The Alchemy of Rappers Reading

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo
When I embarked on my college journey, I had the intention of earning my degree in Accounting, or maybe Finance, so I could get a good job and make that private school tuition worth it. Most people don’t know what they want to do with their life when they are 18, let alone at any age, and I proved this by absolutely abhorring the business classes I took. I switched my studies to English Lit to make my college experience fun, and more importantly, bearable (yes, I realize that most people would not describe earning an English Lit degree as “bearable” or “fun”). Of course, this was done at the opportunity cost of, well, being employed after college. So, long story short, I read a lot of books, learned to write for the most part (minus what some commentators think on here), and couldn’t really find a paying job.

When I do interviews, I’m always interested to know what artists are reading. I fascinated when I spoke with Fashawn, and he told me that The Alchemist was his favorite book. He felt connected to it, in part because the story follows Santiago, the protagonist shperd, and Fashawn’s government name is Santiago. He elaborated, and explained that he felt like it was the reason that his album Boy Meets World turned out as well as it did. Naturally, I was chomping at the bit, so to speak, to read this novel.

Soon thereafter, I scooped up The Alchemist at Ophelia’s Books in Fremont, and I breezed through the 167 pages. I feel like a huge cliche saying this, but the book really resonated with me because of it’s underlying themes of being responsible in writing your own destiny. I even found myself underlining some choice passages, something that I despise doing. I was probably the only student in the English Department who didn’t mark up in the insides of their books for the reason that it made me uncomfortable. I just really don’t like smudged, illegible notes in my page margins.

Although it was originally written in Portuguese back when I was a year old in ‘88, the translated novel was just so eloquent that I went wild and underlined a sentence. Near the beginning, an old man named Melchizedek told Santiago that “people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” Not only is it a simple reminder that we can do so much more than we think, but it’s kind of a catalyst of sorts. I’m not doing anything different than when I read the book, but it really made me think about what I want to be doing.

A central theme of The Alchemist swirls around the word “maktub,” when translated means “it is written.” The message of the novel, though, is essentially that we write our own destiny. But translated to the hiphop game, or even more broadly into a “real world application,” it takes on a sense of one being responsible for their own happiness and destiny. Santiago travels from Andalusia to the Pyramids of Egypt because he listens to his heart, trying to understand his Personal Legend. The best example that comes to mind is when Big K.R.I.T. raps about not signing a record deal and sticking it out until it felt right on “Dreamin,” off the Return of 4Eva mixtape from earlier this year, or Luck-One rapping about forgoing rent to keep making music in “Sounds of my City” from True Theory.

Fashawn is responsible for introducing me to this great novel, and I was surprised that his Higher Learning 2 tourmate CurT@!N$ felt as passionately about it as him. In fact, one of his first tattoos was “maktub.” When I mentioned the book to Donnis, he was aware of it, but hadn’t yet read it despite lots of people telling him to do so. Mibbs from Pac Div was also aware of the book, and of the themes of making your own success.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty geeked out by the fact that I had discovered this great book, but also that these four musicians had all read the same book. I can’t, in good consciousness, go as far as saying this is hiphop’s favorite novel, because my sample size was so small. Following my intuition, though, it felt like more than a coincidence that all these artists were aware of this novel.

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