I’ve always been a big fan of Hip Hop throughout the years, but like a lot of my ‘jack of all trades’ interests I’ve never had much in-depth knowledge in terms of the history of how the scene really began. I just know what I like out of what I’ve heard growing up. You can check out my Hip Hop Week blog posts that I did last year. So I was very excited to watch the documentary Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix.

The first thing I’ll say is that I also recently watched the first part of The Get Down (another homegrown Netflix series) a few months prior and I wish I had watched Hip Hop Evolution first! Hip Hop Evolution goes into all the main characters in the Hip Hop Scene, and The Get Down then dramatises a lot of this, with some of those characters being main players in the series and others just getting nods, which you wouldn’t be aware of if you didn’t know the history. So after watching Hip Hop Evolution I actually went back and watched The Get Down again and I took in a lot more.

It really goes to show the accuracy that The Get Down utilised in their scripts, in terms of not only the characters but also making the burned out Bronx a major character, and highlighting events such as the New York blackout of 1977 etc.

The biggest crossover, I would say, between the shows, was the character of Grandmaster Flash. I did know who he was before but I didn’t completely know his importance in the fabric of Hip Hop DJing, or also what a technical guy he was. Hip Hop Evolution shows him to be a really cool character who used to open up electrical items to re-use parts and soup up his amps and turntables. I think he was an Executive Producer so maybe that was a factor in it. Back in the day he was the first one to really perfect the art of mixing properly on record decks and keeping the breakdown part of the song spinning, instead of letting all the vocals play. I love finding out about people like that who don’t accept the norm, and who experiment, and try new things and in doing so basically invent a whole new form of music. Grandmaster Flash turned the turntable into an instrument. If I had a time machine I would go back to some of those early parties led by Grandmaster Flash, watch him do his thing and see the early breakdancers take the floor.

But I also loved how The Get Down kind of made Grandmaster Flash into some Kung Fu master, spreading his knowledge to his young grasshopper. I thought that was the best bit about The Get Down even before I really knew who Grandmaster Flash was.

But it’s not just Grandmaster Flash that was cool. Almost everyone mentioned in Hip Hop Evolution documentary series was someone on the cutting edge of new hip-hop and rap, not accepting the standard music they were giving, and each person added something to the Hip Hop scene, whether it be music, mixing, attitude, rapping or business acumen, making the industry stronger with every step. It really is a fascinating history of late 70s and early 80s New York.

Hip Hop Evolution is a very good series. It’s only 3 episodes. They track down and talk to most of the key players in the early history of Hip Hop. I also like how they often add in music to help illustrate something that Grandmaster Flash or DMC are saying. It’s very cleverly done in places.

I’ve already watched Hip Hop Evolution twice, and made notes about all the classic tracks that were referenced that I need to listen to right away. I also watched The Get Down again too to try to catch all the references properly this time. And while I was originally writing this blog post the second part of The Get Down appeared on Netflix. Good timing! 5 new episodes. Although The Get Down isn’t incredible it has some really good bits. Some of the best bits in this second half of the season are the comic style animations they have, particularly of the Bronx Hip Hop trifecta of Kool Herc, Africa Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash as gods, guiding Shaolin Fantastic on his journey. I also loved how The Get Down acknowledged Grandmaster Kaz several times. It’s almost like they watched Hip Hop Evolution and saw the bit about how Hank from The Sugarhill Gang stole Grandmaster Kaz’s rhyme (which ironically ends with the words “never let an MC steal your rhyme”). Twice in the second half of the season they have Grandmaster Kaz’s version of that famous rhyme playing, and they namecheck him. And then when they bring together the three kingdoms later in the series they also have someone playing Grandmaster Kaz and they give him a prominent position. I thought that was a nice touch.

So in general I’m all Hip Hop upped right now. I just have to get round to reading Hip Hop Family Tree now!

I’ve learned a lot whilst watching these shows, and have been making notes. These are pretty unrefined but I thought I’d just share my various lists in case any of you are interested in learning more too. Some are things I heard or misheard while watching the shows so forgive any spelling mistakes or silly errors.

IMPORTANT HIP HOP PEOPLE (kind of in chronological order)
DJ Kool Herc’s parties – Herc started just playing the break beats
Coke la Rock – first MC at Kool Herc’s parties
Afrika Bambaataa
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush Brothers
Fantastic Five
Kurtis Blow
DJ Hollywood
Russel Simmons
Rick Rubin
LL Cool J
Big Daddy Kane
Eric B and Rakim
Public Enemy
World Class Wrecking Cru

RANDOM MUSIC TO CHECK OUT (or re-listen to. Some of these were inspirations to Hip Hop artists or some of their tracks were sampled)
The Mexican
James Brown – Say it loud
James Brown – Aint it Funky
The Jimmy Castor Bunch
The Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock
Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band – Evolution
Babe Ruth – First Babe
The Mohawks – The Champ
The Living Legend – The Baby Huey Story
Planet Rock – Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force
The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
Christmas Rappin’ – Kurtis Blow
It’s Yours – T La Rock & Jazzy Jay
Slick Rick
Parliament Funkadelic
Ice-T – 6 in the morning (from Ryhme Pays album)
Schoolly-D – PSK
Boyz-N-The-Hood – Easy E
Dopeman – NWA
Cab Calloway
The Gospel Quartet guys
Gill Scott something?
The Last Poets – This is Madness (and another)
Sonia Sanchez
Wanda Robinson
Barry White
Isaac Hayes
Millie Jackson – Caught Up
Frankie Crocker Radio DJ – Frankie Crocker’s Heart & Soul Orchestra
Pigmeat Markham – Mr. Vaudeville and Here Come The Judge

BOOKS (Haven’t read any of these yet)
The Big Payback
Comic book – Hip Hop Family Tree

MOVIES (I’ve already seen most of these)
Wild Style
Krush Groove
Tougher Than Leather
The Art of Rap
Straight Outta Compton

Fantastic Five v Cold Crush Brothers at Harlem World 1981