False-memory syndrome – The Hip Hop family tree

Remember back when you were a kid? There was no Internet and the closest you got to the wisdom of Google was your dad? When information came by way of newspapers or TV and libraries were awesome, though not so much on the sort of important breaking news that was the lifeblood of being a hip teenager? Today we’re so utterly swamped with information that reducing and filtering is the challenge, any fool can find it. Back then though, we were all intelligence agents, hunter gatherers of snippets of news, assembling and disseminating the stories between us.

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If you lived way up in the far North of Norway (or any similarly remote place, far from everything important happening in the world) back in the mid 80’s you were pretty much as far from the Bronx as you could get, in every possible way. The main early Hip-Hop records still trickled up there though and some of us were grabbed by them. Yet it was as if there was an information blackout when it came to knowledge about the hip hop scene. We’d see the occasional mention in Melody Maker, though more likely not in the NME. Music videos were rare, with no real outlet to show them. Yet the lack of knowledge probably only increased the mystique and allure.

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And this sort of brings me to what I wanted to mention today: Information out of time. The 4th instalment of Ed Piskor’s “The Hip-Hop Family Tree” is out these days and brings the story on from the period 1970s-1983 covered in the first three books. And what a treat the series is proving to be! Kicking off in time right at the start of it all it weaves a truly fascinating story of how it all happened and developed.

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From the earliest days of improvised sound systems and street parties, to the first lame attempts at crowd-pleasing through corny rhymes, to the nascent commercial releases. And those that still consider Grandmaster Flash to have rapped one of the early epics will be disappointed to find that he was nowhere near the making of “The Message”.

Ed Piskor is a talented graphic artist and this series is obviously a labour of love for him. Interestingly, Piskor wasn’t around at the time, as he was born in 1982. He obviously has good sources though, as every page is dense with information. And makes for a very readable and enjoyable read.

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Is it all factual? Hard to tell, though it certainly appears more than plausible. Many of the big players of the time have published their memoirs now, so there certainly is more information than ever before out there. I find it totally compelling and can’t wait for volume 4 to arrive. It’s like thousands of old memory cells are being reactivated and finally being linked together, threading all those little titbits of stories into one epic saga.

And what I wouldn’t have given to have all this back in 1984, eh?

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Ed Piskor has also made “WIZZYWIG – Portrait of a serial hacker”, another great book. A very different topic and a different style of drawing, but if, like me, you were into computers from an early age, a totally compelling story.

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Available from the usual suspects.

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