The Tin Whistle

counterculture history and conspiracy theory

The first history of Hip Hop

with 12 comments

HHcoverLong out-of-print and with copies selling for upwards of $500, the original hip hop history written by the first journalist to document the scene is now available. When the book first appeared in 1984, here’s what some of the press had to say:

“…extremely well-written…”

Rock&Roll Confidential, #16/September 1984: HOME XEROXING PROSPECTS…Hip Hop by Steven Hager is an intelligent, vividly illustrated and extremely well-written account of the rise of hiphop culture. It begins at the beginning, that is to say, with James Brown and details the destructive policies of New York planner Robert Moses that created the South Bronx in the first place. By the end of the book you’ll feel close enough to many of the graffiti writers, breakers, djs and rappers that they’ll seem like old friends. —Dave Marsh

“…sets the record straight…sorted out fact from fiction…”

Paper Magazine: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop attempts to set the record straight on the endlessly argued questions of who did what first where. On the case for years, interviewing anyone and everyone, Hager (who also came up with the idea of Beat Street) has sorted out fact from fiction and written as “true” a story as we’re likely to get. — David Hershkovits

“…the best and most reliable history…”

Penthouse October 1984: Within a few months time the Hollywood films Breakin’ and Beat Street were huge summer hits. A half-dozen books on break dancing are on the market, not to mention more movies and instructional aids. In Hip Hop,  the best and most reliable history of the break-rap-graffiti subculture, author Steven Hager reveals that break dancing actually started around 1973 amid the urban devastation of New York’s South Bronx and had all but disappeared by 1978, supplanted by newer dances like the “freak” (ritualized dry-humping) and robotic “electric boogie,” What saved breaking from disappearing into the limbo of great lost dances? Mostly the growing popularity of disk jockeys like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash, who encouraged competitive dancers at club and community-center functions.—Robert Palmer

“…thrilling intricate story…”

Artforum: Did Keith Haring’s use of found frames make his work something other than graffiti, which defines its own field? Did the Funky Four + 1s “That’s the joint” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” speak separate languages? Such questions don’t come up in this fine book; Hager is stronger on sociology than art, more acute on the secret history of the scene than on its spectacular emergence. The prehistory was really secret: budding graffiti writers seeking the new Bronx Kilroys, would-be DJs looking for the right party to crash, cops chasing guerrilla artists, turntable wizards stripping the labels from their records to out-fox the competition. Hager makes it all a thrilling, intricate story, all set against the heroic opposition between master-builder Robert Moses, destroyer of the Bronx, and Afrika Bambaataa, tribune of a new culture built on the ruins of the old. But Hager loses his tale once it becomes public, as perhaps it has lost itself. His claim that hip hop “has the potential to infiltrate and subvert the mass media, energizing them with a fresh supply of symbols, myths, and values” doesn’t define hip hop: it defines America’s ability to recuperate the idea of subversion itself. Still, Hager talked to the right people—better yet, they talked to him.—Greil Marcus

“…thorough job of research…”

Pulse: New York City always seems to be at the cutting edge of trends in pop culture. Recently, breakdancing, hip-hop and rap records, and, to a lesser degree graffiti art have broken out of their Gotham origins, gotten picked up by the media and—as a result—have become important movements in ’80s pop culture. Steven Hager’s Hip Hop is a fast reading history of how these movements started—and developed —that focuses on the many personalities that made it happen. Hugo Martinez and Keith Haring, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash—from street-gang origins to recognition by serious art and music critics—they all come alive here in Hip Hop. This is a quick read—you can knock it off in an evening—but don’t get the idea that Hip Hop is one of those quickie exploitation jobs cranked out to cash in on current fads. Hager—whose original newspaper article inspired the film Beat Street—has done a thorough job of research, tracked down many obscure artists, breakers, and DJs for some cool interviews, and tied everything together in beautiful style.

