Charnas tells the story of hip-hop in this stylish, lavishly detailed love letter to the genre and industry. He follows the money and œthe relationship between artist and merchant—who, in hip-hop, are often one and the same from hip-hop’s early days as a œmarginal urban subculture in Harlem of the late 1960s to its insinuation into—and eventual domination of—mainstream popular music. Charnas makes an elegant case for how hip-hop is the consummate American art form, one that reflects American society in all its volubility and violence—as well as possessing the power to alter it. In its promise of economic security and creative control for black artist-entrepreneurs, it is the culmination of the dreams of black nationalists and civil rights leaders.
Charnas spent seven years working for Rick Rubin, famed producer and cofounder of Def Jam Records, and writes with the authority of an insider, the passion of a fan, and the cool eye of someone who has maneuvered through the day-to-day working of the business. Nuanced treatment of the impresarios behind signature sounds and recording empires, and brisk, dramatic vignettes, give this history of a leaderless revolution impressive momentum.