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The Big Payback

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  451 ratings  ·  75 reviews
The Big Payback takes us from the first $15 made by a "rapping DJ" in 1970s New York to the recent multi-million-dollar sales of the Phat Farm and Roc-a-Wear clothing companies in 2004 and 2007. On this four-decade-long journey from the studios where the first rap records were made to the boardrooms where the big deals were inked, The Big Payback tallies the list of who lo ...more
ebook, 672 pages
Published December 7th 2010 by Penguin Group (USA) (first published 2010)
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Please Kill Me by Legs McNeilChronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob DylanOur Band Could Be Your Life by Michael AzerradLove is a Mix Tape by Rob SheffieldPsychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
Best Non Fiction About Music
206th out of 770 books — 623 voters
Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff ChangBomb the Suburbs by William Upski WimsattEgo Trip's Book of Rap Lists by Sacha JenkinsDecoded by Jay-ZTyrell by Coe Booth
Hip Hop History & Currency
30th out of 102 books — 33 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,115)
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Tyrone Mitchell
This was a great reference for filling in many of my missing links in hip-hop. You get an idea of who the artists are as people, how they got into the industry and how they were discovered.

What you also get is a window into the depths of the music business - more than "industry rule 4080/record company people are shadyyyyyy". It explains how some execs short artists, make colossal mistakes and eventually get around to having an upper hand.

I didn't pay much attention to the business side of hip
Zack Greenburg
“The man who invented American money lived and died in Harlem.”

Thus begins The Big Payback, a tour-de-force of a book that details the rise of rap music from the burned-out blocks of the South Bronx in the 1970s to the top of the international mainstream music world today. Tracking more than 30 years of hip-hop’s history, it gives readers a peek at the origins of all the major players in the genre today–and the pioneers on whose shoulders they stand.

This sweeping narrative reminds readers that h
Wonderful for about the first 500 pages. Charnas is great on how people started recording rap (great bits on how the Robinsons of Sugar Hill records had the first rap smash with "Rapper's Delight," then squandered it by remorselessly ripping off their artists), how Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin started Def Jam, how rap got on the radio (a particularly sharp exploration of how the business worked and how the Bay's own KMEL played a major role in making rap part of a community's listening), and a ...more
This is an encyclopedic guide to hip-hop history and hip-hop business deals which I would recommend to anyone interested in modern music history. The first half of this book reads incredibly well, as Dan Charnas is able to weave together various, seemingly unrelated stories with such ease. This book is pretty dense and I was barely able to read a page without jotting down a name or label or song to look up later. You can tell that Charnas not only has a lot of knowledge about hip-hop, especially ...more
Chris Faraone
Dan Charnas is aware that some disgruntled rap purists may eschew his epic tome on planet hip-hop's animated cast of titanic dick swingers. The author says so right there in the intro: "My approach may not appeal to hip-hop fans who believe that the culture existed in some pristine state before it was sold, nor to those who believe that corporate executives assembled in a room and decided to promote violent, misogynistic hip-hop for profit and the degradation of Black people." His point is under ...more
This is hands down the most interesting hip-hop history book I have ever read. Radio, record labels, journalism, marketing—"The Big Payback" goes beyond the common myths and typical artist bios to uncover the often overlooked pioneers who helped push the genre to the forefront of American culture. Even hip-hop's most overexposed stories feel new with the level of exhaustive detail and fresh analysis Mr. Charnas brings to the table. As far as I'm concerned, this book sets the new standard. I'm em ...more
Jill Edmondson
WOW! Detailed, filled with interesting backstories and histories. A thorough look at the birth and growth of the Rap music world. An interesting read for anyone interested in music/contemporary history/popular culture... even if you're not a Hip Hop fan (and I'm not!). Heavy lifting but worth the effort. Reads like a novel. Really, a terrific, engrossing book - very hard to put down!!!
Certainly the best-researched book on hip-hop I've read (pro tip: stay away from anything labeled "oral history"--bound to be full of errors and half-recollections). The author did a good job keeping the business dealings as interesting as possible. I was surprised he didn't mention how sampling, specifically the need to pay for samples, changed the industry by changing the music. A must-read for fans.
This is both an excellent and tedious book. It is big--630 pages. There is a through line, but Charnas is telling a bunch of interconnected stories and it does get bogged down at points. I was riveted for about the first quarter to third of the book, but then it started to be a slog. For me, the slog factor increased until the very end.

