Hot Docs is North America’s largest documentary film festival. This week, we're zooming in on the festival's music-related films.
Hip-hop has come a long way from its humble beginnings in The Bronx. Today, the genre’s most successful artists have reached superstar levels of fame, and for many fans, recalling a time when hip-hop wasn’t at the forefront of pop culture would be a difficult task. Hip-Hop Evolution, directed by Darby Wheeler, investigates the social, political, and economic landscape that gave birth to the genre in hopes of bringing this knowledge back into the scene’s collective consciousness.
In the first installment in the four-part series courtesy of Banger Films, Canadian hip-hop artist and connoisseur Shad takes a trip to New York to speak with some of the folks who laid the foundation for the artists who are doing it today. He’s charismatic and entertaining throughout, and his love for the music is clear as he speaks to the godfathers of the genre Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Big Daddy Kane, Melle Mel, and Russell Simmons. Each share their own insights into how hip-hop began, what kind of role they played in its evolution, the techniques they used, and where they got the inspiration.
Hip-Hop Evolution is more than a mere list of names and dates though. The film does a great job painting a vivid picture of what exactly was going on in late ‘70s New York, using vintage footage, firsthand accounts and tasteful animations. As the city was falling to pieces, devastated by fire, poverty, and crime, hip-hop emerged out of, and away from, disco as a voice for some of the most marginalized communities — the same people who are now telling its story years later. It’s a narrative told from the inside out, rather than the outside looking in.
Hip-Hop Evolution gives viewers fresh insight about the styles of music that these artists were drawing from, the kinds of people who were coming out to those early shows, and the ways in which the genre was initially both embraced and rejected. It’s informative in a way that your own Spotify-led research never could be: more personal, more human.