The archetypal hip-hop success story often involves an artist putting out a record on a small indie, then having a larger label swoop in and blow it up nationwide. Appropriately, that's also how it worked with Boston music journalist Brian Coleman and his self-released 2005 book, Rakim Told Me, in which he interviewed hip-hop artists about the making of their classic '80s albums. Two years later, Villard has issued a major revamp of the book under the title Check The Technique: Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies, with an introduction by Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson and the backstories of 21 albums from the '90s, plus 15 of the '80s albums from Rakim Told Me.
The expansion fits Check The Technique nicely. The additional coverage gives the book an extra heft, not only in size, but also as an overview of the hip-hop album's ascension as an ambitious form and a major market force. Arranged alphabetically by artist, Technique can be read as a chronicle of hip-hop from 1986 to 1996, from its first mass crossover (via Run DMC's Raising Hell) to the global hegemony prompted by Fugees' monster smash The Score. Coleman represents 1996 with that album and the harder-than-hardcore M.O.P. release Firing Squad, which indicates the purist retrenchment at hip-hop's heart by the time The Fugees' version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song" had wormed into the global ear.
Admirably, Coleman doesn't choose sides. He has as much interest in who did what on such dissimilar 1993 debuts as Digable Planets' Reachin' (A New Refutation Of Time And Space), a collegiate crossover hit often ignored by rap purists, and Onyx's Bacdafucup—even though in the chapter on the latter, Onyx MC Sticky Fingaz openly disdains Digable Planets as "that other funny bullshit." As that quote indicates, Coleman valorizes his subjects' voices, occasionally too much: A number of the quotes in the track-by-track chapter addendums would have been better incorporated into the main text, and a handful of redundancies emerge. Still, any rap fan who craves behind-the-scenes dirt will hardly quibble. Besides, how else would we have known that Onyx's drug of choice while creating its slam-dancing rap hits was LSD?