Charnas does an excellent job of providing a context for everyone in the book, he always provides a background and description. This is important because so many
Maya Frank-Levine
Well researched, well written, and generally awesome.
So dense, but so worth it.
Kris Herndon
I started to lose momentum around the time we got to the Wu-Tang clan, so maybe I was just in it for the 80s nostalgia. But overall this is a very thorough history with a lot of good sources and first-hand information.

Quibbles: I was a little irritated by the dismissive way the author discussed the issue of sexism and violence in rap music and rap culture. For example, he faithfully recounts the big Warner Bros dust-up from the POV of an insider who labels board member Beverly Sills immoral and
Jordan Ferguson
Friends, I love hip-hop. This is not new to you. You know I’ve read a number of books on the subject, since I’m always writing about them and making lists of recommendations. You might think [as did I] that there wasn’t a lot left for me to learn about the widescreen narrative of the culture’s genesis and rise to prominence.

We would be wrong.

Dan Charnas’s The Big Payback will likely be the best book I read this year. Had I squeezed it into mu holiday reading, it would have taken 2010 hands down.
Dylan Suher
"The man who invented American money lived and died in Harlem"

The brilliant beginning to the best book on hip-hop that I've ever read. Long as hell, and, like any long book, it develops tics that are irritating but ultimately endearing (every dramatic reveal of a hip-hop personality, the staggering jump cuts from one part of the country to another). But any book with a mission this ambitious would have to be this long: it seeks (and generally succeeds) in tracing hip-hop's rise to market dominan
Blog on Books
Make room on your book shelves next to Fredric Dannen’s “Hit Men” and Fred Goodman’s “Mansion on the Hill”. Former scribe for The Source and rap exec Charnas’ exhaustive – but never exhausting – 638-page account of the history of the rap industry essentially dissects its explosive growth from its beginnings in the Bronx in the mid-to-late ’70s to its current apogee. Charnas traces the evolution starting with original Harlem disco DJ Hollywood, who talked over the records, through pioneers Kool H ...more
I've read 'Can't Stop Won't Stop'. I've read 'Decoded' and a litany of other hip-hop books, so I thought I was coming into this book prepared and expected to hear mostly stuff I already knew.

But quickly I realized I either have forgotten what I knew and didn't realize how shallow most of my knowledge was of stuff I did.

For a fan who cares about what the culture came from and the business people behind them who helped defined it as much as the front man, this is a must read. It's written as a sto
This is an exhaustively researched but accessibly written financial history of the commodification of hip hop music and culture. Despite its massive length, this is a quick read. Most of the stories will be familiar to avid hip hop fans and/or people who watched too much VH1 when they were younger, but Charnas does a great job of describing the characters involved and giving you a sense of the cultural import of hip hop's ascendance as an art form and mainstream youth culture. He also hits on so ...more
Tim Jin
Even though I may not like Hip Hop as much as other genres, this is the most comprehensive book that I ever read on a particular subject. No matter if you like Hip Hop or not, you will love this book because it's the most interesting read in a culture that is so popular among all ages.

Reading about how the legends got started in the scene was the best, like Run DMC, Beastie Boys, House of Payne, Dr. Dre, and the business, like Def Jam Records. The most interesting part is how they got into the
Loved this book, best of 2011, I may even put it a hair ahead of Jeff Chang's Can't Stop, Won't Stop, and just by the slimmest margins. (and I'm a total fanboy for Jeff Chang, met him in the Library, he's dope.)

