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The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop Hardcover – Dec 7 2010

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"Pulitzer-level reporting."

"A classic of music business dirt-digging as well as a kind of pulp epic."
-Rolling Stone (4-star review)

"As gripping and dense as a prime Jay-Z rhyme...Charnas has done a real service to pop history."
-New York Daily News

"Essential...The Big Payback focuses not on the beefs you know but on the back-room battles you don't."

"[An] exhaustive, engrossing history of the genre"
-Entertainment Weekly

"In a year that has seen plenty of hip-hop books, The Big Payback stands out as a must-read for any fan - or detractor - of the genre."

"The riveting dialogue culled from more than 300 interviews makes it seem as if Charnas was in the room for every deal that ever went down in hip-hop, and sometimes he was."
-Austin Chronicle

"Dan Charnas captures an epic story full of joy and pain, triumph and failure, grace and greed with the skills of a journalist, the wisdom of an insider, and the passion of a microphone fiend. Call The Big Payback a hip-hop version of David Halberstam's The Reckoning."
-Jeff Chang, author, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

"With an insider's connections and an outsider's perspective, Dan Charnas has written the otherwise untold story of the business of hip-hop. His cast of characters -- producers, agents, label executives, talent scouts -- is every bit as compelling and dramatic as the musicians themselves. In the tradition of such great music journalists as Fred Goodman and Frederic Dannen, Charnas takes us way behind the scenes. It's an unforgettable odyssey."
-Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times columnist and author of Upon This Rock, Who She Was, and Jew vs. Jew

"The Big Payback is a stunning achievement. Not only does it manage to pack in countless unprecedented anecdotes about hip-hop that you can't find anywhere else, the read is effortlessly smooth. First there was David Toop's Rap Attack, Ego-Trip's Book of Rap Lists, then Jeff Chang's Can't Stop, Won't Stop, and now this book, the one ring that rules them all."
-Cheo H. Coker, co-screenwriter of Notorious and author of Unbelievable: The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Notorious B.I.G.

"How did hip hop's shoot-from-the-lip outlaws and go-for-broke gamblers become the entertainment industry's new landed gentry? Dan Charnas brings a fan's devotion, an industry insider's savvy, and a reporter's unblinking eye to chronicling a cultural revolution that is as contradictory and complex as the country that produced it. Payback is a bitch."
-Fred Goodman, author of Fortune's Fool and The Mansion on the Hill

About the Author

Dan Charnas, a veteran of the hip-hop music business, began his career scouting talent and promoting records for seminal rap label Profile Records and for Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings. He penned some of the first cover stories for The Source magazine and was part of a generation of young writers who helped create hip-hop journalism. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Press, and the Village Voice. He also worked as a segment producer for MTV’s The Lyricist Lounge Show. Charnas holds a master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and was awarded a Pulitzer fellowship. He was born and lives in New York City.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 58 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all. Great look at the history of Hip-Hop biz Dec 13 2010
By re el - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What "Hit and Run" did for exposing rock music, "Country Music, USA" dissected for Country Music and "Three Blind Mice" examined in Television, "The Big Payback" does for hip-hop. Almost every book on hip-hop has been overly academic, a cash-in or hagiography of the stars. Nobody has touched the nexus of commerce, culture (in particular race) and history in such a suspenseful narrative as "The Big Payback." Primarily, especially for those of us who grew up with hip-hop, this book opens the doors of what lay behind the music without the hype. And, it is more than just "Mo, Money, Mo' Problems." In particular, the historical roots of the music on the streets of Harlem add The Bronx. I found it impossible to put down. I only wish that the electronic version might have contained a soundtrack or maybe a video to punctuate the text.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Number One Hip Hop Fan Dec 9 2010
By Kevin A. Mitchell - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the most detailed and real to life accounting of the business of music ever written. Details are provided about the "behind the scenes" activity of how the hip-hop business grew into a billion dollar business. The book is vivid and informative to anyone aspiring to pursue a career in the music business. The author Dan Charnas' account is second to none and a must read for any fan of entertainment. Nothing like this exists to my knowledge. It provides the process of the development of an American art form that has transcended from the streets of the Bronx to the shores of Tivalu. Hip-hop music transformed life and culture in the 20th and 21st century and its fair to say it affected the election of an American president. I haven't put it down since I picked it up. Go grab this asap!!!
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Hip-Hop's Business Bible Dec 13 2010
By Zack O. Greenburg - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"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 hip-hop has merged with mainstream popular music despite the naysayers who, even today, write it off as a passing fad. One need look no further than the obscure DJs spinning in sweaty South Bronx clubs in the book's early chapters to the rap stars starting their own companies by the book's end to realize how far hip-hop has come, and where it may yet go.

