Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 1 sinuously traces and chronicles the cultural revolution of hip hop in New York starting in the mid-1970s. This large format comic strip compiles vignettes that cover the inception of this major American musical form (since rock ‘n roll) and the equally important cultural scene with block parties in the Bronx, the relationship between artists and record stores, radio airplay, showmanship and ever larger speakers. In spite of the large cast of characters, there is a clear story arc that traces ingenuity, commercial interests and tenacity of the people involved through the various routes and paths to create works for an audience. We see the early days of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin of Def Jam, and the trickery of the early days of Afrika Bambaataa.
There is a clear love and charm to Piskor’s telling of this story. The book reads like a mixtape of who’s who but instead of sound recordings, we get drawings of the labels of the song titles, and text bubbles of performers MC-ing with their rap lyrics. Piskor chooses to employ a cultural studies approach to the story by covering some of the current events as they happen (the blackout), the compilations and white label records that skirted copyright, the rise of b-boy culture (and a bit of gang culture), the inception of MTV, popularity of punk/new wave and the mainstream inclusion of graffiti art into New York galleries.
This is a large format graphic novel, printed on cream colored paper. The language is a bit rough, but again, this is music of a specific milieu. The index also includes lists of samples used and all the records that are mentioned in the book. This book is perfect for the urban music lover and the record collector.