Posts Tagged ‘Grandmaster Caz’
Talk to me about being raised in Illinois and how you became a writer.
I started a fanzine in 7th Grade and by the 11th I was publishing my own underground newspaper called The Tin Whistle distributed to four high schools, and banned at all of them.
My hippie newspaper published six issues in 1968. The schools in Illinois were very racist and polarized at the time, but my newspaper led a movement for recognizing black student rights among other campaigns. We were able to elect the first black student council president in the history of Urbana High School, and he did a lot to heal the broken race relations. His name was James “Chef Ra” Wilson and he taught me a lot about ceremony. We both ended up going to the first Woodstock festival, then he went to Jamaica and became an early Bob Marley devotee. We worked on many projects for decades until one Christmas Day when his heart exploded while he was sleeping.
What was your entry into hip hop?
I moved to New York at the end of 1979. My roommate Jeff Peisch was into the music scene and working at Record World Magazine with Nelson George, and he gave me a promo copy of These are the Breaks by Kurtis Blow. Shortly after that, I went to the New York/New Wave art exhibition curated by Diego Cortez, and was astounded by a subway train titled Break by Futura 2000. The connection between the song and the mural made me realize something was going on and nobody was covering it. As a young reporter, it looked like an opening.
What was the first article on hip hop that you read that changed the game for you? Who wrote it? How did you hear about it?
For over a year I didn’t read anyone’s articles. There were none. I only wrote my own. There were a couple of photographers on the scene, Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, but I was the only journalist. Most of the coverage aside from me was coming out of England. But they weren’t on the ground and going to any parties, just reviewing records and sometimes interviewing acts if anyone came to England, which was rare early on.
What was the first magazine/newspaper publication that you heard about just focused on hip hop? Did that inspire you to write for it?
There were no magazines until after Run DMC. I guess The Source was the first big one that went all hip hop, although Phase 2 had a fantastic fanzine he was self-publishing for years. I had long since stopped covering hip hop when The Source appeared.
Who were you looking up to as far as writing?
The journalists who most influenced me were Calvin Tompkins, George Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe.
Do you call yourself a hip hop journalist?
I sometimes call myself the first hip hop journalist, because in the early days I was the only professional reporter on the scene. But I have 30 books and only three are on hip hop, and all those concern only the first generation from 1974 to 1984.
How did you feel when your name was on the cover of The Village Voice for your cover with the words “hip hop” on it?
Bambaataa coined the term and focused the culture. I just told his story. It took the Voice half a year to print it, although it was “accepted” immediately. I was enraged they held it so long because I was afraid someone was going to break the story, but fortunately, after endless phone calls and threats to publish elsewhere, they finally put it on the schedule.
You were able to make a major impact in how we receive hip hop through your writing and Beat Street. Did you ever have any intention to impact the culture the way you did?
If only my script had been used, it was the real thing. The movie was a great disappointment. Only the dance crews and some of the rap performances saved it. The plot was completely whack. I didn’t recognize any South Bronx people I knew and wrote about.
Who was your favorite artist interview?
In the world of hip hop I am closest with Grandmaster Caz, Coke La Rock and Busy Bee. In fact, we are all members of a secret society called The Pot Illuminati and hold ceremonies upon occasion. Those are three of the greatest storytellers in hip hop, and also three of the most overlooked people in hip hop’s history.
Who was the 1st person that you heard of calling themselves a hip hop journalist? What opened up for you because of it?
By the time hip hop went global and hip hop journalism was born, I was long gone and had no interest in the gangsta rap that came up in a huge wave to displace the political fervor of Public Enemy. I only did research on the first generation, from Kool Herc to Funky Four to Furious Five to Treacherous Three to the Cold Crush Brothers. And I also covered graffiti and some of the original dance crews. I was in a rock band in the sixties, and after rap got commercialized, I formed a garage band and played three-chord-rock for a decade. Being around hip hop inspired me to get back to my own musical heritage. Although I did one hip hop performance early on as a deejay with Jeff Peisch rapping and David Bither (now of Nonesuch Records) on saxophone. Between the three of us we had enough talent to give the soon-to-emerge Beasties Boys a run, but it was just a one-off goof. But David blew the lid off that party as I recall, with me scratching up some hip hop anthem.
