On the Come Up is the story of Bri Jackson, an aspiring rapper growing up in an impoverished neighborhood, Garden Heights. Bri has a lot to deal with in addition to poverty. Her mother is a recovering crack addict, and Bri must deal with racism and sexism as well as all the usual challenges that come with being sixteen.
In chapter 8, Bri awakes to the sound of one of her mother's support group sessions. She overhears her mother, Jay, talking about how Bri's paternal grandparents wouldn't immediately allow her to see her children (Bri and her brother, Trey) after she got out of rehab. Jay also discusses the challenges of getting a job when you are both Black and a recovering addict. When her mother realizes that Bri is there, she pulls Bri onto her lap as though she were a much younger child.
Later, Bri is fetched by her maternal aunt, Aunt Pooh, and taken to a recording studio which is being run out of a drug den. She is asked to write the words that will go with the beat that Pooh's friends have put together. Pooh leaves, to Bri's disappointment, and Bri knows that Pooh is still dealing drugs. After giving thought to the unfair way in which Black people are treated in Garden Heights and nationally, Bri comes up with the words that she needs to go with the beat, and she starts recording. Her lyrics contain references to her murdered father, possession of a gun, and unfair treatment from police.