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The Big Payback

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  882 ratings  ·  98 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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4.34  · 
Rating details
 ·  882 ratings  ·  98 reviews


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Amanpreet
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
...more
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
...more
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
Jesse
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
Troy
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
...more
bfred
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
Sarah
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!!!
Maya Frank-Levine
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Well researched, well written, and generally awesome.
Ashley
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
...more
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
Edgar
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!
Sushrut
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
Ross
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.
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
Ella
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.
Omar
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.
...more
Blog on Books
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Patrick
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Andrew Tollemache
Apr 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"The Big Payback" is a damn good book detailing the rise and development of the business side of "Hip-Hop" music from its early days in the night clubs and basement parties around Brooklyn and the Bronx in the mid 1970s, through its percolating spread across the US (and Globe) and to its highest levels of business and cultural developments. Some people like Sylvia and Joe Robinson, whose Sugar Hill Records put out what is recognized as the first rap single, "Rappers Delight", became footnotes. ...more
Shawn  Stone
Mar 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I remember falling in love with rap as a kid even as far back as the late 70s….I was obsessed with in the early 80s with breakdancing and it’s early style hip-hop beats; SugarHill Gang’s “Rappers-Delight” was one of the first mini-LP’s I purchased as a kid (my first was David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes’ and with its new wave synthesizers, funk base and layered vocals, it was about as gangsta as it gets)

From there I got to witness the emergence of Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Ice T, NWA and
...more
Sheehan
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Andrew
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Byron
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is too thoroughly detailed and well put together to give any less five stars, but I could spend all day nitpicking it if I wanted to. (I've got a lot of free time, but I've also got a lot of "hobbies.") So I'll just point out a few things.

(1) The author is a lot less clever than he thinks he is, and a lot of these anecdotes and coincidences aren't as interesting as he thinks they are. Charnas is the worst kind of elderly barbershop raconteur.

(2) He's also more reverent of and less skeptical
...more
Dylan Suher
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"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
...more
Kris Herndon
May 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Keith
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, music
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
...more
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