What was the first article you wrote about hip hop?
A biography on Futura 2000 for the New York Daily News. After that I had my Voice cover story, followed by one more Voice story. Then I wrote three articles for the Soho Weekly News. And then a couple stories for the East Village Eye. Then I sold Beat Street and published my book, Hip Hop. Then I stopped covering hip hop and not a single hip hop magazine ever asked me to write anything or even gave me props for blazing the trail, although everyone was reading my book to find out how it all started. Most of the people I was hanging with never got props either, like Coke La Rock. Virtually nobody knows him, yet he was right there with Herc when it all happened and playing a major role. My book went out of print really fast and copies started selling for $500 for years.
Whats your experience with publications?
I prefer to self-publish and maintain control over my work.
Who are some rappers you that you feel changed the game for hip hop?
Grandmaster Caz elevated rapping with his comedy and complex story lines and Melle Mel elevated lyrics to high art with those lines in Superappin’ that became the best part of The Message. In fact, my version of Beat Street (called Looking for the Perfect Beat) was built around the political awakening of a kid in the South Bronx who moves from partying to seeing-the-big-picture. When Run/DMC landed, they brought back the original first generation style of staying hard and giving no quarter, something the original scene had drifted away from.
When Tom Forcade made the bold move of relocating his commune from Arizona to New York City in a school bus filled with Mexican weed, he devised the perfect cover: a church group, with him as head pastor, which is why he wore a clerical collar—although he added a black slouch cowboy hat worthy of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western as his crown.
When I say magic and religion are the same thing, and run on the same rules, costumes are a great illustrator of the concept. By dressing as a Reverend, Forcade disarmed Christian opponents to hippies. It’s the same when someone puts on a Santa Claus outfit. Suddenly, they’re not a normal person, but something somehow connected to vibrations on the astral plane.
For the launching of the United Federation of Cannabis Ministries, I invited all the cannabis-related ministries around the world to gather with me in Denver during the Munchie Cup. A half dozen RSVP’ed, but only one showed: The First Church of Cannabis founded by Bill Levin in Indianapolis. Bill is a remarkable guy, and exudes happiness and serenity pretty much all the time far as I could tell. Upon arrival, he grabbed the white candle and carved the golden spiral. Then he joined the choir of the Temple Dragon Band with great gusto. With lightening speed, Bill worked his way up the ranks into becoming a deacon of the Pot Illuminati.
I’ve been studying the history of cannabis and religion for 30 years, and the creation of the Pot Illuminati is almost as complex and well-thought-out as the creation of Bitcoin. Constructing a corruption-free form of religion is no easy task. First, you have to strip away the useless dogma, which represents the encrusted mind control propaganda. You can download my free ebook The New Pot Enlightenment on numerous platforms for a complete picture of the religion. There’s only one rule: don’t hurt anyone.
And by the way, that includes feelings. Notice there are some who delight in wounding people with gossip, and when called out respond: ‘it was just a joke, dude.” What they are really doing is employing telepathic weapons, flying false flags. There are plenty of ways to do humor where all sides laugh heartily. But when one side weeps, that wasn’t humor at all, but a death bomb to the heart.
The Pot Illuminati, on the other hand, are experts at dropping love bombs. And a lot of our lingo and philosophy comes from Carl Von Clauswitz, the preeminent European philosopher of war, a man respected in the highest corridors of the Pentagon and CIA. That’s because if you study your opponent’s magic, you can steal his sigils and tap his telepathic energy. It’s not unlike hacking into an opponent’s website. I discovered this technique in the late 1980’s when I created the Freedom Fighters and formed a tribe wearing tricorner hats with psychedelic Colonial outfits. Within a few years we were on the Boston Common with 100,000 people cheering us, although the national news media never spoke a word.
