Britishhiphop.co.uk were in contact with the author and asked him to give us a quick synopsis on the book's content. Here is what he had to say, "Westsiders is a book I wrote about a year in South Central Los Angeles. It's the story of young men trying to make it in the rap game. Some, like Josiah Brocks, don't make it: Josiah was shot dead on the 101 Freeway in a drive-by. His killers have never been caught. Others, like Mr Short Khop, get the big contract and the shiny new Lexus. It's about people like Babyboy, a one-time drug dealer trying to make it as a legitimate businessman in the entertainment industry; about Lando Anderson, a Compton boy trying to make it in hip hop, who became accused of murdering Tupac Shakur, and was later shot to death himself; about Rodney King, the man at the centre of the LA riots, trying to set up his own record label. It's a book about their lives and their struggle to be recognised."
He went on to tell us that, "I write narrative non-fiction: I love true stories. This is my third book. My first was about New Age Travellers, my second, Spying In Guru Land, was about cults. I chose West Coast hip hop as a subject matter because it's so rich in stories already."
The first chapter of the book breaks down a bit of Hip Hop history whilst introducing the characters. William tells us how he rolled up to South Central, as a white guy overdressed in a suit. Right from the beginning you can picture the absurdity (and danger) of the situation, and at the same time you wonder how he got these rappers to open up to him.
He follows seven of them over a year and sees them trying to make the big time. We see Hermann Collins and Michael Bracks mutate into C-Double-E and Blue Diamond as they record and embark on live shows along their path to securing a recording deal. Khop is taken under Ice Cube's wing and has limited success, whilst Rah a street promoter struggles with the senseless killing of his friend.
The book is interspersed with educational passages relating to the early days of Hip Hop or to Black history in Los Angeles. Whilst opening up the dirty underbelly of the society living in Compton and other districts of South Central Los Angeles Shaw is able to make us empathise and relate to the struggles of the protagonists, all of whom have been touched in some way by the violence, by exploring their personal lives. This is a powerful book that isn't afraid to tell it how it is without the usual blurring of the lines between glamour, stereotypes and keeping it real. It is written in an easy to read, clear and concise style which refreshingly doesn't feel the need to use phonetical spellings. For those that don't know the book gives an insight into what Hip Hop means as a way of life to its proponents. It also delves into issues including the music industry's exploitation of black music, racism in wider society and gang culture without patronising those it reports on.
After reading about himself in the book, Babyboy had the following comments to make, 'Reading my life in William Shaw's words was exciting. Upon being interviewed for this book I had no idea of the strength of issues he would deal with in the end. He was accurate and wasn't scared to show the truth'.
Flipside: "Poignant and provoking, Westsiders presents its marginalised and dispossessed subjects with great dignity, understanding, and, above all, respect."
The Daily Telegraph: "For an 'innocent, white visitor' to LA's notorious South Central district, Shaw has written a remarkably insightful account of seven young black men hoping to make it in the rap business."
Jocky Slut: "Heartbreaking. . . A book that strips gangsta rap of its glamour and fluctuates between wide-eyed hope and despair."
360hiphop.com: "Shaw does a favor to hip-hop and hip-hop journalism -- perhaps without even intending to do so. He rehumanizes the game."
Yorkshire Post: "For anyone with any interest in hip hop culture and rap music Westsiders is absolutely essential."