Hip-Hop Is History by Questlove review – a soundtrack for the world, from the Sugarhill Gang to Kanye West

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Hip-hop officially turned 50 past year. It is mostly accepted that it was calved connected 11 August 1973, erstwhile 18-year-old DJ Kool Herc first trim up breakbeats astatine a statement successful nan Bronx and his friend Coke La Rock rapped along, but this DJ-driven creation form, which evolved parallel to disco, took different six years to spawn its first deed single, nan Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight. The prima MCs emerged successful its 2nd decade, each 1 redrawing nan bounds of nan possible. Run-DMC stripped it down, past Public Enemy blew it up. De La Soul made it friendly, Kool Keith made it freaky, NWA made it outrageous, and truthful on. Always changing, ever expanding.

Nobody knows much astir hip-hop, and possibly celebrated euphony successful general, than Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Still drumming pinch nan Roots, nan Philadelphia hip-hop unit that person been Jimmy Fallon’s TV location set since 2009, he is besides nan Oscar-winning head of Summer of Soul, a prolific author, podcaster and DJ, and nan man tasked pinch herding cats for nan Grammys’ salute to hip-hop astatine 50. Two years older than nan creation shape itself, he has go its unofficial curator, nan Ken Burns of achromatic music, nan nerd’s nerd. “History is really alteration gets marked and assessed,” he writes successful his eighth book. “It’s a communal shape of representation and a corporate acknowledgment that what we retrieve matters.”

In Questlove’s analysis, hip-hop is an eternal rhythm of decease and rebirth. It has ever fetishised nan caller style: statement really galore MCs still usage nan prefix “Yung” aliases “Lil”. During its first 2 decades, it was dizzyingly ruthless. A debut grounds could alteration nan full crippled only for its creator to beryllium eclipsed successful move a mates of years later. Longevity seemed impossible. But astir nan clip XXL mag convened 177 artists successful Harlem for a 25th day group image successful 1998, hip-hop learned to admit its ain heritage. When 20-year-old Queens rapper Nas released his stone-cold masterpiece Illmatic successful 1994, it would person been unusual to ideate that he would 1 time beryllium performing a 30th day tour, yet present he is, 1 of galore revered elder statesmen.

Questlove has nary allergy to hyperbole. When he compares nan 1995 Source awards, nan epicentre of nan warfare betwixt eastbound and westbound seashore rappers that contributed to nan murders of Tupac and nan Notorious BIG, to nan Battle of Gettysburg, aliases nan footwear drum connected nan Pharcyde’s Bullshit to nan French Revolution, he is only half joking. This is so a melodramatic tale. During nan 1980s, hip-hop went from delightful novelty to scowling bogeyman, pinch starring scold Tipper Gore claiming: “The euphony says it’s OK to hit group up.” Then, successful nan decade betwixt KRS-One insisting “It’s not astir a salary, it’s each astir reality”, and nan Notorious BIG boasting “It’s each astir nan Benjamins”, it became a money-making machine. New sounds from caller regions produced caller disruptions. Questlove was successful nan heavy of it, fretting pinch each oversea alteration that he was retired of touch and washed up – “obsessed pinch nan threat of erasure”.

 Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg), successful New York, 1991.
Questlove’s favourite act, A Tribe Called Quest (from left: Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg), successful New York, 1991. Photograph: Al Pereira/Getty Images

For each nan author’s contented and charm, his blizzard of names and facts is apt to overwhelm, alternatively than exhilarate, nan uninitiated. The book astatine times resembles an annotated playlist, pinch nan root of 1 sample requiring nary less than 3 sets of nested parentheses. Questlove is an idiosyncratic guideline who admits that he values accumulation complete lyrics and candidly recalls his first scepticism towards artists arsenic important arsenic nan Wu-Tang Clan aliases Lil Wayne – nan clip it took to sorb nan daze of nan new. This isn’t the history, then; it’s his history, arsenic a fan, practitioner and chronicler of hip-hop.

Provided you person a small anterior knowledge, it’s a awesome ride, coloured by individual digressions and crisp observations. Questlove astutely identifies Kanye West’s fatal flaw arsenic “the wide deficiency of self-awareness, made worse by nan belief that location is full self-awareness astatine work” and nails nan older Eminem arsenic a wheel-spinning virtuoso, “maybe pinch thing to opportunity immoderate more, but pinch rather a talent for saying it” – a statement that could use to galore veterans.

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Questlove, acold left, pinch nan Roots successful Chicago,May 1998
Questlove, acold left, pinch nan Roots successful Chicago, May 1998. Photograph: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Questlove’s life-cycle thesis is embodied by nan 30-year travel of his favourite act, A Tribe Called Quest: nan youthful chutzpah, nan accelerated maturation, nan diminishing returns, nan dispiriting break-up and nan bonzer comeback that became a swansong pinch nan decease of founding personnel Phife Dawg. I attended nan motorboat statement for that album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, successful Queens nan time aft Donald Trump won nan 2016 election. Questlove was there, too, DJing classical hip-hop. Shellshocked and pitchy lagged, I almost cried. In that context, his turntable history instruction felt proudly defiant and utterly necessary, underlining nan music’s basal claim: we are still here, contempt everything. “So overmuch of hip-hop is simply a reflection of pain,” he writes, “even nan joyful parts.”

Source theguardian