The Pot Illuminati is not seeking donations or seeking converts. We will be holding a ceremony on 420 Eve 2016 at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael. While I realize the Tree of Life and Burning Bush are cannabis, I do not slavishly imitate religions of the past. Spirituality flows through us naturally, and you only need to meditate to connect with the signals. There are many vibrations, but when you roll them all up into one big telepathic ball, it’s called One Love.
I was the first reporter to arrive on the scene of hip hop. The culture had already been fully created by middle school kids entering high school in the late 1970s. Hip hop peaked in the South Bronx before any realization reached the media in Manhattan.
There’s a lot of key figures that haven’t got their due, like Grandmaster Caz. I wrote the story of how he got ripped off by his former manager Hank back when I published the first history of hip hop in 1984, a book called Hip Hop, at a time that phrase wasn’t even in wide usage yet. I also had a movie deal with Orion that year, as I sold a script based on my three years of research, a script I titled “Looking for the Perfect Beat” in homage to Bambaataa, but it later became known as Beat Street. There’s actually another Beat Street tribute taking place downtown tonight, free to attend. Who knows, I might even make an appearance, although I prefer to remain more of a ghost on the scene.
Today Caz announced a law suit to finally get credit for much of the lyrics in “Rapper’s Delight.” When the song came out, half the Bronx assumed it was Caz rappin’, after all, the song used a lot of his signature raps and included his name at one point. Hank had done the usual sketchy move and pushed the real creative talent out of the way, playing like the material was really his? At the time Caz was really the poly-talent who could do it all: deejay, rap, b-boy, draw. But mostly, he invented the craziest and funniest rap lyrics you ever heard. And he had that golden voice of authority. He can easily stand up in a rap battle against anyone to this day.
I hope these real pioneers get their due some day, people like Caz, Phase 2, Coke La Rock, Sa-sa, and most especially Afrika Bambaataa, who really had the vision to unite all the elements as a cultural movement.
And here’s hoping Caz wins his lawsuit…..or at least gets the respect from the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame he deserves….
Did religion evolve spontaneously through divine intervention or was it a mind control op from day one? In the mid-1960s, a huge spiritual wave crashed ashore involving a heightened sensitivity to telepathic vibrations. Brian Wilson sensed it when he wrote Good Vibrations, his greatest masterpiece in 1966. Brian was a daily stoner at the time, deep into improvisational ritual theater as a way to manifest spirituality. But spirituality and religion are two different things. State religion started as a conspiracy between a king and high priest to anoint each other with a divine right to rule.
Consider the history of this dude, Serapis. You don’t hear much about him these days. He was created by Ptolemy I of Egypt, who built many temples in his honor, the largest in Alexandria. Look familiar?
Serapis was created as the God of resurrection and everlasting life, and made Greek in appearance, but wore Egyptian clothes, and displayed a variety of cultural sigils. In other words, Serapis was a hybrid created to appeal to Greeks and Romans to bring them into an Egyptian sphere of influence.
In order to cement this new God into the Greek psyche, Ptolemy invoked the spirit of the recently departed Alexander the Great, who had also sought to unite the spiritual realms of East and West in one temple under one God, and had chosen Amun of Thebes as potentially the most promising. But after being poisoned and on his death bed, suddenly this new statue appears beside Alexander, supposedly the first ever made of Serapis, and Alexander signifies his allegiance to this new God before expiring. The statue quickly finds it way to Ptolemy, who starts building a cult to Serapis in Alexander’s honor.
I’m far from an expert in these matters, but from my uneducated perspective, it appears that Isis (the Egyptian Goddess of magic) and Serapis were involved in fomenting a religious culture that believed everlasting life could be achieved through divine intervention, and these two icons had become dominant spiritual forces of their time, much beloved by common folk throughout the Mediterranean. But then Constantine created modern Christianity through his councils, the first in Nicea, and suddenly all traces of Serapis and Isis disappeared. Perhaps this was done to shake off the Egyptian influence and replace it with a Judaic one? More likely it was done to offset the rise of a recently crucified prophet/artist named Mani, who had also been successfully seeking to unify all religions.
