In the summer of 1985 I drove to Kalamazoo (I had just turned 16 and I had just acquired my driver’s license. This was my first drive of more than 10 minutes duration) with two of my close friends from our small town of Stevensville, MI to attend the Fresh Fest at Wings Stadium. The Fresh Fest was the first multiple act rap music concert to tour the country, and brought a taste of hip-hop music and culture to many area's of the country for the first time. The concert featured headliners Run-DMC, along with the Fat Boys, Whodini, pioneering DJ Grandmaster Flash (sans the furious five), and an assortment of break dancing crews and graffiti artists. This was before the ubiquity of MTV and before the internet leveled the information playing field and information was not as free and easy as it is today. My friends and I seemed to be the only people in our town who knew about rap music and only because we were hip to a fuzzy but listenable signal that, on a clear day, reached across the lake to us from WGCI 107.5 in Chicago and back then only occasionally played hip-hop music. The Fresh Fest was the first time my friends and I saw hip-hop culture live and in person and it blew our minds it was so cool! And yet we had no clue that we were witnessing the first leaps of a cultural phenomenon that would evolve into a multibillion-dollar industry not only dominating the music industry but gaining global cultural influence. These memories have come pouring back to me while reading The Big Payback, Dan Charnas’s authoritative and comprehensive history of the business of hip-hop music. Charnas leaves no stone unturned as he chronicles the amazing story of hip-hop and the artists, entrepreneurs, record executives, and hustlers who made it what it is today. If only I had kept that Run-DMC t-shirt that I bought at the Fresh Fest!
The Big Payback