Harlem World: How Hip Hop's Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

Harlem World: How Hip Hop's Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

by Jonathan Mael
Harlem World: How Hip Hop's Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

Harlem World: How Hip Hop's Super Showdown Changed Music Forever

by Jonathan Mael


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A thrilling narrative history of how one rap battle in New York transformed American culture forever.

July 3, 1981, was a pivotal night for the future of America's newest art form: hip hop. In New York's Harlem World Club, the Fantastic Romantic Five and the Cold Crush Brothers competed, with an unprecedented $1,000—and their reputations—on the line in a highly anticipated rap battle. The show drew hundreds of fans to settle a question that still dominates hip hop circles: Who's the best?

In Harlem World, journalist Jonathan Mael chronicles this fateful night of hip hop rivalry and shares a new look at how Harlem helped ignite a musical revolution. Since hip hop first emerged in New York in the early 1970s, artists like Theodore Livingston (DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore) and Curtis Brown (Grandmaster Caz) sought to elevate this uniquely American musical genre by pushing the limits of record-playing techniques and lyricism. The two crews they assembled put on the best shows in a world where hip hop was still a strictly live art form. Even as acts like the Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow became commercially successful, New York's top two crews strove to claim the ultimate spot atop the city's hip hop scene.

The battle blew the roof off Harlem World that night, and bootlegged cassette tapes of the match-up sent aftershocks around the city as more fans listened to the legendary performances. Set in the New York of the 1970s and '80s, this book shares dozens of new, exclusive interviews and a treasure trove of previously unpublished archival material to tell the story of Cold Crush and Fantastic's rivalry, documenting one of the most important stories in hip hop history. This is the first book of its kind to focus on 1979–1983 and the legendary battles at Harlem World while connecting the genre's formative years to its massive role in American society today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421446882
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 09/12/2023
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Mael is a high school teacher and reporter. He has written for such publications as The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and ESPN.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Crispy Crust Pizzeria
1. The Sound Room
2. Routines
3. New York, New York
4. Hip Hop's Great Poet
5. Harlem World
6. Collision Course
7. Tough-Ass Four Emcees
8. Somebody, and Anybody, and Everybody Scream
9. Traveling Tapes
10. Wild Style
Epilogue: "The Message"

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In an engaging and conversational style, Mael and the artists featured in this book provide valuable insights into why hip hop began, how it spread, and why it remains so important to American culture. Hip hop afficionados and general readers would love to have this book on their shelves.
—Kenneth Lee Johnson II, College of Charleston

Harlem World is a timely and powerful record of mixtape history. Mael masterfully weaves soulful stories into a cinematic narrative, delivering a remarkable collection of mixtape memories. Arriving on hip hop's golden anniversary, this classic is a love letter to the genre, our hip hop heroes, community collections and archives, Harlem, and the cassette.
—Regan Sommer McCoy, The Mixtape Museum

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