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Nathan RabinFollowing Lauryn Hill's Grammy wins in 1998, a slew of clueless newspaper articles marveled that something called "hip hop" is more than a passing fad. While that must have been newsworthy to some, for those who follow the genre it provided belated acknowledgement that hip hop has and will continue to change the face of popular music, regardless of the Grammys. Published 20 years after the chart success of The Sugarhill Gang's groundbreaking single "Rapper's Delight," The Vibe History Of Hip Hop consists of a series of essays chronicling the bumpy, uneven, and frequently strange rise of rap music and hip-hop culture.
Editor Alan Light acknowledges early on that such informal histories have inherent flaws, among them an inevitable obsolescence, and that flaw rears its head in a chapter on Southern rap that ignores the dominance of the New Orleans-based Cash Money label. Fortunately, the book compensates with depth and substance, capturing surreal moments--from a Fruity Pebbles commercial featuring break-dancing to Eazy-E selling tiny bags of weed even after his massive commercial success--as vividly as it does those that define the genre. As with virtually any volume involving many writers, its quality varies drastically from chapter to chapter, with hard-hitting, fascinating pieces on LL Cool J, N.W.A, and MC Hammer alternating with sketchy lists of regional hip-hop acts and a muddled chapter on '90s gangsta rap. It falls off noticeably in its second half, but despite its flaws, The Vibe History Of Hip Hop is still the best book of its kind.
— Onions A.V. Club