Book Review: My Voice is a Great Graduation Present

There isn’t a hip hop head who does not know The Voice of New York. She is an undisputed hip hop radio icon. Angie Martinez is hip hop. As hip hop matures and new radio personalities emerge, Martinez remains atop the list. Second only to Charlamagne da God, she is as relevant today as she was at the beginning of her career when she delivered memorable and culture defining interviews with Tupac, Jay-z and Nas. Today she is still at it: Birdman, Senator Corey Booker, NYC Mayor De Blasio, T.I. … So this book is highly anticipated. Hip hop listeners, want the back story behind some of hip hop’s biggest entertaining interviews. How did the Tupac interview happen? How did she get Jay-z and Nas to talk about their infamous rap battle? Why did she pounce on Wendy Williams? How did Ladies Night and her memorable but brief rap career happen? How did her move from Hot 97 to Power 105.1 happen?

My Voice also highlights Martinez’s discomfort with her celebrity status. Martinez does not seek the spotlight. She is private. She does not mine her life, professional or personal, for salacious stories. This is no expose or tell-all. She keeps us at a distant as she carefully shares her life. Her reluctance to open her private self is actually admirable during a time when over sharing has become the norm. She is more concerned with her loved ones and colleagues than she is with her self. Martinez’s vulnerability is evident, as is her honesty and need for fairness.

She is no Wendy Williams. She isn’t fearless or reckless with others’ stories or reputations. And when she tells us her family and love stories, she is exacting with the details. For a private person, releasing this book must have been difficult. It was also calculated. Like a political candidate’s memoir, My Voice is sanitized and clearly designed for a purpose. This is the memoir of a celebrity gearing-up for a long career and a move into a new venture or audience. It is a branding vehicle, designed to remind ardent fans and invite new ones. There is no hint of a ghost writer. Some maybe surprised that it lacks a distinctive voice and at too many points it seems voiceless; the tone is uneven, though this lent itself to the storytelling. In many ways, this book is the journey and awakening of a woman. A woman who has taken a moment to unearth who she is, what she has done and where she is going. 

There are several surprises and treats in the book, but none is greater than J. Coles’ foreword. It is powerful. It also highlights Martinez’s limitation. No doubt his pen game is strong. But it isn’t his mastery of words Martinez lacks. It is his bravery. No doubt, Martinez can look in the eye of a tiger and not blink. We have heard her interviews. However, here she blinks. She doesn’t push herself with the follow-up questions. She lets herself off the hook. The traits that make her an excellent interviewer also inhibit her story telling. She demonstrates a civility, respect that bounds her ability to be fearless with her own story. If this were a rap battle, she would have lost. She hyped her bars with the memoir label and the presence of her clique via blurbs on the back of the book.  Her style, flow and bars, were lackluster. But in the end it is the beat we will remember.

My Voice, epitomizes hip hop in the twenty-first century. There are pop, battle, crunk, trap, conscious and even trap beats to Martinez’s story. However, in attempting to be all things for her diverse hip hop audience, Martinez fails to fulfill the promise of the memoir. She does not tell a new or deeper truth about herself or the music. We are left with the knowledge that in many ways Martinez is the antithesis to rap. Where it is bold, loud and aggrandizing, she is a timid peacemaker and nurturer.

Like a journalist, Martinez keeps her opinions and commentary to a minimum. Readers want to know more about her and her views on hip hop. After all, she did have the moniker, hip hop encyclopedia. Regardless, this is an excellent graduation gift for the young person ready to define their professional life in a culture where privacy, civility and respect is vanishing. Her lessons on the importance of hard work, patience and respect should be required reading for recent graduates!

In bookstores May 17, 2016.

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