sat 18/05/2024

Hip Hop Evolution, Sky Arts review - foundations of a revolution | reviews, news & interviews

Hip Hop Evolution, Sky Arts review - foundations of a revolution

Hip Hop Evolution, Sky Arts review - foundations of a revolution

Originators and moguls unite for four-part documentary on the genesis of rap

Grandmaster Caz is one of many voices that paint the picture of hip hop's birthNetflix

Comprehensively charting hip hop’s rise from the underground to the mainstream is no mean feat, but that’s exactly what Canadian MC Shad aims to do over four hour-long episodes. Originally shown in the US in 2016, and available in full on Netflix, Hip Hop Evolution has finally reached the British box via Sky Arts.

Created with genuine passion, authenticity, and a dream list of guests, this documentary series proves to be essential viewing.

Shad, an established rapper in his own right, became obsessed with hip hop in the 90s, but wants to go back to where it all began: the Bronx, hip hop ground zero. Back in the 70s, central New York was the home of disco, with the clubs and glamour broadcast across the world. However, life in the northern borough was a world away, with gang violence, poverty and fires tearing through the neighbourhood. It was in this cauldron that a new sound was formed.Grandmaster Flash and Shad in Hip Hop EvolutionWe meet all of hip hop’s instigators, from DJ Kool Herc, who would raid old soul breakdowns to create new party tracks, to DJ Hollywood, the man generally credited as the creator of rap flow. Grandmaster Flash (pictured above, left, with MC Shad) rightfully takes a central role in proceedings, explaining how he discovered seamless mixing and forming the first rap group, like some mad professor constantly cracking the perfect party. These stories might have been told a thousand times before, but Evolution stands apart with its scope of contributors and flair for storytelling. The impeccably mixed soundtrack is matched with previously unseen home footage and animated vignettes, all of which turn these accounts into legend.

There’s a fine balancing act between chronology, culture and technical developments. What shines is the location itself: the Bronx comes alive through archive film and interviews, capturing the excitement of a movement in your neighbourhood. Its effects are still present there today, as shown when the legendary Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa’s interviews are constantly interrupted by passers-by. You could theoretically make a whole series on the gang warfare during that era, but Bambaataa’s footage of bringing the groups together to solve their issues is a satisfying glimpse.

Hip Hop Evolution contains little that die-hards won’t know, although even host Shad admits he wasn’t aware of 1968 proto-rap record “Here Comes the Judge” by Pigmeat Markham. As an interviewer, Shad adds little to the narrative, rarely asking more than “what happened next?” But he’s an engaging talker, and there’s no need to interrupt when the contributors are this good. With its passion and the production, Hip Hop Evolution is an accessible standout series for Sky Arts.


The Bronx comes alive, capturing the excitement of a movement in your neighbourhood


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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