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Book Review

The '3 Kings' and hip hop’s multibillion-dollar rise



O’Malley’s 3 Kings. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU
O’Malley’s 3 Kings. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

As hip-hop broke the mould of beats and lyrics and grew to be typified by the commercialisation of merchandise and personality brand equity, it is reported that the legendary Lawrence Kris Parker, alias KRS-One, was once asked for his views regarding the "corporatisation of hip-hop". He aptly replied that he viewed it as the ‘hip-hoptisation of corporate America’ and not the other way round. For those who have an ear for music and a heart for large ticket size deals, O’Malley’s 3 Kings offers the best of both worlds.

On three accounts this book is exceptional. One, history — the book does an exceptional job tracing the genre back to its cradle, endowing the reader with much needed context and appreciation of such salient elements as graffiti, and later on tattoos, as statements of creative and rebellious expression.

It reminds the reader that at the point of hip-hop’s inception, unlike today, the genre’s bedrock were disc jockeys, calling to mind progenitors like Lovebug Starski and Afrika Bambaata, and not rappers.

Two, the records – every audiophile has that one song (or a set of songs) with which they test the quality of sound, be it new head/ear phones or a complete music system. The 3 Kings walks one down the memory lane through mentions of undeniably some of hip-hop’s greatest hits including Hypnotize, from the late BI.G’s Life after Death album; Ain’t nuthin but a g thang from Dr Dre’s The Chronic; and In da Club from 50 Cent’s Get rich or die trying album.

Greenburg also brings to visibility the feuds that have done more in adding commercial viability to the industry than is often appreciated through the focus on the East Coast-West Coast antagonism; the meteoric rise and epic fall of the seminal group NWA; the diss kryptonite that was Nas’ song titled Ether; and the tragedy that was the Suge Knight led record label, Deathrow.

Three, timing is everything. Dr Dre exited Deathrow Records months before it took a nosedive; he signed the $ 3.0 billion Beats by Dre deal 12 months after it almost went bankrupt and the late B.I.G was signed by Diddy leaving MCA Records as an "unproven rapper" .

That Diddy and Jay Z were born nearly a month apart almost lends credence to Malcom Gladwell’s argument, in the book Outliers, on the role of timing in one’s success.

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