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This episode, we talk to Dan Charnas, industry veteran, prolific music journalist, screenwriter, and most recently author of The Big Payback, the definitive history of hip hop business. Charnas began in the mailroom of the seminal rap label Profile Records, eventually becoming Rap A&R and Promotion Manager — working on projects from Run-D.M.C., Dana Dane, Special Ed, Rob Base, Special Ed and DJ Quik. He was one of the first writers for The Source, part of the movement to create hip hop journalism. He was hired by Rick Rubin to run the rap department of his new Warner Bros joint venture, American Recordings. He went on to play many more roles within and surrounding the hip hop industry, getting deeply involved in projects including Sir Mix-A-Lot’s double-platinum single “Baby Got Back”, DJ Kool’s gold anthem “Let Me Clear My Throat,” and Chino XL’s acclaimed “Here To Save You All”.

As an incredibly talented writer and incredibly savvy man, Charnas set out about 4 years ago to begin constructing a complete history of hip hop business. What began as a potential news article quickly took a life of its own and this year he finally saw the completion of his work, acclaimed by the New York Times as “epic” and by Forbes as “a mature, Pulitzer-worthy work, an integral account of essential urban history”. The book contains detailed accounts of major transitions and deals made within the hip hop industry that would shape the music landscape for years to come.

We talk the dichotomy between being rich and being real, black capital in America, Bronx based beat hip hop vs. DJ Hollywood’s “club rap”, and more.

Annotated excerpts on

  1. Excerpt #1: “What’s More Hip Hop Than That?”
  2. Excerpt #2: “The Two Sides To Hip Hop”
  3. Excerpt #3: “Being Real and Being Rich”
  4. Excerpt #4: “Black Capital In America”

Show notes:

  1. Big Payback video series
  2. Charnas and The Big Payback on NPR
  3. Charnas and The Big Payback on Village Voice
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