Open virtually any page in The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop, and a jewel falls in your lap.
Page 5: Kurtis Blow describing the atmosphere of an evening hosted by Kool Herc, the man who gave birth to hip-hop. Page 82: Tension between the Furious Five and an upstart Run-DMC Page 162: Marley Marl dreaming of stardom in the housing estates of Queensbridge, looking across the river at the lights of Manhattan. Page 212: East Coast record executives mock Eazy-E’s demo tape because “he has no bass in his vocals”. Page 376: Goodie Mob drinking Boone’s Farm outside a New York bodega with Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface. Page 399: Master P ends a recording session at 4 a.m., then tells his team to come back at 8 a.m. Page 434: Diddy asks his Bad Boy artists to rewrite the lyrics so they connect to Little Rock, Arkansas.
If you think that’s a lot of information, you haven’t read anything yet. the coming is as loaded as a Twista song and as heavy as Slick Rick’s jewelry. It features interviews with over 300 rappers, producers, promoters, record label executives and more, from obscure but influential figures like Dante Ross and DJ Spanish Fly to trailblazers like Ice Cube and Grandmaster Caz. The set is a gripping tale of how rap took hip-hop culture from obscurity to ubiquity, from disrespect to Pulitzer Prize winning — and how it should have earned that respect ever since. the beginning.
The book arrives before the 50th of next yeare anniversary of hip-hop, which began in 1973 with Kool Herc parties in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York. Author Jonathan Abrams, 38, is a New York Times writer who grew up as a Tupac Shakur fan in Southern California. I spoke with Abrams about his new book and how it has been shaped by his own relationship with America’s most powerful form of cultural expression.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Over three hundred interviews is a huge task. Did you know there would be so many when you started?
It was something I was prepared for. If it were up to me, there would have been even more interviews. If you think hip-hop is about five decades old now, and how many people influenced, propelled, and inspired it, you might have a book just listing names that would have been as big as the book I finished Making . Almost the only guidelines I had right now were that if anyone with impact in hip-hop was willing to talk to me, then I would be willing to talk to them.
It’s drugs. What is your first hip-hop memory?
I have a memory of ‘Boyz-n-the Hood’ playing on the radio when I was quite young, probably on [the Los Angeles radio station] 92.3 Rhythm.
What role has hip-hop played in your own life?
Growing up in Southern California in the late 80s and early 90s, hip-hop provided me with an education that I wasn’t getting in school or anywhere else as far as experience goes. black. I specifically look at someone like Tupac Shakur and his songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” or “Changes”, and I was 11, 12, 13 at the time. Hearing the black experience, hearing triumph through tragedy and things that I hadn’t yet encountered but felt to be part of my experience. It was something that really, really synced me up. Tupac was the first person who showed me the full gamut of the black male experience.
One of the most exciting things for me about your book was seeing Grandmaster Caz in it. He’s such an underrated character.
Caz was probably the first GOAT, right? Before him, it was party rap, hip-hop-hippity-hop. Grandmaster Caz was the first lyricist, calligraphy type artist to take inspiration from party raps and truly be a poet. Caz was in the band Cold Crush Brothers, which was very popular. Big Bank Hank Was Cold Crush’s Manager, And Hank Ended Up Appropriating A Lot Of Caz’s Stuff For ‘Rapper’s Delight’ [the 1980 hit and pioneering commercial rap single].When the record came out, everyone in the hip-hop scene was like, ‘What the hell is that? These are Caz’s replicas! Hank even spells Caz’s name in his lyrics.
What does it mean that rap’s first big hit was stolen?
I think rap goes through different stages where sometimes authenticity is really valued, but other times, you know, people get paid to ghostwrite, which is a very, very lucrative industry these days. So it says something that the all, all, very first megahit was basically appropriate, especially in those early fundamental stages where being original, being authentic, being different meant everything. Maybe that kind of validates the whole idea of ghostwriting for an artist, which was once considered taboo among purists. But I mean, it’s been part of hip-hop since the very beginning. Caz was the first ghostwriter, although he didn’t want to be.