“…Hager is an ace reporter…”

Village Voice  January 14, 1986: Hager offers a good helping of relevant data, bringing us through the two phases of graffiti’s art world acceptance, pinpointing crucial journalistic moments (though not his own Voice profile of Afrika Bambaataa, which is where Beat Street began), and devoting an epilogue to the fallout from the biggest of all hip hop’s breakthroughs—the crassly out-of-context  appearance of the Rock Steady breakers in the crassly pop-populist Flashdance. But Hager is an ace reporter, not a critic or social historian. —Robert Christgau

“…for those who wonder how it all started…”

The Palm Beach Post October 26, 1984: Most of us have probably seen enough break dancing to last us several lifetimes. For those who still wonder how it all started, a new book has come out called Hip Hop by Steven Hager, who tells us, among other things, that the graffiti sprouted on subways and walls were started by a young Greek named Taki, who put his first tag on an ice-cream truck in 1970.

“…formidable job of reporting…”

Knight-Ridder News Service March 30, 1985: Hip Hop takes its title from the street term for the entire urban subculture of rap music, break dancing, and graffiti art. The book comes packaged as if it were a bit of fluff intended to capitalize on the break dancing craze. The text, however, is a formidable job of reporting. Hager, a former reporter for the New York Daily News, tracked down many of rap’s most elusive figures, like the South Bronx disk jockeys who played the first rap records on turntables set up on street corners, and the earliest rappers, whose performances were given a parties and on inner-city playgrounds. The result is a description of a vibrant subculture.—Ken Tucker

“…fine investigative report…”

Voice of Youth Advocates: New York journalist Hager, who followed the hip hop scene for years before mass appeal set in, does a fine investigative report here. His sources: the horse’s mouth. The book is full of quotes of original New York hip hoppers he has interviewed: graffiti artists such as Futura 2000 who began “writing” on subway trains and now commands thousands of dollars in commissions, deejays such as Grandmixer DST who reveals here the secrets of his “scratchin'” technique, rappers who record their staccato rhymes now but whose tradition extends back to prisoners composing rhyming fables called toasts, and break dancers in hit films who began as street gang warriors. Their voices give Hager’s account authenticity.—Cathi Edgerton

“…explains how hip hop happened…”

The Boston Herald December 9, 1984: Hip Hop was written by Steven Hager, a longtime reporter on the musical and artistic subculture that’s rocked the world after busting out of New York’s slums. This serious but not heavy-handed guide explains how hip hop happened and what it’s all about.

“…it’s impressive…”

New York Daily News: Steven Hager’s Hip Hop isn’t a definitive study but, considering how hard it is to get information on the street culture of the South Bronx (few written sources, many reluctant or self-serving informants), it’s impressive.—David Hinckley

“…hits home with little-known facts…”

Billboard Sept. 15, 1984: Hager hits home with some little-known facts: that blacks were performing a form of break dancing in the mid-70s and at some point abandoned it, to be revived by Latin males, that graffiti artists often collect in “gangs” to study each other’s technique and avoid police while utilizing their favorite canvasses, New York City subway cars, and that a Bronx DJ named Kool Herc played a crucial role in the development of hip-hop music. —Nelson George

“…excellent book…”

KLIAT January 1985: This fascinating book is not a how-to manual, but a discussion of the evolution of Hip Hop, that subculture of dance, art and music that started in the South Bronx. He doesn’t romanticize Hip Hop, but he doesn’t treat it condescendingly either. An excellent book Hip Hop is worth owning. —F.L.

“…the best read on the subject…”

East Village Eye: Steven Hager’s new book Hip Hop is certainly the best read to be found on the subject. Hager was the first major writer to pick up on the movement, and he remains the best. His book encompasses the entire spectrum. —James Marshall

“…messy, ego-obsessed scrawls…”

New Musical Express September 22, 1984: There seems to be an inability to ridicule the more ridiculous aspects (like the graffiti artist who arrived at a rival’s house with a shooter threatening to use it unless he changed his pen-name). He also shares the age-old white critic’s fallibility of reading more importance than is necessary into black man’s art—most of the illustrations herein show street graffiti to be messy ego-obsessed scrawls. —Gavin Martin

“…obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker….”

