Chapter 1 of Adam Mansbach's Novel "Rage is Back" Drops on Rap Genius

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Don’t fuck with me. If this is hell, say so.

It’s DUMBO. Have some Pad Thai.

Lit hopper Adam Mansbach is back on the literary scene in full effect with a new hip hop novel, Rage is Back, touted as the “great American graffiti novel.” This time around, he’s dropped Chapter 1 on Rap Genius and explained some of his own writing, making him the first Verified Novelist on the site!

Rage is Back is just the latest installment in a literary career throughout which Adam Mansbach has been deeply engaged with hip hop culture. While still in college, he founded the pioneering hip hop journal Elementary, and Mansbach has continued to write about hip hop culture in his journalism since, from a cover story on graffiti artist Phase 2 in Wax Poetics to an interview with Pharoahe Monch in The Believer. Mansbach’s other fiction shows his love of all things hip hop as well. His novel Angry Black White Boy (2005) is the story of a suburban white boy born and raised in the political culture of early rap music, and the book is written in a style that approximates hip hop aesthetics. He has even penned a manifesto for the literature of the hip hop generation, On Lit Hop, also now on Rap Genius. In that piece, he writes:

I like to think of a novel in terms of a mix board…My goal is to write fiction that works the same way: that builds layers of reference and meaning and plot and dialogue and character, tweaks the levels of the mix for smooth reading but still allows you to dissect the individual elements and analyze them

It’s true that Mansbach’s prose reads like the layered flows of the best MCs and DJs. He treats history like a record bin, mixing together cultural references from ancient Greece to the Jim Crow South to the South Bronx. In short, Adam Mansbach rocks the page like Nas rocks the mic. And he has earned the respect of some of the most artful rappers in the game. Pharoahe Monch’s praise appears in the jacket of Rage is Back:

Adam has given us a lush tale of time travel, mysticism, justice, the adventures of a boy and his dad—woven into the fabric of a bygone era in NYC. Rage Is Back is fresh, compelling and nostalgic all at once—a must for lovers of graf culture and those of us who lived it. A great read

In Rage is Back, Adam Mansbach focuses in on one of the four elements of original hip hop culture: the wildstyle graffiti-writing of the 1970s and ‘80s. The story is told through the eyes of Dondi Vance, the son of two notorious graf artists, who has just been kicked out of his college prep school for selling marijuana. Mansbach’s novel is so deeply nostalgic about the history of aerosol art that, as the author recounts in an article for The Awl, he attempted to buy advertising for the publication on Manhattan Transit Authority trains. True to the troubled history of the MTA and subway bombing, though, his proposal was rejected because the cover image of the novel was considered too reminiscent of the tradition of vandalism that has been all but wiped clean from the city’s trains — graffiti writer KEO TC5 did design the book jacket as well as the initials that precede each chapter. As Mansbach writes in one of his annotations on the first chapter on Rap Genius, “In some ways, this whole book is about Dondi learning to understand nostalgia — learning to appreciate his father’s era and its attendant stakes, values, and ideas”; it’s a lesson as urgent for his readers as it is for his protagonist. Rage is Back recollects the more era of Subway Art — perhaps the most democratic cultural movement of the twentieth century — in prose as live as a freshly painted train mural, while at the same time telling the story of a modern-day, gentrified New York City with no public space left for such freestyle expression, nothing but steel and glass privatized verticality choking the horizon

Stay tuned to Rap Genius for more on a mixtape associated with the novel and produced by J. Period, due to drop in the next month. Black Thought’s title track has already been released, a freestyle over Nas’s N.Y. State of Mind

The audiobook of Rage is Back features readings by the GZA, Wyatt Cenac, and Danny Hoch. You can listen to Chapter 1 and read along at Rap Genius.

Mansbach is in the middle of the book tour for Rage is Back. Follow his epic journey at Salon