The Vatican was built on Isis’ temple, and they kept many of her sacred objects, especially the pine cone statue. One thing you need to know about Isis: she burned cannabis and frankincense incense in her fumigated temples, only one of which the Catholics kept while banning the other.
Now how does this all figure into Brian Wilson writing Good Vibrations?
Before I explain that, did you know a society of pot-smoking musicians appeared in the Middle Ages in Italy and France and wrote songs exclusively about smoking hash? And these were the first published secular manuscripts, and the Vatican was super pissed off with this society because they wanted to maintain a monopoly on written music. Try searching “Society of Smokers,” although the only thing that likely pops up concerns a composer named Solage who satirized them, and zero on the real society, who were quickly disappeared off the face of the earth, although a handful of manuscripts do remain. I bet the Vatican has more in a vault somewhere, but they will likely never be released.
Back to Brian: In the late 1950s, a group of teens began hanging out on the beach in Southern California and learning to surf while reading Jack Kerouac. In winter, they’d safari down to Mexico, where marijuana was cheap and plentiful. Some became obsessed with spiritual issues and forming communes, while everyone began coalescing around Newport Beach because that town had a huge dance hall where bands could play and hundreds of teens could congregate in one giant room. Yes, it was their temple. These teens were the first hippies because smoking that pot and riding those waves and listening to that rock had clued them into some intense vibrations. Brian was hanging out in this scene practically from the moment it began, which is why he was smoking pot and writing songs about surfing in the first place. Strangely enough, their temple was ruled by a guitarist named Dick Dale, who wrote spiritually-charged power anthems with a middle-eastern tinge (but never smoked pot). Dick didn’t sing, however, which may be why he never became the national figure he should have been.
But suddenly, as this new scene is manifesting incredible energy, a massive wave of LSD is dumped all across America and things start going haywire really fast, including Brian’s psyche. Before long, the temple in Newport is no more and hippies are on the run and hated across the land, a sentiment that continues through to this day.
It sort of reminds me of the birth of hip hop in the Bronx. A lot of potheads were involved in that one too, including Coke La Rock, Busy Bee and Grandmaster Caz to name but a few. But right after that explosion of culture appeared, the Bronx was suddenly flooded with angel dust and crack cocaine, which helped lead an initially non-violent culture straight into gangsta rap.
Of course, maybe none of these dots add up, but it seems you can pretty much derail any spiritual movement based around cannabis by flooding the temples with stronger substances.
Religions are created by and for rich people, doesn’t matter who the original prophet may have been, eventually they exist primarily to serve the status quo and are easily exploited by those in power. However, just because people attend a church doesn’t mean they are under anyone’s mind control. Each congregation creates its own telepathic energy and when people harmonize and share love and empathy in traditional ceremonies to show respect to their ancestors, I believe that’s a honorable act that should be treated with great respect, no matter what the culture.
The East River Park bandshell filled to capacity for the 30th Anniversary tribute to the first hip hop film, Wild Style, and many leading lights of that first generation showed up in force. It felt like a high school reunion for the Uptown-Downtown connection.
Afrika Bambaataa and Fab 5 Freddy arrived around the same time from different directions and drew immediate swarms of autograph seekers, paparazzi and shout-outs from the stage. Grand Wizzard Theodore, inventor of scratching and undisputed grandmaster of all deejays, opened the show.
Chief Rocker Busy Bee delivered an important message, which was that hip hop really stood for “peace, love and unity,” which is the original message as conceived by founder of the Universal Zulu Nation Afrika Bambaataa, who dates the birth of hip hop as 1974. As a former leader in the Black Spades, Bambaataa is the Moses who led his people out of violence and focused everything on art and culture and having fun.
Strange how the first generation really never got their due. Most of the innovations in hip hop were worked out in the first four years. The power and freshness of the performances last night proves once again how powerful the original scene really was. Lisa Lee opened with a Zulu Nation rap, and those peace vibes continued throughout the show, a real antidote to the rap music of today. You don’t have to promote gang attitudes to have a hard style.
