Hip-hop has become a major part of the culture in ways never anticipated over 30 years ago. Lori Nelson Lee, an author who grew up with the culture, used her experience to write her latest children’s book, Hip Hop Don’t Stop.
Lee, who is married to hip-hop artist-turned-lawyer, Tracey Lee, created her latest book during the pandemic. The illustrated picture book is about a father who “inspires his children to use positive, creative thinking through a rhythmic look at the influence the art of hip-hop has on a global culture.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE connected with the self-published author to discuss the purpose of the book, hip-hop’s influence on her personal and business life, and how she handles running a business while raising a family.
What drew you to writing children’s books?
My mother always loved to write and still does. When my brother was expecting the arrival of my niece, she decided to write her own story after discovering the lack of diversity in books. That became a little project for us to work on together. When we were done, we each had a book — The Adventures of Hillary: Hillary’s Big Business Adventure by yours truly, and I Can Do It Myself by Valerie Nelson. I took it one step further and decided to produce and publish both books. That was the beginning of Nelson Publishing and the beginning of my love of writing for children — that was 20 years ago.
What is the premise of Hip Hop Don’t Stop and why did you write it?
Hip Hop Don’t Stop is a picture book about a father who teaches his kids about the culture of hip-hop and the responsibility that comes with using your voice for creative expression. I was inspired to write the book after being at home for months with my husband and kids during the pandemic. I enjoyed the gift of time with my family and found myself observing the interactions between my husband and our kids in a different way. They inspired me — and I had fun using the hook from one of my favorite Tracey Lee songs, “Stars In The East“ (featuring One Step Beyond) as the hook in the book. To help bring the characters to life, I had my illustrator, the extremely talented, Audeva Joseph, use actual pictures of my family to draw the characters in the book. My kids loved seeing themselves animated.
This project was definitely a personal one, so when reviewers describe my book as powerful, interactive, engaging, respectful (to hip-hop culture), relatable, empowering, etc., it truly fills my heart. I feel like they’re not just loving the book, they’re loving my family!
You’re married to hip hop artist-turned-attorney, Tracey Lee. How has the culture of hip-hop enhanced your personal life and business? How do your children view hip-hop, living with two artists?
I wouldn’t say that hip-hop has enhanced my personal life or business. I would say that hip-hop has definitely influenced my life and business, simply by being a product of hip-hop, myself. It influences what I watch, what I listen to, how I communicate, how I write, what projects I choose to produce, etc. Growing up, I was an “around the way” girl from Baltimore, “complete with bamboo earrings (at least two pairs).” Today, the culture has grown and expanded to a level that almost makes it impossible for anyone or any business to not be influenced in some capacity by hip-hop..
My children, like most children nowadays, don’t really know what a world without hip-hop looks like. It’s just a normal part of how they live, learn and socialize — at home and in the classroom. Hip-hop culture for today’s kids is as normal as cell phones and bottled water.
For my kids specifically, they do have the added advantage of having artists in the house. They’ve seen us in create and perform mode, and we get to see how it inspires their creative process — and include them, at times (like with the illustrations for this book). My daughter, now seven years old, was featured on Tracey’s Expect The Unexpected album at the age of three. She also loves to make up her own stories and songs. It’s fun to see a little of us in her creative self. My son, five years old, loves music and likes to imitate Tracey. He’s featured in Tracey’s upcoming music video for his latest song, Cacao. He’s our little performer.
As an entrepreneur, how do you handle raising a family and running a business? What type of difficulties do you encounter?
Building a business from the ground up is always a tremendous struggle. Throwing parenting young children into the mix while also trying to feed my creative needs as an artist is a whole other level of crazy. In the beginning, my company was growing at a comfortable pace; we were publishing books, producing films and dropping music. When my children were babies, I switched gears. I used a lot of my time to just bond with them and concentrate on enjoying motherhood. Children don’t care that you have deadlines, if you need to get some good sleep, or if you just need 30 minutes of quiet time to get an idea down on paper. They want you when they want you, and my family has always been my highest priority. So, during the day, I did limited day-to-day business operations and at night, in between feedings and quick naps, I would write; sometimes solo, sometimes with one of my writing partners. Now that my children are older, I’ve been finding more time to be creative and handle business. The struggle for balance is real, though, but it’s a team effort between us and the kids.
Tracey and I also try very hard to have and keep a routine in our house. It helps the kids to have structure, but also helps us define space in our day specifically for creative work. We are also extremely supportive and understanding of each other’s creative process, so we allow for that space. Weekends are typically reserved for family time. It’s not always perfect, but we give ourselves grace and we get help when we need it from my parents and my mother-in-law. It also helps that we have always been blessed to have a team of talented and dedicated professionals to work with us and make concessions because they believe in what we’re doing and respect our vision as artists.
What advice would you give to those who want to capitalize on their talent and passion?
Jump out there and do it! Talent is meant to be shared — it’s meant to inspire. I know that it can be scary sometimes because art is personal; to put it out in the world and brave the opinions of others can be challenging for some. But keep these 5 points in mind:
— Opinions don’t matter, they’re a dime a dozen. Everybody has one.
— There’s an audience for every artist, you just have to find your people.
— Your first project may not be perfect and that’s ok because the goal is to just get started. If you’re dedicated to your craft, improvement will come with each new project.
— Recognize that you are only one person and you will need a team. Surround yourself with quality, like-minded people, and don’t be afraid to ask for help and lean on them when needed.
— Find a creative process that works for you. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that there’s only one way to do your art. When I first started writing, I heard so many opinions about when, where, and how “writers are supposed to write.” Just know that your creative process is just that — yours.
For more information on Lori or her books, visit www.nelsonpublishingbooks.com.