Straight Outta Compton: Hip Hop Don't Stop
Once dismissed as a fad, the most listened-to musical genre in the world has spawned a cinematic cottage industry of biopics, documentaries, and blockbusters...
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has shown his love for hip hop.
Hip hop, the music genre many rock ’n’ rollers, parents, and critics vehemently called a fad and swore up and down wouldn’t last, has been around more than 40 years now, and has spawned its own subgenres along the way, including gansta rap, new jack swing, country-rap, trip hop, crunk, and trap.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has shown his love for hip hop. He’s held cue cards for the issue-laden freestyle “Rose Garden Rap“ by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and more than once has dropped a phantom mic (rap battle style) for comedic effect. Obama even dropped a real mic at the end of his final White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, which included a pre-taped bit to rapper Wiz Khalifa’s “Cameras.”
Yes, hip hop is enjoyed by presidents of the free world — the black, the white, the red, the brown, the purple, and yellow — to loosely quote the Sugarhill Gang, who had the first Top 40 rap hit in the U.S. with 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Since then, there have been countless films made about the genre and its artists — some more underground than others, some fiction inspired by true stories, some biopics based on real lives, and some interview-laden documentaries.
In the last year, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful F. Gary Gray–directed biopic Straight Outta Compton chronicled the rise and demise of South Central L.A. gansta rappers N.W.A, whose importance to popular music earned the group an induction this year into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The HBO TV series Vinyl, about a New York record executive in the hedonistic ’70s desperately trying to save his record label, gave a glimpse into the new genre sprouting in the city and will reportedly continue the theme in Season 2. And coming soon is the documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution.
Directed by Darby Wheeler and presented by rapper and radio host Shad, Hip-Hop Evolution traces the origins and development of hip hop “from the underground to the global phenomenon it is today,” and features interviews with the earliest hip hop pioneers, including DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash.
Kool Herc is credited with creating the “break beat” and originating hip hop. While the late spoken-word revolutionary Gil Scott-Heron might be considered the godfather of rap, the birthplace of hip hop is pinned to a Bronx, New York high-rise at 1520 Sedgwick Ave., where on Aug. 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc began MCing house parties.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five — whose 1982 track “The Message, was the first socially conscious hit song by a rap group (and named the greatest hip hop song of all time by Rolling Stone in 2012) — became the first rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., now houses the turntable used by Grandmaster Flash, in addition to the group’s early vinyl.
And while many still believed it was a fad, there were filmmakers who recognized its importance and knew it had to be documented.
Over the past 40 years, dozens of films have been made about the genre and its individual talents, including 1983’s Wild Style, 1984’s Beat This!: A Hip Hop History, 1997’s Rhyme & Reason, Ice-T’s Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap in 2012, and semi-autobiographical films like Eminem’s 8 Mile (2002) and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005). Not to mention, there are also documentaries on Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Death Row Records, Run-D.M.C.’s Jam Master Jay, and more. And that doesn’t include concert and backstage films.
By far the most popular until Straight Outta Compton was 8 Mile, which won an Academy Award for best original song for “Lose Yourself” and made close to $250 million (US) at the box office. Gray’s film about N.W.A has made $200 million (US) since its release last August and was nominated for best original screenplay at the Academy Awards. This year, the group — composed of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella, and MC Ren — reunited (minus Eazy-E, who died in 1995) in April at the Coachella Festival. With that kind of success, next in line is a biopic of Tupac called All Eyez on Me, named after his fourth album in 1996. He was murdered that year.
With blockbusters, inductions, Oscar noms, and chart toppers, hip hop is approaching its 50th birthday.
Boom. Drop the mic.