On the Come Up: Read the riveting first excerpt from Angie Thomas' new novel
Aunt Pooh knocks on the side door. Feet shuffle and someone hollers out, "Who
"P" is all Aunt Pooh says.
Several locks click, and when the door opens, it's like that moment in Black Panther when they go through the hologram and enter the real Wakanda.
It's like we just stepped through a hologram that showed everyone else a trap house and into a studio.
It's not the fanciest, but it's better than I expected. The walls are covered in those cardboard cup holders that restaurants give when you have multiple drinks to carry. Soundproofing. There are several computer monitors at a table, with drum pads, keyboards, and speakers nearby. A mic sits on a stand over in a corner.
A potbellied bearded guy in a wife beater sits at the table.
"Whaddup, P?" he says with a mouthful of gold. His words come out slow, like somebody turned down the tempo on his voice.
"Whaddup, Doc?" Aunt Pooh slaps palms with him and the other guys. There are about six or seven of them. "Bri, this is Doc, the producer," Aunt Pooh says. Doc nods at me. "Doc, this is Bri, my niece. She 'bout to murder this beat you got for her."
"Hold up, you made that for this li'l girl?" some guy on the couch asks. "What she gon' do, spit some nursery rhymes?"
There go the smirks and snickers.
This is that stale and predictable shit Aunt Pooh warned me about when I first told her I wanted to be a rapper. She said I'd have to do double the work to get half the respect. On top of that, I gotta be just as cutthroat, and I better not show weakness. Basically, I gotta be one of the guys and then some in order to survive.
I look dude on the couch dead in his eyes. "Nah. I'll leave the nursery rhymes to you, Father Goose."
"Ooh," a couple of the guys say, and one or two give me dap as they crack up. Just like that, I'm one of them.
Doc chuckles. "He wish this beat was for him, that's all. Check it out."
He clicks some stuff on one of the computers and a bassheavy up-tempo beat blasts through the speakers.
Well, damn. It's nice as hell. Reminds me of soldiers marching for some reason.
Or the hands of a school security guard patting me down for drugs I didn't have.
I get my notebook out and flip through. Shit. Nothing I've got seems to go with this beat. It needs something new. Something tailored to it.
Aunt Pooh bounces on her heels. "Oooh-weee! We really gon' be on the come up once this drops."
On the come up.
"Dun-dun-dun-dun, on the come up," I mumble. "Dundun-dun-dun, on the come up."
I close my eyes. The words are there, I swear. They're just waiting for me to find them.
I see Long throwing me to the ground. One false move would've stopped any chances of a come up.
"But you can't stop me on the come up," I mutter. "You can't stop me on the come up."
I open my eyes. Every single person in here watches me. "You can't stop me on the come up," I say, louder. "You can't stop me on the come up. You can't stop me on the come up. You can't stop me, nope, nope."
Smiles slowly form and heads nod and bob.
"You can't stop me on the come up," Doc echoes. "You can't stop me on the come up."
One by one, they join in. Slowly, heads nod harder, and those few words become a chant.
"Yo! That's it!" Aunt Pooh shakes my shoulder. "That's that shit we—"
Her phone goes off. She glances at the screen and slips it back in her pocket. "I gotta go."
Hold up, what? "I thought you were staying with me?"
"I got some business to take care of. Scrap will be here."
He nods at her, like this is an agreement they made already. So that's why he's here. What the hell? "This is supposed to be our business," I say.
"I said I'll be back later, Bri. A'ight?"
She walks out, as if that's that.
"Excuse me," I tell the others, and rush out. I have to jog to catch up with Aunt Pooh. She opens her car door, but I grab it and shut it before she can get in. "Where you going?"
"Like I said, I got some business to take care of."
"Business" has been her code word for drug dealing since I was seven years old and asked her how she made enough money to buy expensive sneakers.
"You're my manager," I say. "You can't leave now."
"Bri. Move," she says through her teeth.
"You're supposed to stay with me! You're supposed—"
To put that all aside. But truth is she never said she would.
"Bri, move," she repeats.
I step aside.
Moments later, her Cutlass disappears down the street, and I'm left in the dark, without a manager. Worse, without my aunt. Curious eyes wait for me back in the studio. But I can't show weakness. Period. I clear my throat. "We're good."
"All right," Doc says. "You gotta come hard on this one. This your introduction to the world, know what I'm saying? What you want the world to know?"
He wheels his chair closer to me, leans forward, and asks, "What's the world done to you lately?"
It put my family in a messed-up situation.
It pinned me to the ground.
It called me a hoodlum.
"It's done a hell of a lot," I say.
Doc sits back with a smile. "Let 'em know how you feeling then."
Copyright © 2019 by Angie Thomas. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins, Inc.