In 2016, hip-hop culture has permeated the mainstream. Artists are featured in fashion magazines, songs are heard in television commercials, a monster broadway hit has hip-hop at its centre, and a hip-hop group is the house band on The Tonight Show.

It. Is. Everywhere.

It’s almost surreal to consider that it wasn’t always so. Hell, it’s surreal to consider that the artform is just a little more than forty years old. Seems like just yesterday that “…more like crap music” was a common joke.

However, even though the scene isn’t exactly underground anymore, its roots still very much are. Happily HIP-HOP EVOLUTION has come along to establish those roots with a lengthy look at the origins of hip-hop in 1970’s New York.

Considering how pervasively music is documented now with tools like YouTube and mobile phones, it’s almost unbelievable to consider a time when every note performed by every artist worth knowing was not captured for all to experience. However, with the roots of hip-hop, that is the harsh reality. The greatest performances by pioneers like DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster CAZ, and even many performances by Grandmaster Flash were never truly captured for posterity. Hell, in the case of people like Kool Herc and Afrika, it’s because they were less performances and more happenings.

As a result, many in the current generation don’t realize the debt they owe, meaning documentaries like HIP-HOP EVOLUTION become invaluable.

The film is hosted by Canadian MC, Shad, which actually seems to help us get deeper into the story of what happened in The Bronx in the 1970’s. As wonderful as I’m sure “Ken Burns’ HIP-HOP” would be, it stands to reason that hip-hop artists open-up with each other in a different way than they would to an outsider documentarian. That, and Shad has a knack of following-up points with perfectly pointed questions.

Of course, even within the hip-hop circles, there are some questions that won’t be answered. Such is the case when Shad asks Herc his best floor-filling tracks. However, for what we don’t get in Herc-approved playlists, we gain in hearing what these legends think about other legends…because it’s not always spoken with hushed tones.

The doc that shook the walls of Toronto theatres this week is actually only the first third of a mini-series that will show on television later this year…and judging by the “awww” my audience let out upon its cut to black, the series is bound to leave the viewer wanting more.


HIP-HOP EVOLUTION has finished its Hot Docs engagement. Keep an eye on its official website for future showings.