This 1984 Book Is One Of The First To Document Hip-Hop
The Rap Attack: African Jive to New York Hip-Hop by David Toop is a portal into another era, namely the era before Hip-Hop went mainstream, let alone the world’s most influential culture. First published in Great Britain in 1984, the book contains more than 150 pages of history detailing the microcosmic elements happening in New York City that would eventually meld together to form what would become known as Hip-Hop (the concept was so new at the time of the book’s printing, it had to be described with the signifier “New York Hip-Hop,” suggesting it hadn’t yet even reached the pulse of other countries). Filled with photographs of now-defunct New York city clubs like the Roxy and images of young New Yorkers partying at places like Danceteria are published back-to-back with photos of taggers bombing the 6 train. More well known names like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash are interspersed between the stories of icons like Jimmy Castor, the Force MDs, and Sylvia Robinson. The book places emphasis on contextual knowledge, and also includes detailed sections on African cultures that influenced the African-American musical identity, including desert Griots in northern Nigeria. And, quite fittingly, the book ends with an image of Run-D.M.C. who, as Toop may or may not have realized, would remain as influential in 2015 as they did in 1984.
A quick glance at the chapter names proves how detailed the analysis of Hip-Hop’s genesis is. First, there’s “Prerap,” an introductory section which aims to describe rapping for an uninformed but curious audience. Think of it as “a rhythmic talking over a Funk beat,” writes Toop. “The first so-called Rap records were in fact the tip of an iceberg – under the surface was a movement called Hip-Hop, a Bronx-based subculture, and beneath that was a vast expanse of sources reaching back to West Africa.” After that, it’s on to chapters titled things like “On the corner,” “Doo-wop Hip-Hop,” “Beat bop,” Sister brother rapp,” “Uptown throwdown,” and “Raptivity in captivity,” each of which traces significant goings-on in New York City. Of course, Toop traces the origins of graffiti, fashion, breakdancing, DJing, and rapping but the book goes further than simply defining the characteristics of Hip-Hop and shares extensive insight offered up by artists, business owners, record labels, and others who played important roles in helping to cultivate and support the growing culture. Also covered extensively is the bridge between other forms of Black Music – Dance, Doo-wop-, Rock & Roll – that were integral to the creation of “New York Hip-Hop,” and much of the book reads like a who’s who of forgotten heroes, those men and women whose music and achievements so heavily influenced the creators of the new sound but whose names have been regrettably lost to history. For example, Toop spends a considerable amount of time profiling the works of Jimmy Castor (a legendary New York musician whose work in Disco and Funk are inseparable from the Hip-Hop music he helped inspire),who is interviewed for the book.
Great tribute is also played to the connections between toasts – rhyming stories in the form of narrative poems – and Hip-Hop lyrics, which artists like Rufus Thomas and Bo Diddley helped popularize in their era. Jazz’s influence on both the sound and lyrical delivery in rapping gets its own well-deserved mention as do African-American religious oratory, Soul artists like Aretha Franklin and James Brown, producer and DJ Arthur Baker, iconic New York City clubs like Disco Fever, the formation of the Zulu Nation, and very early Hip-Hop groups like Double Trouble, Funky Four Plus More, Mr Biggs, and Grandmaster Flash, all of whom are interviewed for the book. For any Hip-Hop Head, the book provides a time capsule element that is hard to find with the advent of digital media; the stories, photos, anecdotes, and connections shared in this book can’t be found elsewhere, as they are specific to the mindset of somebody attempting to share this great culture with the world at a time when most dismissed it as a fad. As such, such great detail is paid to many aspects of Hip-Hop that, at the time, were very visible and influential but which have been glossed over as the decades have passed. It is out of print, but outlets like Amazon carry mint condition copies for around $100. It is a must-have for any collector of Hip-Hop memorabilia, and serves as a true testament to the ingenuity and creativity of America’s young minds at a time when their contributions to society were not valued in the same way they are today.