Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey- Interview with author Jordan Sommers

RnB/Hip Hop | Tuesday 16th August 2011 | Osh


It’s bigger than hip-hop!

(Seriously, this book is MASSIVE)


The 28th of July was the exclusive UK launch of the definitive hip-hop history book, Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, a massive 420 page book which tells the story of hip-hop from its very roots and origins right through its history, major artists and its influence on world culture.

Would you describe this book as the hip-hop bible that the world has been waiting for?
I certainly wouldn’t but enough people have told me that, so if that’s what people want to call it then that is fine with me [smiles].

You must have met with lots of famous artists over the course of researching the book. Did it ever feel surreal to you?
No, not really, because I used to work at Def Jam back in the day and I’ve just been around it for many years, but I mean I felt blessed to be able to collaborate with all these guys. Yeah.

So what was your favourite moment of the process?
Getting the co-sign from Afrikaa Bambaataa [the hugely influential hip-hop DJ]... Once I had a chance to sit down with him and go over the whole plan for the book, and explain to him what I was trying to do, and he was down with it. That was for me the defining moment, and just made everything happen, y’know. Beautiful.

I’ve always thought of hip-hop as being an inspiration and an art rather than just music. How would you describe hip-hop in a few words?
Well, the culture is originally about peace, love, unity and having fun, but also to me it’s about truth, personal empowerment, and it’s a beautiful form of honest expression, and a way to unify people of all different cultures and backgrounds through music.

So do you remember the first time you discovered your love for hip-hop music? Your first experience of it?
Oh yeah, to the day! It was the summer of ‘84, and I had heard other hip-hop records before, y’know... ’Rapper’s Delight’, Run DMC etcetera. But I went to Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, and bought the album The Escape by Houdini, and I played that over and over until the tape popped [laughs]. You know, we had cassettes back in the day; you’re too young! And ever since then, hearing things like ‘La Di Da Di’ by Slick Rick (the London born Slick Rick) I was hooked, and it’s been the soundtrack to my life ever since then.

What inspired you to put the book together?
Well, hip-hop culture, being more than 40 years old, has matured and evolved, and had such a rich history, and I just felt that it was time to do a book that reflected the size, scope, and hopefully the impact that hip-hop has had. Y’know, something to ‘wow’ people.

You talked about impact, and hip-hop has had an impact and an influence outside of just America. In the book, did you research the different forms and interpretations that hip-hop has taken around the world?
One of the 30 chapters was on different aspects of the culture, and there are 40 profiles of artists who changed the game, and at the end there’s a chapter called ‘Can’t stop won’t stop planet hip-hop’, which is about how hip-hop spread from New York, to across the pond over here, to Africa, Australia, Asia and South America. That profiles a few more artists in particular, but mostly just talks about the global phenomenon, you know, in the Middle East... Everywhere really.

So if you could have been present during one of the major points in hip-hop’s long history, where would you be?
I would have loved to be in that rec room, 15 Cedric Avenue in The Bronx, on Aug 11 1973. That would have been cool, you know, to witness the official birth of hip-hop. But  there are a lot of other pivotal moments. I’ve had my share of them as well, so I consider myself fortunate already to have been there for those.

Okay. Now let’s cut to the chase. Obviously the book costs £250, and a lot of people will say that is too much for a book. What would you say to encourage them to buy it?
Yeah, it’s an understandable concern for people who just hear about a book, that costs £250, but if they get a chance to see it, even on video... The people who I’ve spoken to, who’ve emailed us and called us and stuff, they say, “£250 for a book, that’s ridiculous!”, but then when they see it they realise that’s cheap for this. I mean when they see the quality, and the size... It’s not just that it’s big [spreads arms], but the actual quality of the paper, and the binding, and the leather, and all that technical... You know... ‘Book stuff’... It’s made to last decades.

It’s a bible!
[Laughs] Yeah! It’s the hip-hop bible that you’re supposed to be able to open and flip through, and it’s still in good condition. As long as you look after it.

Cool. So we’ve saved up all our pennies and we’ve got our £250. Now where can we buy the book?
It’s available at, exclusively online.

Okay cool! So, finally, do you have anything else you want to say to fans of hip hop around the world?
Yeah. I just wanna say peace and respect to the first family of hip-hop, Zulu Nation. And to all you fans, thank you for supporting hip-hop and its culture over the years. And yeah, check out Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey!

You heard the man! It is 420 giant pages of hippity-hoppity goodness, so get out your credit card and head over to to grab your copy of Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey.