Andrew's Reviews > The Big Payback

The Big Payback by Dan Charnas
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's review
Jul 18, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: pop-music, non-fiction
Read from June 11 to 21, 2012

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 some fascinating but under reported stories like the founding of Wu-Wear, the tortuous early months of Vibe magazine, and Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign and its revolutionary embrace (or co-opting, depending on your perspective) of hip hop culture and iconography.

What keeps this from being a five star rating is Charnas's obvious biases. He breathlessly praises his former bosses at The Source magazine, but doesn't even mention in passing the magazine's scandal-ridden buyout, idiotic feud with Eminem, or complete loss of journalistic credibility around the turn of the millennium. Likewise, he does a good job of showing the conflicted corporate reactions to the initial explosion of gangster rap, but he stays away from the much muddier ethical issue of how corporations learned to enthusiastically market the gangster image once they realized that it sold well. Charnas openly admits that he sees hip hop's financial history as one of triumph, and that causes him to look at the industry's progression through rose-tinted glasses. The only executive about whom he doesn't find at least something nice to say is Puff Daddy. Take from that what you will.

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