"It's a shame what they did to it," says Schoolly D in the above mid 80's hip-hop documentary Big Fun In The Big Town in reference to how rock & roll had become soft and watered down. "I hope that rap don't go that same route,? where they take the rawness away and just then make it too pretty," said the renowned Philly rapper (who is considered the original gangsta rapper) three decades ago, predicting how hip-hop would get co-opted, commodified, and flipped into marketable pop.
Welcome to the first in the new weekly Hip-Hop History Tuesday Amoeblog series. What better way to start than with the above Dutch TV documentary from 1986, which resurfaced recently after being unavailable for 25 years. Last month, it was released on DVD with lots of bonus material. Broadcast in 1986 for television viewers in Holland with Dutch sub-titles, the Bram Van Splunteren directed Big Fun In The Big Town offers a brief history of hip-hop up until that point in time as well as a general state of the art to those unaware of what hip-hop/rap was all about. Additionally, it acts as a time capsule of New York City at that gritty point, offering some insights into its financially challenged state that was reflected in the music.
At that time, most of hip-hop on the radar was still being made on the East Coast in NYC and nearby urban areas like New Jersey and Philadelphia where the aforementioned Schoolly D and his DJ Code Money, captured on film in the infamous NYC Latin Quarter club, hailed from. Other key players of the genre at this point in time that are profiled include Grandmaster Flash, MC Shan, Roxanne ShantÃ©, Biz Markie, Run DMC, and the young newcomer L.L. Cool J. Dutch documentary director Van Splunteren was a music journalist who was clearly a big hip-hop fan. With his film crew he spent a week in New York filming artists to try to get a handle on the relatively new genre of music for his viewers back home in Europe. By that stage in its history hip-hop had bypassed the "it's a fad" stage and proven that it was an unstoppable force - but Van Splunteren, nor anyone for that matter, could have projected just how far it would go as a global culture. This film is a documentary in the most literal sense; he documented his subjects in their own environments, allowing them to speak at length without editorializing. A short but comprehensive documentary, that shows hip-hop as seen through the eyes of an outsider, Big Fun In The Big Town, has some great performances and interviews and is a must-watch for any fan of hip-hop's history.