by Amanpreet | 2/19/2014
" This is an encyclopedic guide to hip-hop history and hip-hop business deals which I would recommend to anyone interested in modern music history. The first half of this book reads incredibly well, as Dan Charnas is able to weave together various, seemingly unrelated stories with such ease. This book is pretty dense and I was barely able to read a page without jotting down a name or label or song to look up later. You can tell that Charnas not only has a lot of knowledge about hip-hop, especially in its infancy, but that he and his team put a remarkable amount of research in the book. The early stories are fascinating, as Charnas cites the happen-chance encounters, failed deals, minor successes and big breaks that pushed the budding art form along. While I was reading the book, I was consistently floored by the amount of interviews this must have required. Details down the the name of clubs, club owners, how they dressed, how they talked and how Russell Simmons convinced them to let a new act perform really set the bar for future hip-hop books/documentaries.
The second half of the book focuses more on later hip-hop, which was a great way for me to learn about the music and artists I thought I already knew about. Learning about how hip-hop slowly gained acceptance and made its way to the west coast was also really great. As I mentioned above, this book is pretty dense, and as a result, I sort of wore myself out after about 400 pages and a couple dozen post-it notes of names and dates! This isn't a read-before-bed type of book; rather it was actually pretty exciting to read, and you do need to be engaged as a reader. I feel like the second half of the book was less "story-like" than the first half, which read like a Bronx fairytale. Kool Herc and his "merry-go-round" and Run-DMC with their Adidas shoes. This book made me wish I had been a kid in New York during the eighties, buying 7-inch singles and waiting for my favorite radio MCs to come on, rather than skipping songs on Pandora like we do today.
I'm giving this book 5 stars for the enormous amount of information it contains. It's one of the most well-researched books I've read. The stories were fascinating to read, but I do wish the book had been broken down into smaller sections to make it easier to find a certain part again. However, the index is pretty detailed.
Another thing that bugged me once I got to the end of the book is how much of a focus Charnas put on Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. At times, it seemed like he was writing their biographies. I understand that they did play a pivotal role in early hip-hop, especially with the Def Jam label, but I feel like Charnas' personal connection to the two got in the way. Furthermore, Charnas vilifies certain individuals (like the Robinsons), and I understand why, but when the creators of say, Tommy Boy, engage in some of the same backhanded dealings, they don't get burned by Charnas words as harshly. Again, as an industry insider, I feel like Charnas personal connections did bias the final product. And no, telling us how messy Rick's dorm room was didn't really balance out the Rubin worship! Lastly, I commend Charnas and his team for using the "business" slant to weave together the various stories, but I do feel that that got a bit lost and fell a bit flat at times. A section of the book would finish and before he forgot, Charnas wold tack on "and that was how this business deal, which reflects the American values of this and that, shaped this and that." I guess it worked, but it didn't fall into place as naturally as everything else.
I know the "cons" paragraph is long, but those were really just minor personal irks for me, which I just wanted to get out! Overall, this is an incredibly well-researched, detailed and truly fascinating piece. "