Hip-Hop Evolution: Episode Two

Updated: Feb 9, 2020


Netflix's latest original documentary, "Hip-Hop Evolution" has recently been released via the streaming service as a surprising new addition to its burgeoning hip-hop history selection. This is part two of a four-episode breakdown.

Part two starts to divert from the OGs of scratching and turntables to the early beginnings of rapping and the start of the MC taking center stage in performances. It also addresses the advent of commercialized rap and how it hit the mainstream. Rather than DJ Kool Herc, it starts to focus on two other legendary DJs and their diverting paths to legendary status.

As the times change, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious five became minor stars, opening for such groups as Parliament. In their place rose two major crews locked in a rivalry: Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush Brothers vs. Grandwizard Theodore and the Fantastic Romantic Five. The Cold Crush Brothers were lyrical heavyweights with a hard edge to their style, while the Fantastic Five utilized showmanship and harmonizing to cross over. In a winner-take-all battle in 1981, the match-up was essentially a precursor for future generations. This was essentially the first time underground hip-hop had faced off against pop-rap. The lyrical edge of Cold Crush couldn't compete on stage with the flash of the Fantastic Five, but as bootleg tapes of the battle circulated, Caz's Cold Crush team was recognized as the top team in New York City.

In addition to one of the biggest rap battles in history, Grandmaster Caz had a hand in the making of hip-hop's first record: the legendary "Rapper's Delight" by Sugarhill Gang. Big Bank Hank was a friend of Grandmaster Caz and was overheard rapping Caz's bars by music manager Sylvia Robinson in a pizzeria. When approached to start a new rap group, Hank used lines previously said by Grandmaster Caz, as he was not an MC. He further used rhymes while recording the actual song. As important as this song is, it was twofold in its reaction. The song became a superhit worldwide, but alienated the hardcore rap audience, who saw through the commercialization of the art form they'd been performing for nearly a decade. The plagiarizing of the lines without credit also lowered the image of the song, which was used as a fad device by McDonald's and Rodney Dangerfield.

As mainstream America learned about rap, so did the downtown New York art scene, most notably the punks. Punk was seen as an alternative to rock as rap was to disco. The fringe groups united, and Afrika Bambaataa led the charge, using tecnho and punk samples to create a funky, electronic sound unique to his Zulu Nation and Soul Sonic Force. The first of these songs was the legendary "Planet Rock", an ode to the universal party themes of the art/hip-hop crossover. Meanwhile, punk legends Blondie met Grandmaster Flash at a party and promptly wrote a song about him, a major cosign. Using his newfound mainstream fame, Grandmaster Flash wrote the first conscious rap track in response to the dwindling economic hopes of the turbulent 1980s.

"The Message" was seen as an anomaly. Not a party track, not a joke, but a story and a tool to express life in the inner city. It was the first to treat hip-hop as an art form, similar to spoken word. As the DJ's role faded into the background in favor of strong vocals and powerful lyrics, Grandmaster Flash made a statement still reverberating in modern hip-hop. In 1982, gritty lyrics weren't the norm, generally fun, carefree tracks were favored to fit the party mood. This change in rap's school of thought ushered in hip-hop's golden age.

This is where Shad leaves us at the end of episode two. He again plays his part well, as the passion of the DJs he's interviewing burns through. The awe and respect for the ones that paved the path in music grabs you and makes you hang on to their anecdotes and stories. Part two is a very good follow-up that further outlines the scene New York was crafting as the 1970s drew to a close.

#Review #HipHop #Braven

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