Nonfiction 12/1/2017

In Book Reviews, Featured Book Review by Kaite Mediatore Stover

Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years by Joseph C. Ewoodzie, Jr. (University of North Carolina Press, $27, 9781469632759)


As many music movements and musicians move into their “golden years,” the publishing industry has seen a spate of cultural histories and personal memoirs about legendary times and the legendary figures who lived them. In Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years, Ewoodzie adds his voice to the mix by zeroing in on the “missing years” of hip-hop’s development, 1975-1979. This is the period between DJ Kool Herc’s legendary house party and the arrival of the Sugar Hill Gang. Ewoodzie’s goal is to move hip-hop’s history from the mythic exploits of the few to the contributions of the nameless hordes, thereby compiling a “people’s history” of hip-hop. The book examines the history and creative process that brought hip-hop to the forefront of American culture and is a fascinating assessment of a musical form that relied on  myth and legend for an origin story and now has a solid, respected, evidence-based foundation. Ewoodzie uses new data, evidence, and collected interviews in combination with a fresh pair of eyes to distill and analyze. He then blends those elements with forthright prose, clear explanations, and vivacious photographs to create a history that may present as academic, but doesn’t read that way. This slim volume packs a rich history of a musical style that became a lifestyle by drawing on the diverse cultures crammed into a small section of one of New York’s poorest areas. Readers will be swept away by the hundreds of revealing anecdotes and the reproduced fliers advertising park jams, house parties, and performances. If there’s time to read only one chapter, make it Chapter Four, “Crews and Outside Influences,” which offers fascinating backstories of graffiti, fashion, b-boys, and the term “hip-hop.” Give to any teen or adult with a strong interest in music history, music journalism, or the creation of music.

Kaite Mediatore Stover