Art by: Ed Piskor
Cover Price: Free (Free Comic Book Day Issue, sucka)
Release Date: May 2, 2015
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
These are the Breaks...
As a white kid growing up in Quakertown, Pennsylvania in the 70's and the 80's, I was pretty much all alone in my love of hip hop. Sure, people enjoyed the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight", but that wasn't real hip hop to me. I fell in love with Spoonie G and Grand Master Flash and that lead to Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, N.W.A and so many other bands. I used to call into Philadelphia's Power 99 FM and after requesting U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne Roxanne", Whodini's "The Freaks Come Out at Night" or some other song I still love, the DJ (probably Lady B) would ask me if I wanted to give any shoutouts and I would yell, "Yea, I want to give a shoutout to my man, Snookie Duke, down on the corner" trying to sound cool and legit. I used to record every time I was on, but sadly, those cassette tapes are long gone. What isn't gone is my love for that era of hip hop and while I am a 40 year old father of five and a really pale white guy, I still identify with the music and it's creators.
What does any of this have to do with comic books and our site? Nothing...except it is Monday and that means it's Just for the Hell of it Monday and that means I can review any damn thing I please. So, I have picked Ed Piskor's FCBD offering, Hip Hop Family Tree Three in One to be my review this week.
Hip Hop Family Tree is Ed Piskor's comic book history of the early days of hip hop culture and this free comic book day issue takes a story from each of the three volumes released. We get an early rap battle between Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee Starsky that changed the game, a peek at a young Dr. Dre, and finally, the formation of Def Jam Records. It's old school awesomeness and I loved every minute of it.
The first part is the rap battle between Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee. Busy Bee comes off as the villain here and really, I wanted to slap him in the mouth. I didn't have to because Kool Moe Dee did it for me. It's not just a question of who was the better MC, this battle changed the rules, the game and pretty much everything on the mic. Busy Bee was still rocking the house, while Kool Moe Dee straight-up attacked Busy. Things would never be the same...especially for poor Busy Bee.
The next part takes us to the West Coast and the city of Compton. Any fan of 80's hip hop knows what this is all about and in fact, this is the story of The Disco Construction and and Wreckin' Crew and one of their DJ's, Andre Young. Being a huge fan of N.W.A. it was cool to see Dre learn his craft, but seeing DJ Yella and Easy E was awesome. While the story cuts off abruptly, I loved seeing the influence Run DMC and Kurtis Blow had on the future backbone of one of my favorite bands of all-time.
The final story is also my favorite. It shows Rick Ruben (and the Beastie Boys) going from dorm room producing of T La Rock's "It's Yours" to meeting Russell Simmons and forming Def Jam Records. Their first release was "I Need a Beat" by LL Cool J which I was a huge fan of so it was great to see how it came together on a shoe string budget and almost didn't happen at all. While he may have sounded a bit like T La Rock, the rest is history. It's also the end of the story.
The rest of the issue is filled with awesome full page drawings of hip hop greats like Humpty Hump, Dr. Dre and Jay Z. However, two things made me so, so happy. First was an incredibly funny redo of the old Spike Lee /Rob Liefeld button fly commercial and the other was an introduction page featuring Blowfly. If you don't know who Blowfly is and love x-rated songs, look him up.
(Jim's Note: there is a "Cosplayers" comic included in this issue as well, but I came for the Hip Hop Family Tree and left the review at that.)
I loved every single page of this issue. If you are a fan of early hip hop then this book is a must read. Seeing the stories behind some of my favorite artists and songs was great and this FCDB issue may just be the most fun I've ever had reading a comic, period. Ed Piskor rightfully won an Eisner for Hip Hop Family Tree. I can't wait until August when this book goes monthly.
While the stories were great, Ed Piskor's art may be better. I loved the combination of realistic looks with comic conventions to create a book that looked like a hip hop daydream. I also loved the technique that made the comic look like something that had been in my parent's basement since 1984 along with all my old records, tapes and Right On! magazines.
Bits and Pieces:
I really can't say enough about Hip Hop Family Tree. As a fan of the genre, this book may be my favorite comic book of all-time. If you don't like early hip hop culture, I don't think this will change your mind, but if you do and want to see history unfold before your eyes, get a copy of this, buy the full volumes and wait with me until the monthly starts up in August. I can't wait.