Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap is a classic underachievement. If only because of its grandiose title and the fact that Kurtis Blow edited the three-CD set, you’d expect a thorough overview of the art. Instead, History is a haphazard and abbreviated effort. The first disc is a collection of cuts that contain some of hiphop’s most infamous breakbeats. It is essential for rap fiends who came up in the ’80s and don’t have a clue where half the beats they love come from. The second CD offers up a skinny buffet of old-school rap cuts, including Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’” and Grand Master Flash & the Furious 5’s “The Message.” But on some of the cuts, Blow gives you abbreviated single versions instead of the full-length 12-inch or album versions. The third CD is the most problematic, as it purports to represent hiphop’s golden age. But hiphop’s greatest MC, Rakim, is absent from the disc. In addition, not a single female MC or West Coast rapper is included on the third installment. The reality is that any attempt to bottle the history of rap in three CDs can only fail. Blow’s collection asserts that hiphop spans the period from the early ’70s to the late ’80s—a preposterous time line that ignores hiphop’s black-nationalist era as well as the gangsta-rap years. Rap fans constantly bristle at attacks by political pundits who claim rap is no more than glorified ghettospeak and scowl at shorties who believe hiphop begins with Puff Daddy. But the hiphop generation has not adequately documented its history. There have been some decent efforts, but more sloppy attempts. History unfortunately contributes to the legacy of the latter.

—Ta-Nehisi Coates

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