Shea Serrano loves rap. So when good friend and legendary Houston rapper Bun B approached him about working on a rap-oriented book two years ago, he couldn’t say no. But the duo couldn’t hammer down exactly where they wanted to go with the project. After a year of pitching ideas back and forth, all it took was a short coloring session with Shea’s two young boys to set things in motion.
As he and his boys were listening to music and coloring one afternoon, Shea began drawing pictures of whoever they were listening to. He posted some of his masterpieces on Twitter to positive fanfare and pitched Bun on adapting the sketches to book form. “Neither of us were in a big rush,” Serrano says. “We didn’t want to do something halfheartedly, and Bun wanted to show that rappers are different people when they’re not posturing for a camera. So I messaged Bun and said we should do it and he said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ “
So Shea downloaded Adobe Illustrator, learned the ropes through YouTube clips and took the early drawings to Tumblr in October 2012. After some viral pickup across the Web, Abrams Books came calling. By then Shea could churn sketches out comfortably after getting the hang of illustrating, but reaching all the rappers he wanted to feature became an obstacle. “I had a bunch of pages already done that I wanted to use,” Serrano says. “But for everyone we wanted to put in the book, we had to have exclusive written permission. My editor found managers and publicists, and the ones that we couldn’t get through to, Bun was pretty familiar with.”
In fact, over NBA All-Star Weekend in February, Bun tracked down Drake and The Roots drummer Questlove, getting both of them on board in a matter of 20 minutes. “He just kept texting me, ‘This guy’s in. That guy’s in.’ I’m spending weeks and months trying to get these guys, and it takes him two minutes,” Serrano says. With a marquee of stars in tow, the final product took shape: Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book, a 50/50 split between coloring and activity pages. Classic children’s standbys like Connect the Dots and Mad Libs are included, along with a page-by-page glossary of which song to listen to while coloring. Readers can go through E-40’s word search– he’s known for creating his own slang terms. Guide Chamillionaire through a maze so the police can’t catch him “riding dirty,” and color in Macklemore’s fur fox skin while listening to “Thrift Shop.”
While most rappers they contacted gave the go-ahead, Shea laments missing out on iconic Atlanta duo, Outkast: “We got Big Boi and it would have been cool to get Andre 3000 because next to UGK, that’s my favorite rap group,” he says. “Beyond that, all the guys we were hoping to get, we got.” Even the off-kilter RiFF RaFF, who specifically asked for Shea to include a snake bracelet through an expressive email. “It was almost like a poem. There were two or three words per line and I can’t remember seeing punctuation. But after he clarified, we were able to figure it out.” The final form is a star-studded cast of some of the biggest names in rap, all in one book. No illustrations from the Tumblr are featured in the book–100% new material. The book hits shelves September 17 and is available for preorder on Amazon for a scant $10.53. That’s substantially less than a rack.