by Mike Knowles
I’ve seen Bob Dylan end up in one of our blogs on this site more than once. I’m pretty sure he’s a big favorite with a good number of the Do Some Damage boys. To be honest, I don’t get him. I’ve tried more than once, but he never sounds good to me. And whenever I see a little window linking a blog to Bob Dylan, I always think it seems out of place. Hip Hop seems like it should show up with crime fiction more often than Bob Dylan.
Let’s start with the obvious, crime fiction and hip hop share content. Hip Hop references guns, sex, drugs, crime on a very regular basis. Crime fiction uses these elements as its bread and butter. We have violent anti-heroes who rob banks and armoured cars, we have drunken private detectives who spend their days in the gutter, we have femme fatales who lead protagonists to their doom. Sometimes someone gets creative and we get everything at once.
An often heard argument is that Hip Hop is gratuitous in its depictions, so are crime novels. Many of the hard boiled and pulp works of the seventies are as violent and degrading to women as any NWA track. In fact, I think 50 Cent could learn a few things from Mike Hammer.
Think about the depictions of Hip Hop artists in the media. Many are standing with scantily clad women or are holding huge guns. Now think of the covers of some of your favorite books. If you’re like me there are some scary similarities.
Hip Hop artists collaborate with each other on albums so do crime writers. It is not uncommon for two crime writers to team up and create a book together. Ken Bruen has done this with Jason Starr several times for Hard Case Crime and every time I am blown away with their work. I don’t know of many other genres who do things like this. And if it does happen, I don’t think it happens as much as it does with crime fiction.
Hip Hop is known for freestyling. Rappers get together and create tracks off the cuff. This type of speedy work is something most crime writers can relate to. Think about how many people are taking part in the November writing month challenge. People are trying to get 50,000 words down in a month and a lot of us will do it. I didn’t join in because my usual speed is 2, 000 words a day and I don’t have the time to push myself any harder. I could write more if I didn’t have to work, but I’m happy with my schedule so I don’t try to screw with it. Many of the Crime icons are notorious for writing fast. Duane Swierczynski has blogged about many different crime writers like MacDonald, Marlowe, and Spillane who chugged out books in sometimes as little as a week. If we aren’t freestyling, than what are we doing?
Hip Hop doesn’t get a lot of mainstream respect neither do crime writers. Tons of people will argue that Hip Hop isn't really music. Similarly, I don’t think my mother, let alone my peers, considers what I do to be real writing. She tells me that she likes my books, but she doesn’t. Every pat on the back is coupled with a jab.
Standard Mom Responses:
“It was good, but did it have to be so violent?”
“You are a good writer, Mike. Really good. I mean it. I do. Seriously, I liked it. It’s not like the other books I read, but it was still pretty good.
“I can’t believe you came from me. How could you write such things?”
A lot of our books don’t win huge prizes. Some fiction writers won’t even use their real name on their attempts at crime and mystery fiction. Think about that for a second. We’re all writers who love to write. Part of writing is selling books, if you can’t sell them no one will publish them. Yet there are successful writers who use aliases to publish mystery and crime fiction. They don't want the following they have built up with their previous work involved in the marketing of a book that fits into a different genre. It makes no sense to me at all. If I put out a Romance novel you can be damn sure my name would still be on it because I wrote it and I'm allowed to be sensitive if I want. I’m sure some writers would have an artsy fartsy response about the name change, but it seems like they don’t want the stink of crime fiction to taint their respectability.
If you’ve been dumb enough to answer the question, “What are you reading these days?” you know the blank looks your friends give you is a sign of the lack of mainstream recognition crime writing gets. Hardly anyone ever knows who I’m talking about when I tell them what I like, but if I said Da Vinci Code, we’d all be on the same page. I used to get this with Lehane before Mystic River. Now everyone thinks they found him first.
My publisher told me once that mystery and sci-fi make the money to publish the artsy books that win awards. Crime fiction is like a dirty little secret; it sells the most, but no one ever wants to talk about it in the mainstream. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no way whatever is on Oprah’s book club is as good as Bruen, or Stark, or MacDonald.
For some reason Hip Hop has a spot in my heart that just won’t go away. The more I write the more I respect the clever language and constant evolution. So enough with the Dylan for one day. Here’s some Jay-Z.