Shea Serrano is probably your favorite Twitter dad. When he’s not busy writing articles for Grantland, he’s chronicling the journey of raising three kids (and an adorable frenchie) while balancing it out with his ride-or-die commitment to hip-hop and sports. Two years ago, he released his first publication Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book. By this time next week, he’ll have released his second book called The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed, which publications such as Complex and Esquire are calling the “music history book you need” and “the reading equivalent of a Ken Burns documentary.” Check out my interview below with the man himself, and don’t forget to purchase his book at our stores too!
You’ve been featured on the Urban Outfitters blog before, mind re-introducing yourself to the Space15Twenty readers?
Sure. Hi. Hello. I’m Shea. I write things and draw things. You’ve maybe seen something I did at MTV or Vice or Complex or Rolling Stone or GQ or other places like that but maybe you didn’t. Right now, I work as a staff writer at Grantland. The interview you mentioned, that was when I did the rap coloring book with Bun B. And this interview right now is because my new book is just about to be published (October 13). So there you go. Nice to meet you.
Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book came out 2 years ago! How’s life changed for you since then?
Well, for one, I’m super rich now. That’s pretty great. I love being super rich. It’s nice to buy things. The other day I bought my first Picasso piece. And the day before that I bought a jar from an old Mexican woman who told me that the ghost of Tupac is inside of it. She charged me $25,000 for it, which seemed like a very good deal for me because I really like Tupac.
Another thing that’s different is I’m taller. I had a growth spurt last summer; shot up three inches. It was so weird. But I appreciated it.
One more thing is Matt Damon has become a good friend of mine. We talk maybe once a week, sometimes more. He really respects my opinion and so we have meaningful, important conversations.
What inspired The Rap Year Book?
My editor inspired it. It was her idea. We had done the coloring book together and it went well so we knew we wanted to work together on another thing. I didn’t want to do another coloring book but I did want to get another book check so we talked about me writing her idea as a book and then there you go. Now we have a new book. And it’s crazy how dope it is. I should probably give her the check back now because that’s how dope it is. I mean, I’m not actually going to do that. But I’ll at least say it.
You illustrated Bun B’s Rap and Coloring Book, do you have any illustrations in the new book?
I made all the charts and stuff that are in there. All the drawing, though, that was all done by this guy that nobody’s heard of yet named Arturo Torres. I found him because I saw a flier he’d done for a rap group that I follow. When I saw it, I knew it was the exact style I wanted for the art in the book. I chased him down online, got him on the phone, and then just pushed him and pushed him and pushed him until the book was done. He did a marvelous job. He’s very talented. The art is a big part of why I like the book so much.
Tell us a little bit about your experience in working with Arturo Torres and Ice-T throughout the making of The Rap Year Book.
Working with Ice-T was great. He’s a very smart, insightful, cool person. I was so proud and happy when he agreed to do the foreword for the book. I mean, how the fuck does something like that happen, you know? He’s one of the most important, revolutionary rappers of all-time. He’s a for real icon. And he did the foreword for my book. Like… how? I think about it a lot and I’m just like, man, shoutout Ice-T forever. I’ma watch Surviving The Game and New Jack City once a day for the rest of my life.
Working with Arturo was fun and also frustrating. He would disappear for a few days at a time and not return texts or emails or do things like that. Then he’d pop up out of a hole in the ground like, “Here you go,” and then send me 10 just really amazing pictures and I’d forget how mad I was and we just did that over and over and over a bunch of times for eight months until we had all 150 illustrations done. He draws everything by hand rather than on a computer and is just a real art-y kind of dude. What’s crazy is, as I answer these questions right now, I’ve still not met him in person. We’ve talked on the phone twice. That’s it. It’s all been texts and emails. And now him and I are connected forever with this book. The internet is a really incredible thing.
Who in the industry contributed to the book, if any?
Man, sooooo many people. If in your head you thought about a bunch of the best music writers in the country, then chances are that there’s at least of the few of the names you’re thinking of in the book somewhere. What I did is, okay, so each chapter in the book is about a specific year, right? Each year gets a song that I write about as being the most important song of that year, right? So what I did was ask one person per year to write a tiny blurb that argued against my pick and for a different one. So, say, with the 1997 chapter, that one’s all about Puffy and Ma$e’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down.” At the end of the chapter, there’s a 150-word blurb from a famous music writer arguing for a different song. When I flip through the book now, I look at all the people who contributed to it and it’s really just like… whoa.
What’s your favorite part of The Rap Year Book?
My favorite part of The Rap Year Book is just that it’s done. It was SO much work. I drastically underestimated how much work it was going to be. It was for real the most draining, time-consuming thing I’ve ever worked on. I’m so glad it’s done and that it came out so perfect.
What inspired your love of hip-hop? What’s the first album that you owned?
I guess what inspired my love of rap is that I have ears and a brain and it’s just so obviously the best kind of music that how could anyone not love it, you know what I’m saying. It can be all things. It can be big and strong or small and feeble. It can make you happy or cry or wanna fight. It’s just amazing.
I’m not certain of the first album that I owned. I’m sure it was something terrible. I definitely remember getting Vanilla Ice’s To The Extreme. That might’ve been my first one. I was just a babe back then. Kids under 12 have the worst taste in rap music. Incidentally, 13-year-olds have the best taste in rap music.
Have you ever tried to rap? What would your rap name be?
I live in Houston and if you live in Houston you have to know how to freestyle. It’s just the way it goes. Like, let’s say you’re at the store and you don’t have enough money to pay for what you want. The cashier will let you just freestyle for a few seconds and then you get your thing. When you get pulled over, the cop freestyles your ticket to you. When you get into an argument with a girl, she freestyles about how much of a moron you are. So yes, I have tried to rap. I’m probably the best freestyler you ever heard, honestly.
If I had a rap name it would be something new but also familiar. Those are the best kinds of rap names. So maybe something like Biggie Talls, on account of I really like Biggie Smalls but also because of the three inches I grew this past summer.
Through experiences in your personal life and career so far, do you have any special advice for our readers?
The only advice I have is to try and do dope shit and also don’t be mean to people because that’s bad and also buy my book. Those are the three main things I want people to know.
What’s next for you?
I’m headed out right now to do a photo shoot. I’m going to be on the cover of the December issue of Men’s Health. It’s me and Chris Pratt, I believe. It should be cool.
Thanks. Bye, dudes.
If you want to meet him, he'll also hosting a meet up at Skylight Books in LA on October 20th at 7PM. Don't forget to pre-order Shea's book on amazon or in purchase in our stores next week, and follow him on twitter to keep your feed updated with hilarious posts about his kids, his frenchie, music, and more!