Different than Chang's history of hip-hop, Charnas engages the back-end business side of hip-hop history which has a wonderful way of interweaving all of the aspects of the culture, and makes very clear the infrastructure behind the art form, is just as responsible for the contemporary c
This is the story of entrepreneurship as told through the history of hip hop. Business in the context of hip hop ends up being an amazing combination, because so many of the major players were self-made. Almost every story involves someone making something huge out of essentially nothing. Sure, there's beef, and lots of politics, but that's business too. I can't think of a better way to learn about the real world of business than to see it through the lens of an emerging cultural phenomenon, one ...more
Mark Tallo
I am a person who did not listen to too much Rap music growing up. I really wanted an education and I guess I learned something. Can't tell you how many times I went to groove shark because of this book.

He constantly gave us stories about people but never in enough depth and then he moved on. So I wish the book was larger or that he concentrated on a shorter time period. Towards the end it got tedious and I struggled to finish it. I really stopped caring about the subject because of it's simpl
An interesting look at the development of the marketing side of the hip hop business, really deeply researched. One downside of focusing so much on marketing is...well who cares if Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons make $30 million or $50 million for selling off half their company? So in a way the first part of the book, focusing on the breakthroughs into the mainstream, was more interesting and compelling. An underdog narrative is more fun to read than toting up massive figures on a corporate scor ...more
Feiz Najmi
What a trip down memory lane as the eras in hip hop are described in painstaking detail not only the artistic developments but the business, political and social happenings are tied in. I don't know how many times I said I remember that. And it just like it's very close cousin the book "Tanning of America" "Payback" shows hip hop's influence globally and it's rise both as the leading music genre but a genuine global culture. Also it outlines the ways not only the music business but all business ...more
Awesome - a must read for any hip-hop fan. Lots of good historical tidbits and stories telling the back story of hip hop, but with a focus on the business side of the game, not just the artists.
wrapped The Big Payback. It kind of ran out of steam at the end, I think but that may be because its focus on Sean "Puffy" Combs and Jay-Z didn't really interest me. My dislike of Combs wasn't lessened but it wasn't really enhanced either.

Overall, it's an excellent excellent excellent book dealing with the hidden side of hip hop. There are some glaring omissions though (notably in the rise of Death Row records) and there's a lack of focus on things like modern mix tape culture (how does giving
All the other reviews had it right; great for the first 500 pages, and then the later developments of JayZ and Rocafella took over.

What I don't get is how a book of this magnitude, focusing on the business of hip-hop, completely ignored Rawkus Records, a mainstay in indie rap for almost ten years. A label that brought us Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def, and others, isn't even MENTIONED. And the way they plummeted would be VERY interesting reading, but they're not even mentioned. Def Jux' omission is a b
Bryan R.
Any hiphop fan...or music fan in general, needs to read this book. And then re-read it the following year.
Kojo Baffoe
Most of the other hip hop books touch on the business side but primarily focus on the birth, growth and evolution of the culture. The Big Payback lives up to its name, delving into how hip hop influenced radio, the record industry, brand endorsements, etc. It gives deeper insight into the people who were involved and does not shy away from speaking the negative as well as the positive. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The subject matter is extremely broad and, as a result, there will always be thi ...more
the best hip-hop history text of them all. dispatches on 90s independent labels and 00s mixtape culture are missed.
Excellent, exhaustively researched history of hip hop culture, mainly focusing on the business aspects. Best book about hip hop I've read. The first half of the book was more interesting to me, as hip hop gets bigger and more corporate, the artists and their stories are less interesting. That's my personal bias, however, as I am not a fan of today's rap moguls like Jay Z and 50 Cent. Beyond that, the stories of the pioneers of hip hop and their battles are amazing. Highly recommended, a non hip ...more
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VH1's The Tanning of America Series 1 6 Feb 26, 2014 07:26PM  
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