What were your favorite interviews?
One is Edward ‘Duke Bootee’ Fletcher. He was part of the Sugar Hill Gang’s house band, and he kind of unwittingly helped write “The Message.” He used to say to people, and this was during the party rap days, “You better hope I never do this because you’re not talking about anything.” Duke Bootee was someone who read a lot of different newspapers and he just decided to write this nursery rhyme. He says it wasn’t political, it was social – I just try to show what people are going through, I try to reflect what I see around me. He sadly passed away last year, and I don’t think he received the recognition he deserved in his lifetime for the role “The Message” played in the birth of conscious hip-hop. And he invented music.
Another is DMC, he was great to talk about the rise of Run-DMC and their transition into the mainstream. But one of the things that caught my attention was he was talking about their fashion and their streetwear and how that came out. At the time, many star rappers dressed in these almost wacky costumes, trying to follow the stars who had come before them into disco and funk. For DMC, it was almost a sacrilege to dress like that. He wanted to dress like he imagined his hero Grandmaster Caz walking out of his front door.
Run-DMC had such a timeless see. This still This seems good. You could step out in an Adidas suit right now and be legit.
Yes, and look fresh. Ice Cube was another. I don’t know if he ever said this, but he told me that he originally rejected the lyrics he wrote for NWA’s “F— the Police” because he didn’t think not that the band wanted to do it. A friend of his took it out of the trash and said, “No, keep it,” and Cube put it back in his notebook. He also said that Dr. Dre was going to the sheriff or the police on weekends and doing some kind of time, and Dre didn’t want to deal with the police and get that song out. So ‘F— the Police’ was sidelined for a long time. It was really interesting to me that the song was almost never made.
The other thing that I don’t think people realize is how much of an influence Public Enemy has had on NWA, because you wouldn’t think those two bands necessarily align. But Ice Cube talked a lot about how Chuck D and Public Enemy inspired them and they were trying to create the same type of songs with the same energy as something like “Rebel Without a Pause”.
I heard someone ask Cube for his top 5 recently and Chuck D was there. We’ll see your top 5 later. The book is full of so many stories behind stories – what were the biggest surprises for you personally?
I don’t know if there was a big surprise, but what I really liked was this overarching story that kept coming up again and again, just this creative art of making something out of nothing. That’s how hip-hop started in the Bronx, with this neglected population where these kids had literally nothing to do and ended up creating this genre that now permeates the whole mainstream, the whole culture, not just in this country but all over the world.
Was there anything else you discovered about hip-hop during this process?
Yeah, there’s this big debate about who should be credited with originating G-Funk, whether it’s Dr. Dre or whether Dre somehow appropriated Above The Law. It was also meaningful for me to talk with people who worked with Tupac, who knew Tupac and could shed some light on how he was as a person away from the limelight and away from the Tupac I grew up listening to. It personified him even more as a human being, someone who was on this planet with a mission and able to do a lot in the short time he was here. Also talking to someone like MC Sha-Rock, she was considered one of the first, if not the first female MC, and heard how she shaped her legacy and was able to propel it to countless other women. It was really important for me to include his voice in the book.
Maybe for the 75th anniversary of hip-hop, we can get your version of Nas‘ The Lost Tapes.
That would be something. But the 75th anniversary, who knows what hip-hop will be like by then? The cool thing about hip-hop is that it’s driven by young people, so everything can change and change and morph and evolve so quickly. I don’t know what’s hot right now, but I can also understand that it’s the hits for young people that will rock them 20 years from now.
Word. So who are your top 5 MCs?
You see, I have the most indisputable top 5 of all time. (Laughs.) I don’t even think it’s controversial. ‘Pac, Biggie, Nas, Jay-Z and Rakim.
You don’t have anyone from the west coast there.
I had Tupac.
He was born in New York, man.
I know where Tupac is from. Go on. But if we were going into the top 10, I would include DJ Quik.
As an MC?
As an MC.