Friday, May 10, 2024

Book Review: Hip-Hop Is History

When hip-hop first emerged in the 1970s, it wasn’t expected to become the cultural force it is today. But for a young Black kid growing up in a musical family in Philadelphia, it was everything. He stayed up late to hear the newest songs on the radio. He saved his money to buy vinyl as soon as it landed. He even started to try to make his own songs. That kid was Questlove, and decades later, he is a six-time Grammy Award–winning musician, an Academy Award–winning filmmaker, a New York Times bestselling author, a producer, an entrepreneur, a cofounder of one of hip-hop’s defining acts (the Roots), and the genre’s unofficial in-house historian.

In this landmark book, Hip-Hop Is History, Questlove skillfully traces the creative and cultural forces that made and shaped hip-hop, highlighting both the forgotten but influential gems and the undeniable chart-topping hits—and weaves it all together with the stories no one else knows. It is at once an intimate, sharply observed story of a cultural revolution and a sweeping, grand theory of the evolution of the great artistic movement of our time. And Questlove, of course, approaches it with not only the encyclopedic fluency and passion of an obsessive fan but also the expertise and originality of an innovative participant.

Hip-Hop Is History will be published June 11, 2024. Farrar, Sraus and Giroux provided an early galley for review.

Back in 2021, I read Questlove's Music Is History and enjoyed it. I knew his knowledge would again provide an entertaining and enlightening read with this new book.

I was at just the right age for music discovery (my teen years) when hip-hop came into being. Thus, I appreciated that the first chapter dives right in at the start in 1979. My own exposure to the evolution of hip-hop over that first decade was reinforced by the next couple of chapters as well.

What I liked about this book was that it is not meant to be a thorough history of hip-hop. In fact, it mostly a primer that is built around Questlove's own experiences in the genre first as a consumer and later as a musician. It is meant to serve as a beginning and an introduction that should be followed by the reader's own in-depth exploration.

I also enjoyed the section that came at the end - the hip-hop songs that Questlove wanted to put some extra focus on. There was a lot here I myself will need to look into in the future. I suspect this homework will be quite enjoyable.

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