It is immediately apparent when opening the cover of Hip Hop Family Tree's first issue that it is the result of life-long passion and significant research. All writing, art, and lettering is done by Ed Piskor, who also provides eight pages of commentary at the end of the book. In a rare turn in the comic book industry, the monthly issues are actually being released after completed collections. The effort is timely though, as Straight Outta Compton is proving a success in the US box office, and Piskor has just signed over the rights to create a Hip Hop Family Tree animated series.
The comic itself is dense and requires a keen eye and memory from its reader; Piskor writes that, “For HHFT to work properly, I have to introduce hundreds if not thousands of people to create a comprehensive history of hip hop…” (26). In the first issue, at least, Piskor shies away from value statements, providing detailed information based solely on concepts like crowd participation, MC/DJ cooperation, as well as size and style of stereo equipment. He does not ignore the violence and gang affiliations related to hip hop's inception, but they aren't allowed to overshadow the music and innovation. The tone stays factual but conversational, allowing it take on qualities of an oral narrative in visual form. Piskor also, helpfully, makes each rhyming word bold, in case a reader is rhythmically challenged.
Stylistically, HHFT owes much to Golden Age and Blaxploitation comics. Bold lines, panel headers, and a distinctly worn look makes the reader feel like she is holding a historical document rather than a brand new comic book. One of the best uses of the comic form is in illustrating the decibel levels within clubs; the image is overexposed and slightly out of sync, invoking the shaking speakers and bouncing floors without a single word. It turns out that comics are a great medium for hip hop.
Have you read Hip Hop Family Tree? Are you interested in the upcoming animated series? Let us know in the comment section.