Hip Hop Family Tree #12

by H├ęctor A on July 27, 2016

By Ed Piskor
Published by Fantagraphics


Hip Hop Family Tree is a series drawn and written by Ed Piskor and published by Fantagraphics. The book retells the genesis of hip hop starting with DJ Kool Herc's legendary block parties. While there were other series that were released in floppies and that Fantagraphics later collected (like Black Hole), this book is also notable for being the first title that they release monthly. I'm not sure about how long this book will go on for (how many issues would a year like 1994 take? Does the book just turn into a Jay-Z biography eventually?) but so far Piskor has made the book feel really intimate while following the beginnings of the LA scene and the growth of East Coast rap. As a fan of hip hop music who's not really acquainted with the early history of the genre, Piskor's book is a great read even if I haven't read the whole of it yet.


The colours on the book are striking and unique, Piskor's palette recalls pre-digital coloring but his tones are darker, giving the book a distinctive feel. The paneling is really tight but Piskor circles certain panels with a colored frame, emphasizing the mood of the story. Piskor is a fantastic cartoonist, and he does a lot to convey a sense of immediacy, seamlesly incorporating concert flyers, television ads and graffitti into the book.


Family Tree is very friendly to new or occasional readers. Even though I had only read the first volume of the series, I was able to jump right into this book only being familiar with some of the acts. The one gripe I had with the book back when I first encountered it was how over-explanatory Piskor's writing could feel, there were too many captions and it obscured the art, dragging the book down. There's less of that here and even though there is still a lof of text in the page, Piskor lets his characters speak more and that's a plus when your characters are people like a young KRS-ONE, Roxanne Shanté, or Russell Sim -- I mean, Ruthell Thimmonth.


Hip Hop Family Tree's attention to detail and research has always been mesmerizing and Piskor's art is unique and fantastic. Even though the series has started to portray the time period during which hip hop became massified, it still feels close and intimate. Definitely a book worth picking up.

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