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Friday, March 04, 2016

Reader's Diary #1269- Ed Piskor: Hip Hop Family Tree 1983-1984

Slowing things down to a single year for this 3rd installment of his Hip Hop Family Tree series, I was a little concerned that it would start to feel dragged out.

After reading it, however, it seems to have been a pretty important year with lots going on. It was definitely not boring!

It seems to be the beginnings of rap superstardom. Run DMC's career is taking off, the Fat Boys are on the scene, and a young LL Cool J is just making his mark. The Beastie Boys are there as well, but at this point they're still (they made an appearance in HHFT #2 as well) coming across as immature buffoons. Of course, we know that this didn't hamper the sales of their first classic, Licensed to Ill, but this is even before those days. They're as much about punk as hip hop at that point (though Piskor makes a strong case that the two genres share a very similar DIY attitude and healthy respect for one another). Also, did you know they used to have a female in the group? Yep, Kate Schellenbach of Luscious Jackson.

I was also interested in hearing some early talk about authenticity. Run DMC is praised for not having compromised their identity and LL Cool J is instructed early on to drop the outlandish Sugarhill "gaw-bitch" (in the words of Russell Simmons). Not that there aren't any compromises being made. White dancers are planted in TV performances, for example, in an effort to make the music more palatable to white audiences. Sigh.

I'm still waiting for the style to change. The newsprint look of the first 2 volumes was great and complimented the comics of the day, but approaching the mid-80s I'd expect more garish colours to start appearing. I'm hoping Piskor didn't paint himself into a corner, the success of the earlier volumes preventing him for veering too far from the formula. We shall see!

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