57 pages 1 hour read

Tiffany D. Jackson

Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


Let Me Hear a Rhyme (2019) is a young adult mystery novel by Tiffany D. Jackson. After the death of an aspiring teenage Brooklyn rapper in the 1990s, Steph, his friends, and sister sell and market his music, pretending he’s still alive. The stakes escalate as the kids tell lie after lie, but they also get closer to the truth behind their friend’s murder. The novel explores the power of music, the complexity of grief, and the limits of both legal and extralegal justice.

This guide refers to the paperback edition published by Katherine Tegen Books in 2020.

Content Warning: This guide and the source text mention murder, violence, and teenage drinking and drug use.

Plot Summary

Quadir, a 16-year-old boy living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in 1998, attends the funeral reception for his best friend, Steph, who was recently murdered. Steph’s 15-year-old sister, Jasmine, retreats into Steph’s bedroom. Quadir and Jarrell, Steph’s other best friend, follow her. Steph was an aspiring musician and had a lot of his music in his room. Jasmine lets Jarrell take a tape, which he listens to extensively. Outside the funeral, a boy named Dante shares his condolences about Steph, and invites Jarrell and Quadir to a party.

Jarrell and Quadir attend the party and Jarrell has the DJ play Steph’s music without revealing the musician and everyone loves it. Meanwhile, Jasmine’s mother claims the police are investigating Steph’s murder, but haven’t found any clues or suspects. Jasmine’s mom sends her to retrieve Steph’s final paycheck from his job at a shipping company, but the manager claims he doesn’t know Steph. Jarrell’s friend Mack, who sells crack cocaine, buys the kids in their housing projects ice cream. Jarrell likes Mack and aspires to have the means to help his community, too.

Jarrell and Quadir decide to create a CD of Steph’s music so they can sell it and share it with the world but without revealing his identity or that he’s dead. They enlist Jasmine’s help on the condition that they also help her solve Steph’s murder. They search Steph’s room for his recorded music and notebooks of lyrics. Jasmine and Quadir find a shoebox full of crack cocaine, a gun, and a pager with several missed calls, but they don’t tell Jarrell. Jarrell creates a CD of Steph’s music. A faceless photo of Steph serves as the album cover, and his name is “the Architect.”

The kids take the CDs to a boy named Kenny, who Jasmine knows. He agrees to make mass copies of the CD if Jasmine returns to meetings, but she won’t tell her friends what the meetings are for. As they continue to market Steph’s music, Quadir and Jasmine develop feelings for each other. When Jasmine questions Quadir about the drugs in Steph’s room, he claims he didn’t know Steph was selling crack. They think it’s possible that he wasn’t. Jarrell, Quadir, and Jasmine pass Steph’s music around Brooklyn and get some street vendors to sell it. In addition, Jarrell and Quadir give Steph’s CDs to a local rapper named Fast Pace. Soon, Steph catches the attention of an executive from Red Starr Entertainment, Pierce, who wants to meet him. Kenny continues pressuring Jasmine to return to her initiation, but she doesn’t want to. Jarrell and Quadir meet Pierce at a bar, claiming that the Architect couldn’t come due to a family issue. Pierce is furious but gives them another chance: The Architect needs to make a new song where he raps over a beat Pierce has chosen, within a week.

Before Steph’s death, the boys discuss snitching while they talk about the deaths of famous rappers. Jarrell thinks snitching is bad, and Steph asks if Jarrell would snitch to Steph if he knew who killed Steph’s father. Jarrell says he would because Steph is his brother. Steph points out that the rappers were also “brothers” to lots of people, and now their loved ones don’t get closure or justice because people are reluctant to speak the truth publicly or to police.

In the present, the boys ask Dante for a studio recommendation. He points them to Kaven, whose studio is near where Steph died. Police officers suddenly appear and assault Dante, Jarrell, and Quadir, asking them where Steph is. They say that Steph died, and the police seem shocked, which confuses the boys, who thought the police were investigating Steph’s murder. Jasmine’s mom finds one of Steph’s CDs and prohibits Jasmine from continuing to sell them or looking into Steph’s murder, but she disobeys. Kaven agrees to create a song for them from Steph’s music, though he acts weird when he first hears Steph’s voice. Jasmine and Quadir go to Coney Island like they used to do with Steph, and Jasmine sings for the first time since Steph’s death. Quadir is blown away by her musical ability. When Steph’s song plays from a car radio, they overhear a guy with acne and braids saying the song sounds like a kid who got murdered. Jasmine wants to confront him, but Quadir argues that it’s too dangerous.

Pierce likes the song Kaven made but is again furious about the Architect’s absence. He says the Architect must make another new song in two days. Quadir and his girlfriend, Ronnie, break up, and the kids find a CD of Steph’s they overlooked, with a partial new song on it. Jasmine writes and performs the last part to complete the song. In Kaven’s recording booth, she notices Steph’s special symbol he always drew, but Kaven denies knowing Steph. In the past, the boys lament the murder of a local kid named Rashad. In the present, Pierce asks to meet the Architect at a club, so they dress Jasmine up to look like Steph. Pierce wants to introduce them to Fast Pace, but they only stay briefly, because a fight breaks out.

While counting the money they’ve made from Steph’s music, Jarrell finds a police officer’s business card in Steph’s notebook. Jarrell is distracted, and when Mack appears to offer him a ride to school, he attempts to bribe Jarrell into working for him, but Jarrell politely declines. At school, Jarrell bumps into Quadir and confronts him about how Quadir didn’t tell him he broke up with Ronnie or that he was visiting a prep school. Quadir confesses to Jasmine that the crack in Steph’s room was his, and that Steph convinced him not to sell it. Jasmine worries this means that Steph’s death was her fault for trying to join the Guerillas, a local gang.

Fast Pace asks Pierce not to sign the Architect because he heard he’s a police informant. Pierce arranges a rap battle between the Architect and Fast Pace to settle the matter. When Fast Pace reveals that he has an original recording of Steph’s music, Jarrell steals it. Meanwhile, Ronnie and her dad’s bodyguards save Jasmine from members of the Guerillas as they try to abduct her.

When the group listens to Steph’s original recording, it calls out someone named Bumpy as Rashad’s murderer. The boys confront Kaven about knowing Steph, but he asks the men he’s with to “handle” the boys. Pierce shows up at Jasmine’s apartment, furious that the Architect didn’t show at the rap battle, costing him his job. Jasmine reveals all to Pierce and her mother, but Pierce still wants to help them. Pierce and Fletcher get Kaven to admit he recorded Steph’s music and shared it with Fast Pace, who asked Kaven to censor Bumpy’s name out of the song. Steph’s friends and family meet with the police officer from the business card, and together they solve the murder. Mack told Dante that Bumpy killed both Steph and Rashad on Mack’s behalf because Rashad was selling drugs on Mack’s territory and because Steph was a police informant.

Pierce creates a new record label and signs both Steph and Jasmine with their mother’s permission. Quadir decides not to attend prep school.

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