17 August 2011 | bob the moo
Solid list show for genre fans but the subject deserved more of insight and merit within the list
As part of Channel 4's weekend of urban music and dance, this special was billed as a documentary into how hip-hop has changed the world – not how it has grown as a genre in and of itself per se, but rather how it has impacted the mainstream on its journey to being the mainstream. Add to the mix that it is presented by Idris Elba (a hip-hop fan and a great actor) and I decided to watch it. Very quickly my hopes for a serious documentary were dashed because I could tell from the presentation and from the commentators involved early on that this was more of a list show and indeed it does list the 50 moments where hip-hop changed the world (in a numbered format too).
On the plus side a lot of what is in here is pretty interesting whether as a reminder or as just being something of note because ultimately the massive impact of hip-hop from its early minority roots to what it is today is worthy of examination; it is a global cultural shift of some note. Moments range from the comic (George Michael with Wham being the first UK rap smash!) to the cheesy but culturally significant (Bush saying "yo" as normal language, break dancing preformed for Reagan etc) but also moments of actual interest to hip-hop fans (Kool Herc's influence, the impact of Public Enemy, the pop successes of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, the adoption of graffiti culture in advertising in the early 80's etc). The number one slot is saved for the election of Obama as a sign of the influence of hip-hop, which is arguable but makes sense.
Some of the 50 moments are cheesy but they are all significant. So, do I like Vanilla Ice or think he should be a "greatest" list of any note? No – but his chart success is one of the moments in the ongoing series of moments of hip-hop changing the world (not for the better perhaps but it is still a mainstream moment). Being a fan of the music and able to recognise a lot of the older and newer artists, I was able to enjoy the special even though it wasn't quite documentary so much as "pop culture list". A lot of the contributions are worthy with some solid names in there and some others who speak with a passion and knowledge. Of course we also have people who are just the c-grade celebs of the genre that go for this at the drop of a hat: N-Dubz being the most grating inclusion and their contributions should be kept for the follow-up show "50 ways hip-hop sank into the toilet". Big names Nas and Snoop are pretty pointless and gave the camera very little to work with (Nas in particular looks and sounds like he just woke up, then got stoned, then did his bits). Elba is energetic but his rather sensationalist hosting and overdone physical movement does rather push the film away from being a documentary.
Overall this special was engaging and fun, although the contributions add little and it was just yet another list programme. A lot of the things covered are still interesting but could have used more time and more factual eye – because the growth and impact of hip-hop is significant and culturally interesting. Put together with energy this is an OK list programme but a little less Ndubz and a bit more insight would have made it much better – the subject and a lot of the artists deserves insight and review, they don't need pop stars of the moment with nothing to say of note.