San Antonio author Shea Serrano brings his bestselling (And Other Things) series to a close

click to enlarge San Antonio author Shea Serrano’s Hip-Hop (And Other Things) will be released on October 26. - Larami Serrano
Larami Serrano
San Antonio author Shea Serrano’s Hip-Hop (And Other Things) will be released on October 26.
During the early ’90s, Shea Serrano searched for a genre of music that could satisfy his pre-teen predilections.

At the time, his father was listening to a lot of classic rock, Tejano including La Tropa F and regional Mexican music such as Chalino Sánchez. His mother, originally from Michigan, was playing Motown around the house. Serrano had no problem with songs like “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “I’ll Be There,” but he didn’t dream of going on tour with the Jackson 5.

“When you’re a kid, this thing happens where you want to separate yourself from whatever your parents are doing,” Serrano, 40, told the Current. “When I was becoming a teenager, I wanted to find music that I cared about. This was all coinciding around the time when rap was becoming a proper genre.”

Serrano doesn’t recall which rapper or hip-hop outfit he first listened to — Tupac? Biggie? N.W.A.? — but he can pinpoint the moment he became captivated by the genre. We’ll get to details on that a little later.

Fittingly, that beloved genre is subject the New York Times bestselling author and San Antonio native chose to write about as he ends one chapter of his literary career.

Serrano’s newest book, Hip-Hop (And Other Things), hits the market October 26. It’s the third book of a trilogy that started with the bestsellers Basketball (And Other Things) in 2017 and Movies (And Other Things) in 2019. In Hip-Hop, Serrano ruminates on anything from Missy Elliot’s 1997 debut studio album Supa Dupa Fly to the genre’s most perfect duos.

During his recent Current interview, Serrano talked about how his love for hip-hop started and which rappers he wanted to dress like as a kid. He also shared thoughts on his favorite rap albums of all time, the popularity of reggaeton and which rapper he hopes reads what he wrote about her in the book.

click to enlarge Serrano’s latest book completes a trilogy that also included books on basketball and movies. - Twelve Books
Twelve Books
Serrano’s latest book completes a trilogy that also included books on basketball and movies.
What’s your earliest memory as a kid listening to hip-hop?

I don’t remember the very first time that I heard rap, but I do remember the very first time I was in complete awe of it. I think everyone who likes rap has that moment. My moment was during Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze when Vanilla Ice showed up … and did that fucking rap song. It was like all the things I cared the most about happening all at once. A similar thing happened when MC Hammer did an Addams Family song (“Addams Groove”). I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I really like when different segments of pop culture fold over onto themselves.

Yeah, when you’re 10 years old, those kinds of things make an impact on you.

Yeah, it’s like — that’s fucking Michelangelo fighting the Foot Clan while Vanilla Ice raps about it in a night club. When you’re that age, it’s clearly the best movie that’s ever been made and he’s the best rapper of all time. That’s what you’re thinking.

Before the (And Other Things) trilogy, you wrote The Rap Year Book in 2015. Was it an easy decision to revisit rap for the third book?

Oh, yeah. When we talked about doing a trilogy, I knew I wanted to end it with rap because it’s one of my favorite things to write about. There was no debate about it at all. When we signed the contract for the book deal, they didn’t even ask us what we were doing for the [third book]. They sort of told us we could do whatever we wanted for the third one.

What resonates with you about hip-hop more than any other music genre?

Once you start listening to it and reading the lyrics, it’s so interesting how [rappers] can tell you an entire story in very few words. As a writer, I can say that is impressive. I can’t do that. The book is something like 90,000 words and [a rapper] could probably tell you everything that’s in the book in three minutes.

Besides the music, what else did you adopt from the hip-hop culture growing up? Did you wear fat shoelaces?

I wanted to do everything I saw on TV. At the very beginning, I wanted to break dance. We would watch Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and we’d want to be like Turbo and Ozone and fucking breakdance too. Whatever the coolest people were wearing, that’s what we wanted to wear. I know there was definitely a period where I was trying to dress like Da Brat. Then when Kris Kross popped up, I wanted to wear my shit backwards too.

While you were writing the new book, did you have a sense of which chapters might create the most conversation because you were sharing an opinion that might be polarizing amongst fans?

Not really, because whenever I’m writing about something, I’m always writing in favor or in support of it. I do that without saying things are bad. Occasionally, it’ll happen where I’ll go, “This is Jay-Z’s best album” and somebody will disagree, but I’m never like, “This is Jay-Z’s worst album.” That sort of thing usually draws more conversation around it. I spent a big portion of my career as a music critic, but if an album came out that I didn’t like, I just didn’t write about it. If you write something about an album or an artist, you’ll have to spend several days of your life researching and absorbing. I figured early on that it wasn’t going to make me very happy if I had to do that with stuff I didn’t like.

Which of the rappers you write about would you hope might read the chapter you dedicated to them?

I would like Missy Elliot to read her chapter. That’s my favorite chapter in the book. She’s one of my five favorite rappers ever and [Supa Dupa Fly] is one of my five favorite albums ever. She was a very important figure in teenage Shea’s life. You need people like that in your life when you’re falling in love with a thing. It would be crazy to me if she read her chapter and said something about it.

Since you mentioned one of your five favorite albums, can you name another four to round out the list?

I don’t have that list available at this particular moment. I would need a solid three weeks to cut a list of 19 down to five. Well, there are three that are definitely in there, 100% certain – [Missy’s], UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty and DMX’s It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.

Do you listen to hip-hop differently today than you did when you were younger? Are you still bassing out in your car?

(Laughs.) I definitely listen to more of it in my car than I did growing up, but only because I didn’t have a car in high school. Mainly, I would listen to it in my room on the radio. My dad had a stereo system with big speakers that he cared about, so he sort of passed that down to me.

What’s your take on the rise of reggaeton over the past few years? Do you think that variation on rap music has staying power?

Absolutely. It’s only gotten bigger. This version now is not like the version in the 2000s when “Gasolina” came out and everyone said, “This is the best thing in the world,” and then immediately after, no one listened to it anymore. [Rappers] like J Balvin and Bad Bunny are like the most popular ones on Spotify. It’s so much fun to listen to and learn about. It’s a whole new world.

Why did you decide to end the (And Other Things) series at three? What are you working on next?

I have no idea what comes next. It just seemed like a fun idea to do a trilogy. We could do this for fucking ever if we wanted to. All you have to do is plug in a word. Television (And Other Things), Football (And Other Things). Three just felt like a good number. Hopefully, this new one will make the bestseller list, too.

You, of course, are a big Spurs fan. Can you give me your prediction on how far the team will go this season?

The Vegas line has the Spurs winning like 28 or 29 games. It’s terrifying to look at. I’m going to be ambitious and say we’re going to win 41 games, and then maybe we sneak into the playoffs. I just want to sneak in there and cause a little bit of trouble.

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