The Hip Hop Family Tree


Hip Hop culture has been chronicled in various ways over its four decades of existence. Many scholars have attempted, and some very successfully, to write or compile works on the culture, and its most popular form – rap music. One of the most recent history lessons has come, not from a prominent scholar, but from a young, devoted, and very talented comic artist. Ed Piskor’s comic history chronicling the early years of Hop Hop, titled Hip Hop Family Tree, 1970s-1981, is a perfect example of the new methods of historicizing Hip Hop. Hip Hop as an art form came out of the iconoclastic breaking down of sounds and new use of technology. It is a defiant voice, a master brush stroke of an aerosol can, a scratch cut precise by the DJ, which can form layers of flavors and colors. Through the use of artistry Piskor manages to bridge the gap between a popular work and a scholarly work. It is a great resource because this is what Hip Hop is in its true sense. The comic weaves the story lines of the charismatic personalities, and their environment, and how the early years were ramshackle and littered with amateurs who took a chance on this music. In a sense the book creates the myth in its surreal view further solidifying Hip Hop’s creation myth. Although the origins of Hip Hop culture are finely traced to the urban streets of New York City in the early 1970’s, it still gives a whiff of magic that created this art form. It also goes without saying that it was key moments and events, which brought Hip Hop culture, through the sheer popularity of rap music to the masses.

The book flows wonderfully, gliding as if you’re listening to a mix tape littered with the past masters and pioneers of the rap game. Each DJ, rapper, and crew gets his or her own colorful spread, while each innovative rhyme and word couplet is acknowledged. He portrays the evolution of the performance aspect from Kool Herc to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,

and all the other groups who formed at that point in time. He also shows the technological aspect and the many little tid bits of historical facts about the eccentricities of these performers. The drama, the battles, the successes, and the failures are all in picture format in front of us. He manages to make these historical situations blare out at us in a fantastically large format. One of these examples is the battle between Busy Bee Starski and Kool Moe Dee. The dark red hue in each panel creates this tension in the air. Starski is brash and full of himself as he parades in, declaring himself champion before the contest begins. He then goes into his routine with his patented call-and-response verses, and then he belts out his key signature with his “baw-witta-baw-dang-di-dang-say-the-boogie-to-the-bang-bang.” He then heads out and Kool Moe Dee hits the stage where he rips right into Busy Bee’s routine, and person.

The sheer magnitude of the battle could only be done this good through comic art. It is unfortunate that most of these battles, and the bootlegs of them, are all long gone. However, there is an emphasis that Hip Hop began with the parties and naturally progressed to these immense gatherings, which gathered steam through word of mouth and flyers. This tension building was in part a hoax in order to shore up more emotion, and more money due to the large crowds gathering at the venues. Piskor depicts this in his stills with the mythological battle, which was hyped by the crews themselves, between The Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Romantics. All these little facts and tiny morsels of information are important to history. Whether it’s a young Ted Demme telling his friends that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five broke up, or that Russell Simmons Smoked dust and has a very heavy lisp, this is all great information for the history books.

In the closing section of the book, Piskor explains his understanding of how comics and Hip Hop drew many similar comparisons. He points out that they both portray the back-story of a hero coming from a depressed urban landscape. They would then come up against an adversary and they would battle it out. This is very similar to the early days of Hip Hop where crews, such as the Cold Crush Brothers or the Funky Four Plus One More, would battle it out on the stage in front of the audience, who judged them on their strengths. He also points to the many alter egos created by rap artists and how they would collaborate as well. This is all fully drawn and in front of our eyes when picking up his comic book.

Academic scholars have written on Hip Hop, but most if not all of their work is anti-linear. Works by Tricia Rose, Michael Eric Dyson, Nelson George, Michael Forman, Michael Neal, and others have chronicled the culture using theory and both ethnomusicological and cultural analysis. However, none of their works give a concise chronological history of Hip Hop. These types of works on the history of Hip Hop did not proliferate until the past decade. These works fill in the gaps while focusing on specific themes such as culture and sociological concerns, such as with Jeff Chang’s work, or economic as with Dan Charnas’s work. However, it should be noted that they are not classically trained scholars. Rather they are Hip Hop insiders who painted a picture of the progression of Hip Hop while being very close to their subject. Ed Piskor’s book belongs in this latter category where he is contributing a popular form of history to the masses, while scholars should also take note of the work. Not only should historians applaud the work, they should also use it as a source to bridge the chasm between popular and scholarly work.

With regards to the Jews, the Jewish personalities are ridden all through the book. You can see a young Rick Rubin, who is depicted as a Tin Tin look-a-like with a penchant for damage.

And of course his male chauvinist pig side…..

As well as the other cast of Jewish personalities like Tom  “Tommy Boy” Silverman, Bill Adler, Cory Robbins, Steve Plotnicki, and of course the Beastie Boys….

During their Punk phase, and in their Hip Hop phase…

This is only volume one, as volume two will be coming out in book format in the summer. In the meantime you can check out more panels of Hip Hop history at the website:

#hiphopfamilytree #edpiskor #oldschoolhiphop


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