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Canadian documentary fills in the holes of hip-hop history

Jesse Kinos-Goodin

If you've been enjoying Netflix's hit series The Get Down, which is set in the Bronx during hip-hop's nascent years, then a new Canadian-produced doc is for you. Called Hip-Hop Evolution and hosted by Canadian rapper Shad, it's a detailed look at those early days, many of which were overlooked by Baz Lurhmann's glossy Netflix series, which focuses mostly on Grandmaster Flash and a fictional group of young MCs and graffiti artists.

For Hip-Hop Evolution, the Canadian crew has mined deep into the birth of hip-hop, beginning at the begining — precisely at 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc pioneered the art of the break — and ending in 1992 with the release of Dr. Dre's classic album, The Chronic, a hip-hop highwater mark to many. It's essential watching for anyone who calls themselves a hip-hop head, a pivotal document tracing how a genre that started at a house party with just two turntables and a microphone became one of the most dominant forces in popular culture. 

Shad speaks with the three founding fathers of hip-hop — Herc, Flash and Afrika Bambaata — and looks at everything from Flash's innovations in turntablism to the origins of mixtapes to hip-hop's eventual global domination. Interviews also include pivotal acts like the Sugarhill Gang, who's 1979 smash hit "Rapper's Delight" was the first rap single to crack the Top 40; Rakim, whose rhyming innovations changed the way MCs rapped forever; and Run DMC, one of the most influential acts in hip-hop history. Melle Mel, LL Cool J, the Cold Crush Brothers, Ice T, Ice Cube and more also give their perspective over four episodes. 

The same Banger Films team behind documentaries like Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, are behind Hip-Hop Evolution, which was directed by Darby Wheeler and written by music historian Rodrigo Bascunan. It airs on HBO Canada Sunday nights at 9 p.m. Episode 2 airs this week.


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