Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Thoughts On Netflix’ Hip-Hop Evolution

  • Big, big recommend; five stars; two thumbs.
  • Watch it, is what I’m saying: four 45-minute episodes, so it’s not even a slog.
  • (I was either going to watch this or The West by Ken Burns, and Hip Hop Evolution‘s brevity won it for me, plus Peter Coyote does not narrate HHE.)
  • And I’m not saying that this is a groundbreaking–or even particularly deep–documentary; in fact, it has almost everything in common with the rock docs littering Netflix:
    • VHS footage of young man in ridiculous clothing.
    • Interview with older iteration of young man wearing a large watch.
    • Repeat.
  • The real problem, which I got over and you might or might not, is the narrator’s voice.
  • Not vocal fry, but vocal sigh: it is the NPR voice, it is the voice explaining feminism to women, it is the podcast from Oberlin voice; it is the voice that caused Trump to win the election.
  • The narrator is the first thing you hear, over shots of New York and subway cars covered in graffiti and breakdancing youths.
  • And you think to yourself,
  • “Goddammit, a white guy made this.”
  • And then you think,
  • “What difference should it make if a white guy made it?”
  • And then you tell yourself,
  • “Get the fuck out of here with that.”
  • And then you double down,
  • But then the guy comes on the screen and he’s black.
  • But he’s Canadian.
  • And you no longer know how you’re supposed to feel about anything, and have lost track of who is authentic and who is not, and just watch the damn film.
  • (The narrator/director does do that thing where he’s on camera while doing the interviews for no reason other than he wanted to be.)
  • Hip hop was born in ’72.
  • A guy named Clive Campbell, whom everyone called DJ Kool Herc, was playing a party in a Bronx housing project rec room; he tried something for the first time, something he’d been working on in his bedroom.
  • He’d put two copies of the same record on his turntables–James Brown or the Incredible Bongo Band, no one remembers exactly–and just play the break, the drummer’s breakdown that only lasted a few bars, first on the left ‘table and then on the right while rewinding the left record to the start of the break.
  • Then he’d flip the fader back and start over again, and so made the best part of the record–the part that was too damn funky to last for very long because those levels of funk are dangerous to handle–last for as long as he wanted.
  • The dance floor went insane, and it was a dance floor full of familiar names: Grandmasters Flash and Caz, and Afrika Bambaata, and Melle Mel, the entire first generation of hip-hop.
  • It was the Sex Pistols’ set in Manchester, basically.
  • Everyone who heard it started their own band.
  • I don’t feel like doing a whole Hip-Hop Without Research thing, so here are random thoughts:
  • Y’know how all the rock stars in the rock docs live in mansions?
  • Not so much in the hip hop doc; several of the interviews start with four or five deadbolts opening on an apartment door.
  • I’ve never heard anyone curse as much as Schoolly D: the man answered a question by saying, “That’s what the fuck I’m fucking talking about, motherfucker!”
  • I don’t even know what part of speech that first “fuck” would be.
  • Is “what” the word it modifies?
  • “What” is a pronoun, so I guess “the fuck” would be an adjectivial phrase?
  • Schoolly D confuses me just as much as school did.
  • DMC, who is delightful, was in it; he looks like the same ol’ Darryl.
  • Run was not in it, which is perhaps for the best because he has become Blackula.
  • You know how much you have to love Jesus to put on a cape?
  • (His brother Russell is in it, and lisps his way through his interview with his feet up on his million-dollar couch.)
  • I wasn’t kidding about the watches: John Mayer has nothing on old hip-hop guys; some of them can barely raise their arms.
  • “Hip-hop is nothing like rock and roll,” the hip-hopper said while wearing sunglasses indoors, surrounded by his gold records.
  • Number of women with speaking parts: two, one of which was a secretary at Def Jam, and the other was Roxanne Shante.
  • Number of balding white men in front of impeccably-curated bookshelves with speaking parts: three.
  • Black man’s got it tough in America, but the black woman’s got it worse.
  • Not one mention of the Mac Daddy, nor the Daddy Mac.


  1. that is some cape. i want to touch the gold lining.

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