In a year that has seen plenty of hip-hop books, The Big Payback stands out as a must-read for any fan (or even any detractor) of the genre.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great read for any hip hop fan Feb. 17 2012
By J. Bosiljevac - Published on
Format: Paperback
In the past 30 years, no other art form has had a larger impact on popular culture than hip hop. From the street corners of the Bronx and the disco clubs of New York City in the late 1970s, rap music and hip hop culture exploded out of the cities and across the U.S. (then worldwide) in the 1980s. White suburban kids were buying rap tapes at the mall, wearing baggy pants and high-tops like rappers they saw on MTV, installing car stereos with window-rattling bass and speaking in a whole new hip-hop slanguage. Hip hop was to my generation what rock `n' roll was to my parents'--a new form of music, expression and rebellion all rolled into one. For white suburban kids, and particularly for their parents, rap was dangerous, born out of a predominantly African-American street culture. But long before the first rap video hit MTV, before kids like myself had ever heard of Run DMC or the Beastie Boys, long before my band teacher talked about how amazing MC Hammer's dancing had been at the Grammy's the night before, a few creative DJ's in New York's disco clubs improvised a new kind of performance art. They started talking, or "rapping," over the intros to their songs, which evolved into talking over the breaks in the middle of the songs (the parts without lyrics). The crowds at the clubs were eating it up, so the DJs searched for songs with longer breaks. Then, so they could rap longer, they started mixing songs together to extend the breaks. Thus was born a new form of music.

But as with any cultural phenomenon, the artists (and they wouldn't have considered themselves artists--they were just spinning records) were only part of the equation. It took some keen business minds to recognize an opportunity and exploit it. People like Joe and Sylvia Robinson, founders of Sugar Hill Records. Although "Rapper's Delight," by Sugar Hill artist The Sugarhill Gang, wasn't the first rap album, it is widely considered the track that broke rap worldwide. As Charnas points out, so different was this new form of music that the first verse of "Rapper's Delight" begins: "Now what you hear is not a test--i'm rappin to the beat." The MC is literally explaining the music to the audience.
The Big Payback is a history of this important mix--the artists and the businessmen. Hip hop has, for better or worse, always been an art form that embraces, often celebrates, its economic forces. Making money--and lots of it--is nothing to be shy about. Rappers often brag about their riches, wear them or drive them around. Likewise, there is no such thing as "too commercial" when it comes to hip hop. More than most musicians, rappers have long realized that they are brands. They baldly promote products without fear of being labeled a "sellout." And, seemingly more than any other artistic culture, hip hop embraces the cross-over--the artist who extends his or her name into clothing lines, movie deals, perfume, jewelry, whatever makes money.

Perhaps it's because hip hop grew up in the age of materialism. Perhaps it's because hip hop grew out of a street culture where material status symbols carried quite a bit of weight. Or perhaps it's because rap proved, after years of radio stations refusing to play it (and even MTV dragging their heels), that it would not be stopped. Rap was going to be the next biggest thing. And whenever that happens, the businessmen come to get their piece of the pie. Yes, hip hop certainly has its share of amazing artists, savvy promoters and visionary entrepreneurs, but like any business it has plenty of greedy douchebags who will do whatever it takes and screw whoever it takes to get ahead. The Big Payback has its heroes, but it also has plenty of villains.

The reason Charnas wanted to cover business of hip hop and not just the the art of hip hop is that the two are inseparable. And while including the business might sound like it would make the book less interesting, it's quite the contrary. It's often the conflict between the art and the industry that provides the narrative tension. Charnas does an excellent job of delivering fairly dense material in an interesting, often riveting way. He covers the dry stuff--the mergers, contracts and legal proceedings, but he never wanders too far into the weeds. And with so many intense, sometimes unstable characters involved, any time Charnas takes us into a board room, odds are it's because the meeting ends with someone throwing a chair, pulling a gun or chasing someone else out of the room with a baseball bat.

Whether or not you agree with the final conjecture in the book--that the rise of hip hop is largely responsible for the election of the first African-American president--one can't deny the powerful cultural influence that hip hop has had on American culture in its relatively short lifetime. And no book gives a better, more readable overview of the artistic and market forces behind the rise of hip hop than The Big Payback.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An Engaging Read with Excellent Reportage Jan. 23 2011
By Laura L. Ohata - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dan Charnas' book, The Big Pay Back, is one of the 3 best books I've read in the past ten years. Hip-hop fans will find lots to learn here, while the narrative is engaging enough to entertain and enlighten the most distracted entrepreneur. I place it up on the shelf right next to Sun Tsu's Art of War. Yes, it is that good!