Acclaimed author Tiffany D. Jackson’s latest novel, Let Me Hear a Rhyme, opens in 1998. It’s summertime in Brooklyn, and a teenage boy named Steph has been murdered.
Before leaving the funeral repast, Steph’s best friends, Quadir and Jarrell, visit his bedroom where they find Steph’s sister, Jasmine, and Steph’s vast collection of hip-hop music. Steph’s walls are covered with pictures of hip-hop artists like the Notorious B.I.G., but he was more than a fan. He was also an artist.
When Quadir and Jarrell hear the music Steph had been recording before he died, they have an idea. Shouldn’t the world get to hear their friend’s lyrical genius? Jasmine agrees to let them take some of his music on the condition that they’ll also help her find out who killed her brother. Quadir and Jarrell know that could be a deadly pursuit, but soon they find themselves in a hot seat of their own. Promoting Steph’s music (whose lyrics were written for the novel by real rapper Malik-16 Sharif) without mentioning that he’s deceased brings money and opportunities to the two boys, but it also boxes them into a maze of lies they must navigate along with some volatile personalities.
Readers will feel connected to these teens’ love of hip-hop, their loyalty to each other and their love for their community—even when they disagree over how to protect it. Alternating narration among the three main characters offers moving portraits of young people trying to live up to the best selves their slain friend and brother urged them to be. This is an engaging ode to ’90s hip-hop and to love in many forms.