Heavy Metal Feb/March, 1985: The walk from the South Bronx to the Lower East Side is long, and Hip Hop is like the view from a Greyhound bus. Encompassing break dancing, rapping, scratching, and street fashion, spanning from the present day New York back into the beyond, Hip Hop is a lot to digest. Even worse, the bleached-out black-and-white pages lack the visual beauty of their subject. Writer Steven Hager has renovated his Soho News and Village Voice articles to dissertation length, and even tacked on a glossary and bibliography that will, if we know Hip Hop, be obsolete as last month’s Magic Marker. —SM

“…formidable job of reporting…”

12 Responses

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  1. I don’t think book is the correct term for your stuff, Steve. Short article would be more appropriate. Fine stuff, just no where near a book in size and dimension. My 7 year old is required to write longer book reports


    March 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    • My eBboks come in all sizes but I don’t think there’s any justification for dismissing any creative effort based solely on length (or lack of). The eBook you speak of here (Hip Hop), however, is actually one of my longest, coming in at 33,802 words, so isn’t it a bit silly to suggest your 7-year-old is writing reports of anything approaching that length? And finally, as anyone visiting my smashwords site can attest, all my shortest eBooks are absolutely free to download, so this comment falls into the realm of “looking a gift horse in the mouth,” don’t you think?

      Steven Hager

      March 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm

  2. I’ve purchase your ebook on slashwords, great account! I was wondering if your article “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop,” for Village Voice is available somewhere for download. I have a research paper to work on, I choose to work on Hip Hop historiography, and that article would be of great relevance… I’ve ordered “And it don’t stop” but it is taking time to arrive so if you know of any link to get a pdf version, let me know, I didn’t find any…


    May 4, 2012 at 3:25 am

    • On my smashwords site, the article has the original title: The Pied Piper of Hip Hop. “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip Hop” was the title put on the article when it ran in the Village Voice.

      Steven Hager

      May 4, 2012 at 6:19 am

      • Great, I got it. Could you give me the reference of the Village Voice article (issue, date…). So the only diference is the tilte, Village Voice did not edit the content?


        May 4, 2012 at 6:38 am

        • Sept. 21, 1982, but the Voice sat on the story for six months, so it was written in the Spring of 1982. Tulani Davis edited the story, there were only a few minor changes, however, when I published the smashwords edition, I updated a few facts and corrected a few minor issues. Most of these changes involved Coke La Rock, who I didn’t interview until two years ago.

          Steven Hager

          May 4, 2012 at 6:42 am

      • And Djana, my Bambaataa article on smashwords really needs a review and some stars, so maybe you can leave one on smashwords? Only if you like the story of course.

        Steven Hager

        May 4, 2012 at 6:55 am

  3. I most definetely will review it. What a worthy historical account and great piece of investigation…
    Being a 27 French student who has never visit the USA yet… it’s difficult for me to picture the NYC “press scene”of back then… Like why did NY Times journalists didn’t try to cover the movement with better investigation? They failed to question the founding fathers of HipHop. Even if Robert Palmer had some good opinions on the culture, their articles are just reviews…
    Was Village Voice free back then? Was it popular already? Was it widespread in NYC? Among what readership?
    And what about NY Times readership back then? Could you enlight me on these questions


    May 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    • The Village Voice cost a dollar back then. Nobody cared about hip hop. I talked to people at the NY Times. They said it was a fad and would soon go away. Hip hop was popular among the street kids, but nobody else even knew a thing about it.

      Steven Hager

      February 15, 2013 at 5:58 am

  4. Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon on a daily
    basis. It’s always exciting to read articles from other authors and use something from their websites.

    southern hip hop

    February 15, 2013 at 3:35 am

  5. […] de las comunidades negra y portoriqueña en el establecimiento del rap. Para especialistas como Steven Hager, el 77 fue también el año decisivo en la formación del controvertido movimiento […]

  6. […] the aid and protection of the government and police? As The Get Down shows, it was complicated: Steve Hager’s September 1982 Village Voice article “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop” is […]

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