William Bucholz’s note at the beginning of Understand Rap says “…the intention of this book is not to poke fun at rap music. Rather, it is to highlight some of the more creative artists and lyrics in the genre today and to bring a basic understanding of concepts and themes in rap music to the attention of an audience who may not otherwise be exposed to these lyrics or give them a second thought.” Given this premise, this book has potential. As I noted in my takedown of The Anthology of Rap, lyrics in hip hop songs can be filled with slang, references, and multiple meanings that can pass over listeners’ heads.

Looking at the cover art and the layout of the rest of the book, it does not seem to be presented in a serious fashion. The troublesome cover features a young white boy in a sweater scratching his head. The content is laid out on alternating black and white pages, with the font for the lyrics comically large, while the tiny font of the source material makes it seem like it doesn’t matter who said it. So while the author makes the case that this is a serious project, the publishers didn’t seem to get the memo.

However, the content chosen and the translations provided don’t exactly make the case to take the work seriously. With a few exceptions, Bucholz seems to only be interested in Top 40 gangsta rap. To a certain extent I understand why, but when a book is as short as this one is, every Li’l Wayne lyric chosen is an instance where someone else is getting overlooked. The biggest problem is with translations. Instead of trying his best to close a cultural gap, he seems to want to overexplain things for comic effect. It’s not enough to explain what “making it rain” at a strip club means, he also spells out what an umbrella is and how it can protect from the rain. It’s degrading and unnecessary. Also, isolating all of these lines and limiting the scope of artists that are looked at prove detractors right – it’s all about guns, bitches, and money.

Hopefully, someone will take a project like this seriously, because we could be learning a lot about American culture by studying the hip hop lexicon. With this book, though, I can only see it as degrading bathroom material.