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‘Yo! The Early Days of Hip Hop 1982-84: Photography by Sophie Bramly’ (review)

Words and Photographs by Sophie Bramly
Published by Soul Jazz Books

Hip-Hop is king.

For all the mainstream music dominance convincingly chronicled during this century, as a genre, Hip-Hop is still young enough to trace its humble origins back nearly five decades ago. With all the glitz and global scope, it is easy to forget that the seeds of Hip-Hop culture were sowed on grounds most people dismissed.

This is what makes Yo! The Early Days of Hip-Hop 1982-84 a photography book by Sophie Bramly such an intriguing treat. Part photography journal, part historical retrospective, Yo! is a must have coffee table book for any cultural connoisseur.

While in some circles the origins of Hip-Hop is well chronicled, Sophie Bramly pictures deepens a narrative that should be given more time in the sun.

The beginnings of Hip-Hop weren’t just humble, they were the reflection of a resistance to racism, poverty, and hopelessness. Bramly’s photos of the Bronx reflect a tone words cannot. The frames cannot mute its state. President Regan famously referred to the area as a war zone, saying “I haven’t seen anything that looked like this since London after The Blitz.”

Afrika Bambatta and DJ Kool Herc: I love this photo of Hip-Hop’s founders. Bambatta was always a mystery to me as a kid. His song, Planet Rock, became a summer anthem for many years to come. And Kool Herc, is credited for hosting the first Hip Hop party on Aug 11 1973. They are pioneers of the culture.

Bramly’s photos may illustrate Regan’s outlook, but thankfully her lens captures much more. They also reveal the revolutionary resistance that would become hallmark of a culture that blazed its own path. They also reveal solidarity, joy and community.

As a person raised in the 80s, Hip-Hop was seminal to my experience. I remember drawing the Def Jam Records logo in my notebook as I rocked to Run D.M.C. and The Beastie Boys. Seeing both groups in Bramly’s candid photos did not diminish their legend.

It’s too bad Bramly moved back to France right when Hip-Hop started picking up serious steam. I wish she had photographs of Public Enemy, LL Cool J, and Boogie Down Productions, but that would have been the next wave of artists. More photographs and less words would have been welcomed.

Slick Rick The Ruler in his clean Bally shoes. This photo is important because Slick Rick always captured the playfulness and fashion of Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop did not set trends. Hip-Hop was the trend. The only thing fresher than The Ruler’s fashion statements were his rhymes. They were legendary

One thing this book gets right is that Hip-Hop was never defined by the music alone.

It included graffiti and breakdancing. Bramly dutifully captures the pioneers of those spaces.

Fab Five Freddy, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambatta, and Lady Pink are among the many subjects featured. Again, more photos and less exposition would have improved the book. Sections of the exposition were repetitive but there were far more pluses than minuses.

Yo! is a clear testament to how far that culture of Hip-Hop has evolved. Hip-Hop is resilience personified.


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