Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Reader's Diary #1189- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree, Book 1 (1970s - 1981)

My musical tastes are wide and varied and I'm a huge fan of music trivia. That said, my knowledge of hip hop is not as great as my knowledge of rock. So a graphic novel—and a critically acclaimed, award-winning one at that exploring the history of hip hop was right up my alley.

Sure I did know a few of the names beforehand (Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow) but only vaguely and certainly had no sense of their personalities or where their legacies came from. Plus there were plenty more names that hadn't crossed my radar before. I hit iTunes pretty hard after this one.

Where Piskor succeeds is making the people and the place and even the time feel authentic. A white guy from outport Newfoundland, I'm not in much of a position to judge if it was truly authentic or not, but it certainly felt so and that's no small feat. Much I think can be attributed to the amazing production of the book. Character-wise everyone looks like the Daniel Clowes kind of character; heavily contoured features that border just on the edge of caricature. The styles, the lingo, the settings were superb. But it was the colours, and cheap newsprint (with real halftone dots!) giving the book a vintage feel that elevated this book to its greatness. If I had one complaint, it's that in their attempts to make this like a comic from the late 70s era, it's over-sized and a bit difficult to hold up while reading or to shelf. Small complaint really.

Thankfully, while all this history is being told, it's not dry in the least. There's a sense that something big is happening. The personalities are all diverse yet they're caught up in a moment that seems larger than them, even though you sense that as it's starting they don't even realize it (they quickly do). It's funny but respectful without putting anyone on a pedestal. And, as an added bonus for us modern readers, it gives us a sense of how these roots grew the hip hop culture we know today. I'm really looking forward to reading the 2nd volume.

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