Book Review: Hip-Hop Raised Me by DJ Semtex

4 min readJun 8, 2019

Hip Hop Raised Me is a hip-hop history coffee table book detailing the history of hip-hop music and culture.

With a massive collection of photography, a plethora of album covers, and footnotes galore, Hip Hop Raised Me is a well-written book of immense size and depth, comprised of 440 pages and 1000+ images, an excellent conversation starter for hip-hop heads, historians, and book lovers.

The book is written by DJ Semtex, a London-based DJ, and host of BBC’s Radio1Xtra. He has met many of the artists featured in the book and became a huge supporter of early in their careers. Putting into perspective how hip-hop’s cultural evolution became global, Semtex’s authorship of the book gives him an international perspective on the culture.

The book was designed by book designer Steve Russell (AKA Designaholic), who has also created books on The Jacksons and Motown.

Steve Russell’s early sketches for Hip Hop Raised Me

Steve’s design work on Hip-Hop Raised Me is a prime example of authentic hip-hop graphic design and curation, complete with a graphic identity.

On the cover, the title in a bold sans serif font sits on top of a Technics SL-1200 Mk2 Turntable. The reflective gold and bright white type stand out against the black turntable.

The inside cover displays the title in a 1980s mixture of Old School & Wildstyle graffiti style, patterned in the same white and gold colors. The adjacent page shows the title as a graffiti tag.

In the pages before the table of contents, you are greeted by full-page photographs of Public Enemy, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, and JAY-Z taken by David Corio, Eddie Otchere, and Chi Modu. Followed by are footnotes of the photographers detailing the moments the photos were taken.

Approaching the table of contents, the visual identity system begins to develop. The type is formatted on the center of the page, in a thinner font weight, evenly spaced, enclosed in boxes, displaying shapes of stars in numerical order. The style is reminiscent of hip-hop publications that feature a rating system.

The first few pages start with Chuck D’s foreword introducing DJ Semtex to the readers. From DJ Semtex’s perspective, each chapter is in a clean 3-column layout, with a graphic to complement the chapter title, the chapter follows with a plethora of images: photographs, posters, magazines, and record sleeves. Semtex outlines the history of the eras regarding, certain key people, albums, technology, and events that were significant in each era.

The visual identity system adds stylistic touches onto the typography to complement the theme of each chapter. The logotype for Ch. 4 “What’s Beef?”, references the chorus in Biggie’s 10 Crack Commandments. The graphic motifs are reminiscent of LL Cool J and Run DMC’s logos.

The photography, specifically the contact sheets, featured throughout the book, stand out in build’s the big picture of the reader. The working images placed next to the finished album and single covers give insight into the photographic process for an album cover shoot.

Speaking of contact sheets, this book predates the book Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop by 2 years.

With varying styles of photography, there are many recognizable images that are packed with footnotes are golden nuggets of information that give helpful context to the historical images.

It even gives insight from the photographers to graphic designers themselves, and others involved in the creation of the visuality of hip-hop.

The pull quotes from various interviews of artists, alongside the photos, continue to bring out the depth of those involved in emblematic moments in the history of hip-hop.

The book gives room for the album covers and posters to shine. Seeing them in book form, along a visual continuum, from the 1970s-2010s, gives the music a tangible history you can point towards.

What Ghostface Killah called “the hip-hop bible”, Hip-Hop Raised Me was written by someone of the culture, cosigned by the culture, and was made for the culture. Not only it is written and designed with the hip-hop culture in mind but as the primary focus.

As a fan, Hip Hop Raised Me reminded me of how I got into visual culture, by studying album art, album booklets, record sleeves, and photography, go-to book on the visual study of hip-hop. It introduced me to a wealth of knowledge on many names of photographers I hadn’t known before. It reminded me of how I got into visual culture, by styIt also gave me confirmation on facts I connected dots from hip-hop documentaries and movies. Hip-Hop Raised Me by DJ Semtex is the essence of hip-hop’s legacy as the go-to book on the comprehensive legacy of hip-hop.

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The originator of Black Aesthetic Continual Theory. Crate-digging for samples & links. Moodboarding on the decks.