NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “One of hip-hop’s greatest MCs, unpacking his harrowing, remarkable journey in his own words, with enough insights for two lifetimes.”—Lin-Manuel Miranda, award-winning songwriter, producer, director, and creator of In the Heights and Hamilton
From one of our generation’s most powerful artists and incisive storytellers comes a brilliantly crafted work about the art—and war—of becoming who we are.
: to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item
: to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)
Today Tariq Trotter—better known as Black Thought—is the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning co-founder of The Roots and one of the most exhilaratingly skillful and profound rappers our culture has ever produced. But his story begins with a tragedy: as a child, Trotter burned down his family’s home. The years that follow are the story of a life snatched from the flames, forged in fire.
In The Upcycled Self, Trotter doesn’t only narrate a riveting and moving portrait of the artist as a young man, he gives readers a courageous model of what it means to live an examined life. In vivid vignettes, he tells the dramatic stories of the four powerful relationships that shaped him—with community, friends, art, and family—each a complex weave of love, discovery, trauma, and loss.
And beyond offering the compellingly poetic account of one artist’s creative and emotional origins, Trotter explores the vital questions we all have to confront about our formative years: How can we see the story of our own young lives clearly? How do we use that story to understand who we’ve become? How do we forgive the people who loved and hurt us? How do we rediscover and honor our first dreams? And, finally, what do we take forward, what do we pass on, what do we leave behind? This is the beautifully bluesy story of a boy genius’s coming-of-age that illuminates the redemptive power of the upcycle.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
No reason to let Questlove have all the literary kudos. The Roots’ brash frontman, Tariq Trotter, a.k.a. Black Thought, remains one of hip-hop’s most compelling and fiercely intelligent rappers, and his rousing, soul-baring memoir pulls us into his tumultuous Philly upbringing and his journey to rise above traumatic events like the death of his father and burning the family home down when he was six. This is a book for anyone interested in being more daring and creative in their lives—the title speaks to Trotter’s belief that we create something valuable and beautiful when we examine all the parts of our story, even the difficult and unflattering parts. It’s one of the most stirring, eye-opening memoirs we’ve read in a minute.
Grammy winner Trotter, better known as Black Thought from The Roots, debuts with a striking portrait of perseverance and creativity. At six years old, the author accidentally burned down his family's Philadelphia house, a tragedy that shaped his childhood and indoctrinated him in the meaning of loss: "You sometimes hear stories about people who have ‘lost it all' and rebuilt their lives, but what I learned at a young age is that sometimes shit is just lost forever." Further heartache followed, including his older brother Keith's periodic arrests and, in the author's teens, his mother Cassandra's murder after she became addicted to crack cocaine, leaving him convinced that despite his efforts to protect his family, it was "only me." But he also found salvation in the arts, from taking visual arts classes when he was nine to etching graffiti onto buses and benches, to dreaming up raps in high school, where he met future Roots bandmate Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and found that music "allowed me to transmute my pent-up emotional energy into another essence." As he charts the Roots' rise in Philadelphia and beyond, Trotter powerfully gives due to the process of self-reinvention that has defined his life: "What if we... undid the stitches of ourselves that no longer served us, forgave them, and wove new legacies of old scraps?" Candid, visceral, and written with the hard-won wisdom of hindsight, this leaves a mark.