Angie Thomas Shares How Her Teenage Rap Aspirations Inspired “On the Come Up”

Getty Images for Massachusetts Conference for Women 2019 / Marla Aufmuth

Image Source: Getty / Marla Aufmuth

From a bestselling novel to the big screen, “On the Come Up” tells a vibrant hip-hop tale that feels all too real – mainly because it stems from reality. The Sanaa Lathan-directed film based on Angie Thomas’s bestselling novel of the same name premiered on Sept. 23. Newcomer Jamila C. Gray stars as the film’s leading lady, Bri, a high school student and battle rapper who has dreams of taking the music world by storm. Joining her in the movie are Lathan, Method Man, Lil Yachty, Mike Epps, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, GaTa, Miles Gutierrez-Riley, Titus Makin Jr., and Michael Anthony Cooper Jr.

“I also hope that it makes them look at the real Bris out here who are doing their thing and give them a little more homage and respect.”

The film, which is billed as a “love letter to hip-hop,” follows after Thomas’s previous book-to-movie offering, “The Hate U Give,” and centers around Bri’s come-up story from poverty to her small taste of fame, all in an effort to give her family a better life. Although “On the Come Up” was written as a fictional story, Thomas tells POPSUGAR many elements from it are extensions of her younger self, but she never anticipated the novel would become a movie adaptation.

“I hoped that it would,” she shares. “The funny thing is I was working on this book, ‘On the Come Up,’ while I was on set at ‘The Hate U Give.’ In fact, one of the first people to ever read any parts of ‘On the Come Up’ was Amandla Stenberg. We were in the production tent, and I let her read it on my phone. So I was working on it then, and I was very motivated to get it done because I hoped to see it come to life, too. . . . But you know, you never know with the way things go. You never know with filmmaking and production and all of that. A lot of times, it takes everything falling into place at the right time. And thankfully for me, everything fell into place at the right time with the right people.”

Thomas shares that it “means a lot” to see people still invested in hip-hop stories, especially those told from young Black girls’ perspectives. “Women, Black women specifically, have been so overlooked in hip-hop and so disrespected at times, and this was built on our backs,” she notes. “We are such an important part of the culture, and we deserve our respect. To know that people are looking at this film and they’re seeing this young woman who finds her power and finds her voice through hip-hop and they’re walking away with a deeper appreciation for the art form itself is an amazing feeling. But I also hope that it makes them look at the real Bris out here who are doing their thing and give them a little more homage and respect.”

“On the Come Up” was written and inspired by Thomas. Read ahead to learn more about it and discover what prompted its author to turn parts of her real life into an enlightening coming-of-age tale.

Image Source: Paramount+

What Is “On the Come Up” About?

In the book, 16-year-old Bri has aspirations to become one of the greatest rappers of all time – or at least get famous enough to move her and her family out of her rough neighborhood. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who was killed before he hit his prime, everybody expects Bri to carry the torch and take the battle-rap scene by storm in his name. With bills piling up at home on account of her freshly unemployed mother, Bri decides to chase her rap dreams so she can put an end to her family’s financial hardships. However, when she makes a viral hit that leads her down a dangerous path, she must choose to either stay true to who she is or conform to the “fake gangsta” image the music industry tries to force upon her.

Is “On the Come Up” Based on a True Story?

According to Thomas, she was “inspired to write ‘On the Come Up’ for several reasons” – one of them being that her life mirrors its main character. “I was a lot like Bri when I was 16,” she shares. “I wanted to be a rapper, and I thought it was a way to get my family out of poverty. We hit financial hardship, and I thought this was a great way to get us out of it. Because when I looked at the television and I listened to the radio, people who looked like me, they were making it as rappers. That’s what I thought was the best way to be a storyteller. So at 16, I wanted to be a rapper. But Bri’s story was also inspired by a lot of the censorship I dealt with with my first novel, ‘The Hate U Give.’ It’s one of the most-banned books out there, and even right now, there are even more attempts to ban it to silence me.”

Thomas’s real-life censorship plays a major role in “On the Come Up”‘s plot, as Bri also faces people who try to shut down her music for supposedly “inciting violence.” “I wanted to write this story about a young Black girl who has people attempting to silence her, and people are focused more on how she’s saying things as opposed to what she’s saying,” Thomas adds. “I felt it was important to highlight this and to talk about what it means and what it feels when people don’t want to listen to what you’re saying because it makes them uncomfortable and the message that sends to you. But also, what does it mean to take that power back and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to stand in my truth, regardless of how people feel’? So for me, this story, it felt like the right thing to say at the right time.”

“On the Come Up” is now streaming on Paramount+.

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