The Big Payback by Dan Charnas (Book Review)

January 05, 2011 5 min read

First off, The Big Payback is amazing! It was on the top of my X-mas list and once I opened it up you had to literally pry it from my grip. Seriously, my girl was feeling a bit "neglected" for a week...ha.

For those who don't know, Dan Charnas, has been on the scene for a couple decades; as an early writer for The Source, a segment producer for The Lyricist Lounge MTV Show, his lyric interpretations on the Wake Up Show, Producer (Chino XL, Kwest The Madd Ladd)* and of course his label work for Profile Records and Rick Rubin's American Records.

I first became aware of Dan Charnas circa '93, at a time when I was developing and growing my Street Promotions Company, Rage Promotions. My whole mission, in that venure, was to find the artists I loved who weren't getting enough spotlight and try to change that, at least in Chicago. I was a huge fan of Art Of Origin (particularly Chino XL). I used to call and fax American Records (IE. Dan Charnas) at least once a week to give me a chance to work the Art Of Origin record. Finally Dan reached out to me and made me the Chicago Promotions rep for American Records. Is it ironic or obvious to the book, that it is there I learned a big lesson about the music "business". I watched over a year and several projects go by before Chino XL's debut eventually saw the light of day. I was part of conference calls where "lazy" or perhaps just "uninventive" Street Teamers said they couldn't get any love for Chino XL from retailers or DJs because he offended everybody. However, that didn't derail Chino's dreams, Dan believed in Chino and eventually "Here TO Save You All" dropped**. It wasn't a huge selling record but it was heavily talked about, extremely influential, certainly controversial, and rather impressive as well.

Anyway, on to the book. The Big Payback details, as its sub-title suggests, The History Of The Business Of Hip Hop. It is a story that is almost unbelievable in the way the various stories weave together or how the continually successes and failures of these key figures played a major part in the shaping of Hip Hop Culture.

As a writer, Dan Charnas, has an uncanny ability to mix stunning detail with great personal touch. The book is laid out in eras and reads more in line with the time frame than the people who define the stories. Often you are given a critical piece of information and eager to learn what happens next, only to find the story take a turn to a linear issue or other related individual. Then several chapters later find yourself being blindsided, by the way that lingering story-ending makes it way back into the timeline. I found this method to be masterful as a writer and for building anticipation, but difficult for retaining information or keeping the facts in line. That lead to me taking lots of notes and already planning to reading it again...perhaps that was a sly, yet ingenious, intention of the writer.

I don't want to give anything away because a huge part of the excitement in reading this book is the "discovery" aspect, particularly how it is written like a continuous flood of content that builds to a punchline. However, here are some things you will learn:

-How Hip Hop evolved from the parks and community centers to record labels and

-Where the concept of Hip Hop radio came from and how it evolved from the 80s
till now

-How Hip Hop became a key component of Corporate Marketing and Promotions

-How The first Hip Hop Tours came about

-The inner workings of what is perhaps the great Hip Hop Label of all time, Def Jam.

-The details to the game-changing Wu-tang deal at Loud Records

-The evolution of Hip Hop clothing lines

-How Hip Hop became the focus of Censorship in America

Plus learn, in great detail, about the history, business practices, successes and failures of some of the most important and/or intriguing figures/companies/entities in Hip Hop; Sugarhill Records, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, 50 Cent, Jay Z, Damon Dash, Wendy Day (Rap Coalition), Frankie Crocker, Wake Up Show, Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records), Run-DMC, Fab 5 Freddy, Steve Rifkind, Master P, Chris Lighty, Lyor Cohen, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Profile Records, Beastie Boys, Source Magazine, Vibe Magazine, YO! MTV Raps, Dr Dre, Ruthless Records, Priority Records, MC Hammer, Public Enemy, MTV, and hundreds more.

Point blank, I think anyone with "any" relation to Hip Hop should read this book. If you are an artist, in a time where self sufficiency is of greater importance than ever, you can learn how some of the most successful artists got to  that position. I'll tell you one thing, it wasn't all talent, actually, mostly not. Also, this should also be required reading if you are interested in being in any part of the business; Starting a label, artist management, promotions/marketing, publishing, touring/booking, radio, etc... The Big Payback gives excellent insight on how all of those pieces function and work. Plus details on how some of the greatest campaigns of all time were conceived and carried out. Of course, fans will be completely entertained to hear how some of their favorite artists were put on and/or put themselves in positions to be heard.

Not to mention, to all those people who think they are "Hip Hop Historians" and they have the story of Hip Hop mastered, think again. You are hard pressed to find a book that you can learn more "new" information from, as most books tend to give you the same old stories again and again.

The Big Payback easily ranks up there with the absolute best and most informative books of all time about Hip Hop, along side classics such as "Yes Yes Y'all", "Can't Stop, Won't Stop", "Ego Trips Book Of Rap Lists", "How To Wreck A Nice Beach", "Check The Technique", "The Rap Records" and a "few" others.

It doesn't matter if you are Old School, New School or whatever, there is guaranteed to be numerous things of interest for you in this book.***

*Dan Charnas has a limited but solid production discography, I would love to see what
else he has in the vaults. He is the man behind the beats for Chino XL' s "Rise", "Poison Pen", and the skits on the "I Told You So" album and Kwest The Madd Ladd's "101 Things
To Do While I'm With Your Girl", "I Met My Baby At V.I.M",  & "What's The Reaction".

**Chino XL once told me that the interview I did with him in my magazine, Caught In The
Middle, was a "key" piece in his album becoming a priority for the label. In the article he
complained out some of his treatment at the label. He said that Rick
read the article and stepped in to right the wrongs, so to speak. However, maybe Chino was exaggerating or he was just gassing me, but I still feel like I helped in a small victory for the underground artist... :)

**Even if you don't like Hip Hop, this is a great read for how well it is written and
how it details the history of so many things, dating back to the 1800s at times,
that eventually effected the Hip Hop Movement, so read it already...

Visit The Man Himself, Dan Charnas, to find about his other endeavors:

Chino XL-Rise [Produced By Dan Charnas]
[audio:|titles=16 Rise]

Kwest Tha Madd Ladd-What's The Reaction [Produced By Dan Charnas]
[audio:|titles=01 What's The Reaction_ (radio versi]

Kwest Tha Madd Ladd-101 Things To Do While I'm With Your Girl Instrumental
[Produced By Dan Charnas]
[audio:|titles=08 101 Things To Do While I'm With Y]

Dan Charnas "The Hip Hop Poet"-Brooklyn Zoo Re-Interpretation Live On The Wake Show
[audio:|titles=Dan Charnas-Wake Up Show]

Written By Kevin Beacham

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