The Beat Goes On

Grandmaster Flash enters the celebrity memoir arena

There are some names that are as synonymous with hip-hop as rap lyrics. Grandmaster Flash is by far one of them. An architect of the music and movement that his hip-hop, Grandmaster Flash, born Joseph Saddler, is credited with helping revolutionize the music business.

With his native Boogie Down Bronx style, the hip-hop icon laid down the beats and grooves that opened the door for today’s hip-hop heavyweights such as Jay-Z and P. Diddy, leading him and his group the Furious Five to be the first hip-hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

This week, Grandmaster Flash’s memoir The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beat hit the streets, adding him to the ranks of other African American entertainers who in recent years have become authors. Most recently, some of the most successful titles include former The Young and the Restless star Victoria Rowell’s The Women Who Raised Me; CSI: New York star Hill Harper’s Letters to a Young Brother; as well as Eddie and Gerald Levert’s I Got Your Back.

America has had a long infatuation with celebrity. The technology age has only heightened the public’s interest in the lives of the rich and famous. As the Internet fans the flames with sites such as TMZ.com and the ever-present instant postings of celebrity sightings and mishaps, coupled with the weekly dose of rags catering to celeb hounds like People and Us, not to mention Entertainment Tonight, celebrity news is everywhere.

The seemingly perennial interest in fame has fueled celebrity authors who’ve written everything from tell-alls to children’s books to self-help guides. “As long as there are celebrities and stars, there will be celebrity books,” says Carol Mackey, editor-in-chief of Black Expressions Book Club, a division of Bertelsmann Media that focuses on African American titles. Though the company does not disclose
actual sales figures, Mackey advises that their celebrity titles tend to perform very well.

But in today’s cluttered media and publishing marketplace, it takes a lot more than celebrity to sell a book. Patti LaBelle’s Don’t Block the Blessings and Gladys Knight’s Between Each Line of Pain and  Glory were disappointments, which followed Mary Wilson’s successful “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme.” Two of the biggest duds of all-time were Whoopi Goldberg’s autobiography and Paul Reiser’s Babyhood, both of which reportedly had advances of $6 million and $5.6 million, respectively, yet didn’t catch-on with readers.

The reality is that with fickle fans, timing is key. It also helps if the book is well written. Celebrity or not, an author must hit the pavement. “You must believe in your message and you must commit to it,” argues Marva Allen, proprietor of Harlem-based Hue-Man Bookstore. Allen has partnered with celebs such as Rowell and Eddie Levert in touring with their work. “Readers want to emotionally connect with the authors,” Allen says. She urges authors to think creatively about how to push their book’s life far beyond what has become a short three-week window to win buyers; special events can be

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