Why ‘Hip Hop Raised Me’ is essential for any hip hop fan

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For anyone that knows about the UK urban scene, you know DJ Semtex. As well as performing on stage alongside the likes of Nas, Swizz Beatz and Dizzee Rascal and touring with De La Soul and Wu Tang Clan, Semtex has been described as hip hop’s John Peel and hosts the UK’s premiere hip hop show on BBC Radio 1Xtra every Friday. Not content with all of his previous achievements, Semtex has released the “bible” for any hip hop fan entitled Hip Hop Raised Me, featuring interviews like heavyweights from Eminem, Kanye West, 50 Cent and Pharrell Williams. The 9 chapter book takes you on a journey from the early beginnings in NYC to global success and “rap privilege”, accompanied by stunning photography by Eddie Otchere, David Corio, and Ray FiascoL Ø S T C U L T U R E had the connect and managed to get our hands on an early copy and we rounded our favourite points in our “What He Have Learned” list.


1. It’s time of release has a deeper meaning

Before you even get into the book, the time that the book has dropped even coincides with multiple key dates in hip hop history – 2016 marks 40 years since Grandmaster Flash first broke out of the Bronx, 30 years since the release of Beastie Boys‘ seminal album Licensed to Ill and 20 years since Jay Z‘s debut album Reasonable Doubt. Semtex’s knowledge of the hip hop and rap scene is so complex and on first reading, you will be left with a fountain of facts and trivia.

Public Enemy at Manchester Apollo in 1988 – Semtex is in the crowd [second from left] (Normski)
2. Semtex’s personal journey

While the story of the hip hop scene is compelling enough, the book kicks off with an intro from Semtex himself, detailing his early relationship with the genre. Talking on his battle with lymphangomia and the subsequent amputation of his right arm, he faced tough choices in his early years and used the medium of music to help him get through it. Another previous untold story is that Semtex knew he was never going to make it as a DJ with the name John Fairbanks so wanted a DJ name that related to a plastic explosive – because of his plastic prosthetic arm – and Semtex has born.

kevin mazur
Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Chuck D in 1993 (Kevin Mazur)

3. The birthing moment

Looking to offer the reader a comprehensive and detailed account of hip hop’s origin, Hip Hop Raised Me examines early hip hop origins in 1970’s New York. DJ Kool Herc, who had emigrated from Kingston, Jamaica in 1960, is said to be responsible for the technique said to be the “actual foundation of hip hop” – using dual turntables to create breaks within funk records and create seamless instrumental loops. Another pioneer in the early NYC scene was Grandmaster Flash who alongside Grand Wizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa, played at local street parties and got the buzz growing with a diverse range of complex sounds and samples.

“The Bronx was the ground zero of hip-hop activity”

4. War of Words

When you think of the world of hip hop and rap, you think of “beef” and Semtex‘s chapter on the topic is essentially a “war of words” one stop shop. Describing it as warriors in a gladiatorial arena, HHRM shines a light on two notable rivalries, Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. and Jay Z and Nas. While both led to a number of unforgettable tracks, [‘Hit Em Up‘, ‘What’s Beef‘, ‘Ether‘], the feuds had detrimental effects with the deaths of 2 Pac and B.I.G. Semtex says it best himself “If the Tupac/B.I.G. beef was the darkest chapter in hip-hop history, Jay vs Nas was one of the greatest“. A fantastic infographic also documents some other well known beefs including the classic war between Ice-T and LL Cool J up to more recent clashes such as Meek Mill and Drake.

Notorious B.I.G & 2 Pac

5. Women in Hip Hop

On a personal level, women have always been present in the hip hop arena, from early MCs Roxahne Shante, Salt N Pepa, MC Lyte and Queen Latifah to modern day queens of rap – Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Iggy Azalea. Hip Hop Raised Me digs a little deeper and drops incredible knowledge, such as documenting the rise of Mercedes Ladies, a sister group to Grand Wizard Theodore and the L Brothers. Formed in 1978, the all female group of DJs and MCs never had their own record deal and are rarely mentioned in hip hop history, they paved the way for many females to follow. There are also some fantastic photos of Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Eve which serve as a perfect accompaniment!

