Journalist and author Brian Coleman investigates hip-hop in a specific way: He asks rappers to talk about how seminal hip-hop records were made, presses record, and lets the tape roll.
Why? Because liner notes are hard to come by in hip-hop, a genre whose stories have been "languishing behind closed lips," in the words of author and screenwriter Adam Mansbach, who wrote the foreword to Coleman's latest self-published book, Check the Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies, 525 pages of oral history of 25 albums Coleman considers to be the most important in the development of the genre.
The book gets down to the minutia, the small details that casual fans may not know: Ice Cube guest-rapped on the Public Enemy song "Burn Hollywood Burn" from the group's Fear of a Black Planet album because Chuck D had become a mentor to him, and Ice Cube happened to be in New York for Def Jam label meeting that never happened. Chuck D encouraged Ice Cube, who wanted to leave N.W.A. to go solo, to be able to "back up anything you say" and write all of his rhymes in notebooks. Ice Cube eventually filled up eight, 200-page notebooks in preparation for his solo debut.
Smooth Bee, of New York's Nice & Smooth, caught his big break by working on early solo songs for Bobby Brown—recently defected from New Edition—simply because UTFO DJ Mix Master Ice couldn't make it into the studio. "One minute I'm in the hood and the next I'm in Hollywood, meeting the Jackson 5. It was crazy," he says in Coleman's book.