Getting hip with the history of hop

As we approach 50 years Hip-hop, it’s worth stopping to think about this great journey, and it’s worth studying this rich history, so says Stevie G in his weekly column
Getting hip with the history of hop

Grandmaster Flash (drawn by Ed Piskor).

THERE are many different ways of learning about music. Hip-hop prides itself about knowing its history but it’s always had a complex relationship with this very history too. In many ways, hip-hop is a bastardised music form whose roots come from many different angles, and it’s no surprise that this relationship with its history has had growing pains. But it’s a fascinating family tree.

Ed Piskor has put together one of the best histories of hip-hop. His “Hip-hop family tree” series of comic books originally originated online, and soon became a bunch of published collections. Very influenced by Robert Crumb’s legendary “Heroes of Blues, jazz and country” trading cards, these comic books are a fantastic way for both fans and newcomers to rap to learn about its early days.

Ed goes deep into the origins of the format in New York city in the late 70s, and it eventually goes all the way to 1985. Seeing as this was the time when hip-hop was only really starting to break out of New York fully, it remains a possibility that this is only the beginning of the road for Ed Piskor’s amazing history of hip-hop. I can’t recommend these comics highly enough and I’ve long had the first few collections (I recently ordered some more off the comic book vault in lower Oliver Plunkett St).

Hip-hop Evolution on Netflix did a terrific job on shining a light on hip-hop history too. I reviewed this series here a couple of years ago but they have since added season two to the mix and it’s even better.

The producers opt for an interesting angle on proceedings by zoning in on some of the big and not so big names, and getting to the bones of their respective stories rather than trying to cover everything. It’s a far more productive approach than trying to cover everything, and the features on the likes of UGK and the Geto Boyz are some of the best viewing I’ve seen on hip-hop in ages.

At around the same time that Hip-hop Evolution came out, Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down was unveiled amidst much hype, and it was poorly received, despite never attempting to pretend to be a hip-hop documentary but more a theatrical period piece. Overall though, the more low-key show did a great job on hip-hop history.

There are many, many books and youtube videos and online lectures and other ways of learning about hip-hop too, but in some ways the most old skool way of them all is the best way.

I learned about hip-hop through its records. It’s changed a little these days and most youngsters don’t want to be constantly reminded of the so-called glorious old days of rap music, but it’s a great story and one which should appeal to all music fans.

The records aren’t to the fore as much these days and the DJ is no longer centre stage, while scratching is often non existent too. But it’s still there beneath the surface and there are many DJs keeping the flame flickering.

There’s also a great history that is often confined to the margins but the story of the records that built hip-hop is one of the most interesting subjects of them all. As a kid I learned about these records through the samples and even vinyl collections such as the legendary Ultimate Breaks and Beats series. These records compiled the classic breaks that built hip-hop, which were often culled from a diverse selection of music that included jazz, soul, latin, rock and funk.

Hip-hop’s rich and complex history took me years to understand fully, but it was a beautiful journey that enriched my knowledge of all of these forms along the way. I ended up becoming a soul and jazz music addict too, so it came full circle. Hip-hop was always seen as a taker, but ironically it ended up often being the music that gave back more than it could take through a new recognition of artists who were previously ignored and forgotten. It helped rejuvenate many artists, the vinyl format and even some music genres, and hip-hop slowly gained and earned a respect which it never had in the early days.

As we approach 50 years of this great format, it’s worth stopping to think about this great journey, and it’s worth studying this rich history!

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