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The Big Payback

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  970 ratings  ·  105 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)
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May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Zack Greenburg
Dec 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
“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
Tyrone Mitchell
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Christopher Villamar
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was so much better than I even expected. An important book to anyone who is interested in what makes a culture, a society, a people. And how that all happened with hip hop.
Chris Faraone
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Jill Edmondson
Dec 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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!!!
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Well researched, well written, and generally awesome.
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So dense, but so worth it.
Spencer Kusi
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read on the rapid growth of hip-hop as a business/entertainment empire. Hat tip to Dan Charnas for breaking down what doesn't always get covered in hip-hop writing: the promotion, artist development and corporate side of the dominant music/cultural form of the current era.

Positives: Great chronology and rich detail, well-written, covers majority of the hip-hop acts, record labels and business minds from the mid-70s to the 2000s. Many aspects of the music industry that aren't common
Joseph Stewart
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I discovered this author while watching the excellent Netflix documentary, The Evolution of Hip-Hop. I'm not an avid fan of hip-hop so a 700 page tome of a book focusing on, not even the general history but the business of it, was a unlikely read for me. I picked this up primarily to learn about the early days of hip-hop. Ive always loved dance music and was fascinated by the of D.J.'S spinning records to maximize the break and then starting to rap over the music to get crow involved. The first ...more
Paul Mcloughlin
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I pretty much couldn’t put this down . An insanely readable account of how a music born in a basement in the Bronx and already considered dead by 1981 , made it to the top of the world - dragged there kicking and screaming by a parade of hustlers , schemers , rhymes , stealers , visionaries and Mavericks . Full of fascinating insights and great anecdotes . Ironically , for a book about the business end of the music business , it’s made me fall in love with hip hop all over again .
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book about how some scrappy young street entrepreneurs took hip hop from the parks of the Bronx and the house parties in Harlem to build empires and eventually take over some of the biggest businesses in America. Hip hop is forever.

P.S. Big props to KMEL, Star Records in San Jose and City Nights! Yay Area!
Greg Otto
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
It's important that a book like this was written. That doesn't mean it's entertaining. I picked up this book knowing the business of hip-hop is intertwined with the art. I wish this book reflected that. There is too little mention of the art that helped the business grow. Couldn't get past the 200-page mark. There is a ton of better hip-hop writing out there, go find it.
Marina González
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is the Bible of hip-hop! I read it 7 years ago just to get some background as I really wanted to be able to understand who the big players were and why, and I loved to learn how everything started. There’s a lot of facts and key names all over the book but if you like to read business books & you are interested in the hip-hop world, this is your book! ...more
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is fantastically researched, deeper than you'd possibly fathom and shows the building of the business. Would love to read something else by Charnas re: streaming and the new distribution paradigm.
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an anthem in the history of hip hop .Every thing is detailed, every artist has been given his due in the evolution of hip hop ,the prominent ones got more words ,lines ,paras ..So many names ,personalities, you lose your way ,only to find it again .Great read
Chris Becker
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Even if you're a huge hip-hop fan, I'd suggest reading this book. There's a really great balance between the business of hip-hop, and the backstage antics of the many people who gave us the most important evolution in the history of music.
Mickey McIntosh
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thee best book about hip hop period. From its beginnings in the 70s with DJ rhyming in between records, to multi platinum rappers in recent years. Everything about hip hop music is covered.
Any music history fan should read this.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It was a very good and informational book on the hip hop business, I really enjoyed. I usually wouldnt read long, huge books but this was alright.
Dino Silvestri
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good illustration of how the world of hip hop became what it is today
Benezeri Chibita
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Comprehensive. Conclusive. A priceless ride.
Dino Silvestri
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spin left a caption on the edition I have which says Pulitzer style reporting and it is .
Joseph Siskey
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great book about a fascinating subject. I've read at least 10-15 books about hip hop and this is my favorite. I only wish the author would write a sequel covering the last 10-12 years.
James Mishra
This is perhaps one of the greatest hip-hop business books ever written. At 672 pages, it is encyclopedic--going from before The Sugarhill Gang in the 70s all the way up to Kanye West.
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Comprehensive review of the history of hip-hop, as well as an explanation of the music industry through the lens of the hip-hop genre.
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.
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