|There has been a relative spate of television documentaries on black subject matter this last little while. The Skip Gates-presented travelogues ‘Into Africa’, the Trevor Phillips-produced series on the slave trade, and unheralded late-night numbers on Channel 4. All the high-profile shows have been marred, to a greater or lesser degree, by a blatant orientation to the white gaze, the white viewer, and ‘The Hip Hop Years’, so unfortunately, was no exception. As you might expect, these series have played very well to a certain powerful liberal constituency, as did their comedic counterpart Goodness Gracious Me. No doubt they achieved better than usual ratings for these types of things, so clearly some commissioners somewhere know what they’re paid for. But for those of us seemingly too few to figure in such pragmatic calculations, Channel 4’s ‘definitive’ threeparter on hip-hop culture was another bitter pill to swallow.
Such a shame because it all began so promisingly. I was mainly impressed by the opening hour-long chunk of Narrator/ Director/ Producer David Upshal’s series, spending, as it did, a serious amountof time detailing the youth culture that spread from the block parties and street dances of New York’s South Bronx in the seventies. Some great rare footage of original B-boys and girls was juxtaposed against present-day interviews with these same pre-industry local heroes. One or two telling instancesof skulduggery, too, in the transistion from pastime to business, notably when neighbourhood MC Casanova Fly spoke of how one of his raps was bitten whole for the tune that became ‘Rappers Delight’, hip-hop’s first chart hit. He looked pretty much how you’d expect someone to look who’d never earnt what was rightfully his….