I've always been a fan of comic books for as long as I could remember. Hip hop has been something I eventually fell in love with the more I grew older.
Growing up as a kid of the 90's on the south-side of Chicago, the extent of my knowledge of hip hop was really limited to the stuff that was played on the radio or what I'd hear kids at school playing. Most of which I remember hearing, I couldn't get into. As I got older I discovered stuff like Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Jurassic 5, Run DMC, The Geto Boys.
I was blown away hearing these dudes rap about video games and aliens and outer space and horror movies. Much like how comics books such as Hellboy and American Splendor changed how I viewed comics and what they were capable of, This music changed me and showed me the potential of the genre and really showed how naive I was about the whole thing.
Suddenly there was this ridiculously huge roster of MC's and groups that have been around forever but suddenly became new to me. I discovered groups like Wu Tang Clan and their huge catalog of solo records, Del La Soul, KRS One, among others.
Even through out all of that, there was still so much I never knew about this music and it's history.
Enter a comic called Hip Hop Family Tree by cartoonist Ed Piskor. I heard about it before and saw people posting links for the web version here and there but I never really checked it out until Fantagraphics sent me a copy of the printed collection of Volume 1, To quote many, "I slept."
The book itself is gorgeously presented as a loving homage to the old magazine sized Marvel Comics treasury editions of books from the 70's. So even before I read one page of it, I was freaking out about how cool this book looked.
The stories themselves which were originally serialized on the popular website Boing Boing are essentially self-contained but they all chronicle the quick progression of the world of hip hop in comic book form. The art and pages are aged to look like 70's era comics and that just adds to the awesome vibe of the book.
The amount of research and history Piskor packs into this book is mind boggling but he presents them so well and unattached. They are simple stories about people who made history without even realizing it at the time.
The stories have a warmth and familiarity to them, almost as if you are sitting in a room listening to an old MC talk about the first time he rocked a party, or how he had the loudest pair of speakers in Queens.
The way Piskor tells these stories I think will appeal to both fans of hip hop and people who have no idea the difference between Grandmaster Flash or Afrika Bambaataa. In a way, you are almost at an advantage if you don't know a lot about hip hop because reading this book is literally like taking a lesson in hip hop only way more cooler.
That's exactly how I felt reading this book, It made me feel so cool. Because that's the thing about hip hop. It's not just a style of music, it's a feeling, it's a lifestyle, it's love and man, is this book full of that.
Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1 by Ed Piskor is out this week in comic stores and online via Fantagraphics.
Piskor is currently working on Volume 2 and you can check out all the current strips via Boing Boing here