Hip-hop culture and its stars have never been prone to celebrate or even acknowledge its history -- the music has always been about the here and now, to the point that rap has produced only one commercially viable star with a 20-year career, LL Cool J. VH1 has produced a rather remarkable overview, judging from the first two hours, that is weighted carefully and accurately, full of fabulous grainy footage of the music's early days.
Hip-hop culture and its stars have never been prone to celebrate or even acknowledge its history — the music has always been about the here and now, to the point that rap has produced only one commercially viable star with a 20-year career, LL Cool J. VH1 has produced a rather remarkable overview, judging from the first two hours, that is weighted carefully and accurately, full of fabulous grainy footage of the music’s early days. Free of narration and ivory tower posturing, “And You Don’t Stop” is told by the participants — DJs and MCs who not only recite the names Kool Herc, Eddie Cheeba and Kurtis Blow, but also were present when the rap, graffiti art and breakdancing germinated in the South Bronx.
Rap’s attendant b-boy culture got the doc treatment early on in 1983’s “Style Wars” and the semi-fictional treatment a year later in “Beat Street.” Since then, the artistry now known as turntablism has not been held up to the mirror and examined the way it is here — straight from the man who figured out how to scratch, Grand Wizzard Theodore. With the players explaining it chronologically — and everyone from Ice-T to Will Smith to Grandmaster Flash tying breakthroughs to the same people — “And You Don’t Stop” has an deserved air of authority.
Doc impressively connects the DMZ-like living conditions of the Bronx in the 1970s with its incongruous ability to produce an artistic revolution, a true uprising from the streets. No place was more ignored by the financially pinched city than the Bronx and whether it was DJing, emceeing, tagging or breakdancing, it was the kids’ way of saying “look at me.” That concept that continues to drive rap artists; its history, and this is why the first two chapters of “And You Don’t Stop” are important, makes contempo rap feel supremely dishonest.
The do-it-yourself ethos of rap’s early years was no different than that of punk rock; for anyone unaware, it took a rap act, Run-DMC, positioning itself as the “kings of rock” to break down walls at radio and MTV, opening the floodgates for rap that have not come close to being shut.
Tracing hip hop back to 1974 seems a bit dubious. At that time, though no one nails down any dates, self-styled disc jockeys would hold Bronx block parties by breaking street lights to tap into New York City’s electrical power to fill city parks with music. Hip hop was a pure street culture, with no recordings or documentation, for five years, and even once rap records started being made, most were limited to New York and New Jersey mom and pop stores. Then Kurtis Blow signed with Mercury and the world changed. (It would have helped if someone noted that disco died at the same time as Blow’s arrival).
First two segments examine the first manufactured rap band, the Sugarhill Gang, the important distinction between rap and the dominant musical style of the time, disco, the rise of emceeing, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message,” Afrika Bambataa and, quite extensively, Run DMC. Darryl McDaniel (DMC) has a hilarious recounting of what he thought Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way” sounded like when he first heard it. He calls it “hillbilly gibberish.”
Five-parter is a lead up to “VH1 Hip Hop Honors,” a kudosfest honoring DJ Kool Herc, DJ Hollywood, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Rock Steady Crew, Run DMC, Sugarhill Gang, Tupac Shakur and the graffiti movement on Oct. 12.