; those seeking gossip about later personal issues should look elsewhere, but his portrait of the genre and his place within it is indelible.

Even before Jay-Z rocketed to fame, the West Coast scene was percolating with the rise of Dr. Dre and company. Ben Westhoff created a memorable tapestry of their intersecting lives and careers in Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap (2016), which our starred review called “an elaborately detailed, darkly surprising, definitive history of the LA gangsta rap era.”

Another giant in the rap world is Raekwon, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan (one of my personal favorites). His book, From Staircase to Stage: The Story of Raekwon and the Wu-Tang Clan (2021), chronicled his life and the trajectory of Wu-Tang from the streets of Staten Island to global stardom. “The Wu-Tang Clan has always cultivated an air of mystery, and Raekwon is one of the most secretive of the Staten Island rappers,” noted our reviewer, “so it’s refreshing to see how forthcoming he is in his first book.”

Less well known but just as influential is J Dilla, one of the most innovative beat-makers in the game until his death in 2006. Dan Charnas masterfully captured his artistic process in Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of the Hip-Hop Producer Who Invented Rhythm (2022), which our starred review called “a wide-ranging biography that fully captures the subject’s ingenuity, originality, and musical genius.”

One of the most recognizable elements of a rapper’s creative process is the use of sampling, a subject incisively analyzed by Nate Patrin in Bring That Beat Back: How Sampling Built Hip-Hop (2020). The author dug deep in the crates, focusing on four sampling wizards: Grandmaster Flash, Prince Paul, Dr. Dre, and Madlib. According to our starred review, “No one wants a dry hip-hop book, and Patrin’s work is thoroughly engaging from first needle drop to last.”

Rounding the survey out is Shea Serrano’s Hip-Hop (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated (2021). The book, featuring illustrations by Arturo Torres, is “a compelling mix of history, memoir, criticism, and creative writing,” wrote our reviewer. “Even when a particular chapter doesn’t quite grab you, the warm, creative illustrations—e.g., 50 Cent and Eminem playing Skee-Ball or Nas styled as Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator—sure will.”

One final note: Hip-hop fans should keep an eye out for Staci Robinson’s Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography, which will be published by Crown on Oct. 24.

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.