cover image Harlem World: How Hip Hop’s Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

Harlem World: How Hip Hop’s Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

Jonathan Mael. John Hopkins Univ, $26.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-42144-688-2

Journalist Mael chronicles hip-hop’s emergence in late 1970s and ’80s New York City in his rollicking debut. Focusing on a pivotal rap battle between the Cold Crush Brothers and the Fantastic Romantic Five on July 3, 1981, at the Harlem World club, Mael unpacks how lyrical flair, and such new techniques as record-scratching, elevated hip hop from the city’s streets to airwaves across the world. Groups like the two that faced off at Harlem World “weren’t mass-marketed and packaged by record companies to look a certain way or deliver a certain message. They were the message,” says Mael, and though the Fantastic Romantic Five took home the grand prize of $1,000 that night, the true “winners... were hip hop fans in general,” who witnessed the beginnings of what “remains a massive cultural force.” Based on interviews with some of hip-hop’s early players, who offer behind-the-scenes insight into the infamous battle, and contextualized by incisive discussions of demographic shifts in Harlem and the Bronx and other historical details, this gives welcome due to the underground culture and cast of characters that gave hip-hop its wild style. Readers curious about the genre’s roots will want to take it for a spin. (Sept.)