Rodney Cee and KK Rockwell just blew everyone’s minds with their performance of an old Double Trouble routine. I hope somebody puts that up on youtube. There were plenty of video cameras crowded around the stage.
Of course Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush highlighted the event. Charlie Ahearn, who produced and directed the film, managed to capture the greatest living hip hop act of that time, a title the Cold Crush inherited after Flash and the Furious Five were broken up by Sugarhill Records. Some of the early Sugarhill records were soft disco versions of the South Bronx style. But soon, Run-DMC would chart a return to that original hard style and take over the music world. But the ones who created that hard style, that first generation? Most of them remain relatively unknown and uncelebrated, which is sad because it was their creative juices that changed the world.
Lee Quinones, who plays Zorro in the film, was one of the most difficult to pin down for an autograph as he was darting around and being pulled in a half dozen directions at once. I did not see Futura 2000, although I later saw a picture of him in the crowd so I know he was there. Sorry I missed you Futch.
Charlie should take this act on the road. Oh, in case you didn’t know, I was the first generation hip hop journalist and wrote groundbreaking magazine and newspaper articles on the first generation for years before anyone else showed up, journalist-wise anyway. You can read most of my original stories on my smashwords site, link at top right. And check out Fab 5’s and Charlie’s great speeches at the end:
After my article on Futura 2000 came out in the New York Daily News, Futura quickly catapulted to international stardom, and among the first patrons to arrive on his doorstep were The Clash, who hired him to paint a canvas backdrop during their performances and gradually worked him into a feature performance slot on the tour. After The Clash asked Futura to write a rap song about himself, he sat down and composed 7-verses on a long piece of cardboard, filling both sides to the maximum in his immaculate style. Futura never mentioned his strained relationship with Ali or the incident in the tunnel, though, which is the part I found so fascinating, but did give Fab Five Freddy an entire verse. In my book, Hip Hop (which has just been re-released with color photos and illos), Freedom, otherwise known as Chris Pape, tells his version of the Futura-Ali saga, there are so many variations. The photo of Futura (above) was taken by Stephen Crichlow around 1982.
To give you an idea of how crazy things were at the time, immediately after publishing the first article on hip hop in the Voice, I’d written a story about Arlene Smith and the Chantels, which went into their relationship with Morris Levy, who would later become a thinly-veiled character in The Sopranos epic. Levy routinely took all publishing rights from his acts, something common at the time. Although their records were huge hits and Arlene was the first goddess of rock’n’roll and pioneered the girl group sound, she ended up feeling used and exploited and broke. Her story was a bit sad, but my editor at the Voice, Thulani Davis, who was black herself, loved it. It was a message I wanted to send to the Sugarhill acts, who were then about to be destroyed by Sylvia Robinson, who was busy creating her own phony hip hop acts like the Sugarhill Gang, who would have been laughed off the stage at a South Bronx jam, since their style was so soft and weak in comparison to the delivery of a Busy Bee or Melle Mel or Grandmaster Caz or Kool Mo Dee.
I stupidly sent a copy of the story to Arlene before it was published, however, and she showed it to her agent, who called me and told me to retract the story and he would help me write a better version. When I refused, he said he was personal friends with Voice music editor (Robert Christgau) and my story would never see the light of day in the Voice. And that’s exactly what happened. Christgau blocked publication of a story that had already been accepted by Thulani. (You can read that original story on Arlene on my smashwords site though.)
So I drifted over to the SoHo Weekly News, where a news editor named David Hershkovits expressed interest in publishing my ongoing hip hop research, the only such editor in America at that time. I first wrote a story on Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew and then David asked me to go interview Futura, who was just back from a European tour with The Clash. Futura graciously handed me the piece of cardboard (above) that he’d first written his rap song on, and he said I could keep it, which was nice because I’d already paid him $100 for a framed photo of his Break train, and this was a major trophy he threw into my lap.
Long 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:
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.
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
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…”