Book review: Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer
What is Read It. Read It!?
Read It. Read It! is an AKADi Magazine segment aimed at book lovers. Our goal is to get you reading more books by Ghanaian authors, poets, illustrators or books about Ghana.
We want you to share your thoughts on these books and hopefully, instead of us urging you to Read It. You’ll be telling us you’ve Read It!
In this post, associate editor KAmo reviews 'Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer', which is authored by British-Ghanaian writer Jeffrey Boakye and is published by Faber and Faber.
Jeffrey, a former journalist, is a teacher in the UK and has five other books under his belt. His latest: 'Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer' is out on 1 June 2023.
Our review book copy has 245 pages and a cover image that mimics a cassette tape. Pretty cool! Each chapter begins with an illustration in black and white created by Beth Suzanna.
What is this book about?
Set in 90s London, this book follows the life of 11-year-old Kofi, and his journey to learning about the importance of family, friendships and, loyalty. He develops a love for rap music and, with his friend Kelvin, finds a way to make money out of this music.
Kofi must work through his relationships at school and in his local neighbourhood - all of which culminate in tension and humour that runs through this book.
Kofi is the youngest of three siblings and lives with his mum and dad on a council estate. He navigates family life in an already chaotic household where access to the bathroom in the mornings requires a regime.
The sudden arrival of Kofi's uncle - Delroy - and his uncle's girlfriend, creates more chaos in the family and we watch as these and other tensions bubble to the surface.
At school, Kofi's need to talk back to teachers results in detentions and him challenging the authority of his peers leads to more stress. But this stress is relieved by Kelvin who becomes Kofi's best and only friend.
What I liked
I was immediately drawn to this book. Not only do I share the same name as the protagonist, Kofi’s family-set up mirrored my own. Kofi’s dad is a Ghanaian and his mum from the Caribbean – much like my own family situation.
Kofi’s relationship with his family is strong and the support he gets from them is something I liked. Reading this book as an adult brought back memories of my life as a parent in the 90s. I remember having to navigate the rather unfamiliar 90s street language and lyrics from rap music which - half the time - I had no idea what was being said.
This book also took me back to those days when households had to share use of one landline; the sibling squabbling that typically ensued, and parents being forced to lock the phone just to have some peace (and save money).
In those days, there were no mobile phones, no home computers, or internet access for the average family. I do not know how kids today would manage!
Kofi the entrepreneur
Despite being the youngest of three in his family, Kofi runs rings around everyone. His quick wit and sassy retorts serve to get him out of trouble (with the help of his sister and other family members).
But, at times, his actions also had the opposite effect. He very much reminded me of the mischievous Dennis the Menace character that I grew up reading in comics. But Kofi's resourcefulness and ability to be enterprising was a joy to read.
When Kofi and Kelvin start a business publishing a magazine that features the lyrics of popular rap songs for school kids to mimic, Kofi showcases his entrepreneurial prowess. The magazine brings Kofi a lot joy because he is making money and learning the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur.
What I found challenging
Out of all the Ghanaian names known outside Ghana, I would say that Kofi (in part thanks to Kofi Annan) is pretty iconic worldwide. That boosted my expectations that the book would be awash with references to aspects of Ghanaian culture. Alas, it was not to be.
For example, Kofi’s father (although present in the family) did not feature much in the story. This of course is not a criticism of the book, just that my expectations in that regard were not realised.
And based on the way Uncle Delroy spoke, I did not expect him to have been into rap music but rather thought he would be a fan of the reggae scene.
Finally, I found Kofi’s ‘St Trinian’s experience’ a little stretched. I won't spoil it for you readers but let's just say, I am not sure that what transpired could have happened for that long....
What question would you like to ask the author?
If I was fortunate enough to meet and interview Jeffrey, the first and obvious question would be if this book is based on his life. Is he Kofi or Emmanuel (Kofi's senior brother)? And why are there no references to Kofi’s father's name or more about their heritage?
I would love to know if, as a teacher, Jeffrey encounters many children like Kofi in his school and how he manages or directs them?
Still in keeping with my obsession with Kofi's name, my fourth question would be: why is it that of the three children, only Kofi has a Ghanaian name?
More books by Jeffrey
If you'd like to read more books by Jeffrey, check out the ones below:
· I Heard What You Said: A Black Teacher, A White System (released on 09-06-22)
· Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs (released on 07-04-22)
· Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime (released on 30-07-20)
· Blacklisted: Black British Culture Explored (released on 18-04-19)
· What Is Masculinity? Why Does It Matter? and Other Big Questions (released on 08-04-2021) and co-authored with Darren Chetty).
If you've read 'Kofi and the Rap Battle Summer', tell us what you thought in the comments.
And watch out for our next review - this time an academic and historical book by Pernille Ipsen called: 'Daughters of the Trade - Atlantic Slavers and Interracial Marriage on the Gold Coast'.
And you can read our other reviews here. Until next time on Read It. Read It!