Miles Marshall Lewis begins his debut, Scars of the Soul Are Why Kids Wear Bandages When They Don’t Have Bruises, with the startling (if unoriginal) assertion that “hiphop is dead.” Although he changes his mind mere sentences later, his disillusionment colors his travels through rap history. As that history evolves, his recollections ultimately prove just as nebulous. At once a memoir, a journalistic mash-up of interviews with some of the genre’s most enduring luminaries (KRS-One, Afrika Bambaataa), and a series of personal essays in which the Bronx-born author (and Voice contributor) tries a little too hard to show how down he is, Scars chronicles Lewis bumping shoulders with rap stars, fellow burgeoning writers, and the guys populating the corners of Co-Op City with an unfailing focus—on himself. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a juicy yet ultimately pointless anecdote involving an altercation with an unnamed writer on a Brooklyn street (“You’re on my dick,” Lewis recalls muttering in the author’s direction).
Weaving between celebration and elegy, Scars generates the most emotional heat when Lewis recalls images, at turns charming and bleak, of his family life. “Faucets flowed overtime in my family’s three-bedroom Bronx apartment over the years, the resonance of rushing water muffling the evidence of things not seen,” Lewis relates in the delicately mournful “The Suckerpunch of My Childhood Files.” The collection also shines when Lewis simply doesn’t try so damn hard (“Worldwide Underground,” the heart-wrenching “Bronx Science”). Only then does he get over his determination to be known as a chronicler of hip-hop history and simply tell the story.