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Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970’s – 1981 Review

A few years back, at the height of my cyberpunk obsession and right around the time William Gibson’s latest book came out, I found myself reading a great deal of Boing Boing. With Gibson’s inspiration for one of his best female characters, Xeni Jardin, writing amazing pieces on her cancer struggle, and with Corey Doctorow putting up snippets of his latest book, it was an excellent place to find good content that other sites might not surface as well.

Slowly, over the course of a few weeks, I discovered something. The cool throwback styled comics they were posting about old school hip hop were not snippets from some existing work. This was content that Boing Boing was posting for Ed Piskor as he created it. I found myself stopping on it more and more, digging deeper and deeper into this excellent webcomic, blown away by the style choices that make it look like a classic 70s and 80s volume.

Now, Ed’s comics have been collected into a history book of sorts–one that deals with some true American original creations. First: hip hop, jazz’s younger cousin, and comic books: the kid-aimed pulp of the 30s and 40s now teaching an entire generation just what it was like to live through the birth of a new musical style. Let’s discuss Hip Hop Family Tree.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970’s – 1981 (Fantagraphics)

Jesus, that artwork!
Book 1: 1970’s – 1981 is a deep cut. Raise your hands if you think Run D.M.C. is old school hip hop.

Yeah – in this volume? They’re a tad young:

Damn right he’s reading X-Men.
They don’t look like these fellas until a few years later:

This book is an origin story. How kids playing loud concerts in parks, stealing power from street lights, and how DJ’s like Kool Herc, Coke La Rock and Grandmaster Flash would spin and scratch records for the crowds evolved to be people rhyming over the backbeat, and crafting smarter and more devastating verses.

“Hello Police? I’d like to report a murder.”
With any group of young men, rivalries start to form, and the beginning of Rap Battles, sometimes as long as 20 minutes per side, start to emerge from the general background. Rick Rubin, Blondie, Fab Five Freddy, Afrika Bambaataa, and the Sugarhill Gang all make their appearances as well:

Ed does an incredible job showing the slow but inevitable rise of this newest form of musical expression, its cross pollination with street culture and graffiti art, and how Blondie pushed the rap aspect into the most WASPy of American homes.

Having grown up in the 80s I remember the slow acceptance and mainstream penetration of all this music, but the origins were always clouded in legend and hearsay. Is this person the first to use the term, “Hip-hop,” or is this? Is this the first “rap” record, or is it the first by a major label?

Ed takes all of those legends and does an amazing job crafting it into a true historical narrative, and if you do pick this up, you’re going to have to listen along to the fantastic Spotify playlist that will be stuck on repeat for the next five weeks if you’re anything like me.

I can’t recommend this any higher. This is, without any doubt, the best graphic novel I’ve read this year and I’ve got three more volumes to review after this–volumes from when I was old enough to remember the artists involved, because of a misspent youth in front of MTV.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970’s – 1981 Review
Is it good?
What if I told you that a white kid, born in 1982, would put out one of the most amazing pieces of historical literature about an American invention - and what if that invention was hip-hop, and he was a comic book artist. This book is just damn impressive.
The "aged" artwork, and 1980's style graphical options make this book feel like a historical document, and brings those of us who were alive, right back.
The storyline, which might get confusing or less compelling if we're talking about carbon copy soldiers in the Civil War instead flourishes due to the crazy egos and personalities.
Urban legends no more--this is the truth packaged in a panel.
Can't think of a single downside.
Buy Now

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