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Hip-Hop Evolution: Canadian documentary series wins prestigious Peabody Award

Jennifer Van Evra

A Canadian documentary series about the origins of hip-hop has won a prestigious Peabody Award.

Directed by Darby Wheeler and hosted by Canadian rapper and former CBC host Shad, Hip-Hop Evolution traces the roots of the genre right back to its birthplace — Aug. 11, 1973, in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc pioneered the break beat — and follows it to Dr. Dre's landmark 1992 album, The Chronic.

CBC Music and q digital writer Del Cowie was also an associate producer on the doc.

The series is being honoured alongside several other high-profile films and series, among them Oscar winner O.J.: Made in America, the Mavis Staples biographical doc MAVIS!, Alex Gibney's cyber warfare pic Zero Days and Ava DuVernay's 13th, which was produced by Winnipeg-born Howard Barish.

In Hip-Hop Evolution, Shad speaks with some of hip-hop's founders, among them Kool Herc, Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, and looks at everything from Flash's innovations in turntablism to the origins of mixtapes — as well as rap's rise to global domination.

"One thing that blew my mind was how young these pioneers were when they were innovating," he said in an interview. "The scene was very young — high school- and junior high-age kids for the most part."

The film's interviews also include pivotal acts like the Sugarhill Gang, whose 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. Public Enemy's Chuck D, Melle Mel, LL Cool J, the Cold Crush Brothers, Ice T, Ice Cube and more also give their perspectives.

So which was Shad's favourite? "It's tough to choose, but Kool Herc would be up near the top of the list. To actually be with him at the birthplace of hip-hop — Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx — was pretty surreal," he said in the same interview. "Grandmaster Flash was another really dope chat. Hearing about how technically savvy he was at such a young age was super interesting."

Named for American businessman and philanthropist George Peabody, the Peabodys recognize "excellence and meritorious work by radio and television stations, networks, webcasters, producing organizations and individuals." To win a Peabody, a program must receive the unanimous approval of all members of the Peabody board of jurors.

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