Foxy Brown in 1997 (Carl Posey)
Foxy Brown in 1997 (Carl Posey)

6. The rise of Kanye

Semtex and Kanye West have always shared a great relationship [go back and check their interview from 2007 to remind yourself] and it wouldn’t be a Semtex book without a shoutout to Mr West. However, we don’t just get a throwaway mention, Semtex explores Kanye’s rise to the “G.O.A.T, a creative visionary and one of the few artists whose career has had several defining moments”. After working alongside local Chicago artists, it was Kanye’s contribution to Roc-A-Fella releases between 2000-2002 on projects from Jay Z and Beanie Sigel that established me as one of the hottest producers in the game. The accident touched on in ‘Through The Wire‘ is also documented and how he used it to inspire his early work. While we are used to circa-2014 Kanye West/Yeezus, this story reminds us of his humble roots and his impressive discography.

“Kanye’s strength and determination to turn tragedy into triumph established him as a solo artist in a way that no co-sign ot hit record could.”

7. Numbers don’t lie

As mentioned before, there are a number of fantastic infographics scattered throughout the book, which hit you with concise and bite-sized points of information. As well as looking the fashion trends [labels and sneakers] that have played a crucial part in hip hop’s fabric, another colourful diagram details the top selling hip hop albums and singles. For albums, it is no surprise that Outkast‘s 2003 album Speakerboxx/The Love Below tops the chart but did you know that MC Hammer‘s Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em is the 5th top selling album of ALL TIME ?!?! And as Black Eyed Peas [‘I Gotta Feeling‘] and Macklemore [‘Thrift Store‘] top up the singles charts, its clear that the world of pop has had a massive effect of urban music and its commercial viability.


8. Yes We Can!

In 2016, it wouldn’t surprise us for rappers and hip hop artists to spring up and talk on the upcoming Presidential election or larger political and societal issues but back in 1982, when Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five dropped ‘The Message‘, it wasn’t as expected and as such was seen as the first conscious rap record. After other conscious acts such as Public Enemy and KRS-One, a large shift in focus came when Barack Obama secured the presidential nomination in 2008. The black community and more importantly, hip hop artists, took to Obama and in ’08, hip hop took centre stage in the campaign with the likes of Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Common, Puff Daddy, Ludacris and Talib Kweli among many others playing an instrumental role. There is a perfect parallel drawn with Public Enemy [who had encouraged people to ‘Fight The Power‘ two decades earlier], and then encouraging people to stand up and use their power to vote.

“It was an inspiring moment, a clear demonstration of hip hop’s power and influence. Hip hop was not just a voice to ‘fight the power’: it was now a voice that could determine or disperse the power”.

9. The UK Invasion

While the majority of the book looks the US scene, one of the final chapters examines the scenes overseas, including the history of the UK hip hop. While many know Slick Rick was one of the first British MCs to make a name for himself in the States, another UK act was female rapper Monie Love. After featuring on Queen Latifah‘s ‘Ladies First‘ in 1989, she appeared with De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers and created the Grammy nominated singles ‘Monie in the Middle‘ and ‘It’s A Shame (My Sister)‘. The chapter also explored UK grime, heavily influenced by hip hop and acts like Skepta and Dizzee Rascal who have exported their sound back to the states and enjoying major success. It serves as another reminder of the reach of hip hop and its subsequent influence on other genres, sounds and acts.

Kanye West and UK acts Skepta, Kret & Konan, Novelist, Stormzy, Fekky, Jammer and Shorty at the 2015 Brit Awards (Gareth Cattermole)
Kanye West and UK acts Skepta, Kret & Konan, Novelist, Stormzy, Fekky, Jammer and Shorty at the 2015 Brit Awards (Gareth Cattermole)

10. The Em’ Comparison

Eminem is considered as one of the greatest of all times and this title is thoroughly deserved. As such, many white rappers have faced the curse of the Eminem comparison – including Bubba Sparxxx [referred to as Timbaland‘s Eminem], Asher Roth [who Em subsequently dissed] and Paul Wall. While race has always been a point of controversy, these rappers have embraced their colour and newer artists like Yelawolf, Macklemore and Iggy Azalea have had no barriers in reaching success. As Semtex says “The comparison of other white rappers to Eminem is a lazy one – it isn’t necessarily negative, but it does overshadow an artist’s ability and they have to work harder to be taken seriously“.

Eminem & Proof [RIP] performing live (Mika)
Eminem & Proof [RIP] performing live (Mika)
But this is just the beginning and there is so much more to find out and enjoy so make sure you grab your own copy of Hip Hop Raised Me via Amazon and get in Semtex’s infectious podcast of the same name via iTunes.

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L Ø S T C U L T U R E.

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