Dr. Todd Boyd pens book honoring the enduring legacy of hip-hop culture

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Last year, the world paused to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop music and culture. From its humble beginnings, the genre has evolved from a rose that grew from concrete to a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to expand in its impact and influence.

Few understand the scope of hip-hop’s reach like Dr. Todd Boyd.

Known as The Notorious Ph.D, Dr. Boyd is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies in the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

He is also a Detroit native and one of the most recognizable faces in any documentary about hip-hop music and culture — aided in part by his affinity for unique eyewear. “Hey, I’m from Detroit where people rock Buffs — so I have to keep it fresh,” he says.

With his new coffee table book, Rapper’s Deluxe: How Hip-Hop Made the World, Dr. Boyd celebrates the evolution of the culture with a book made especially for grown and sexy hip-hop heads. With a price point of about $60, Rapper’s Deluxe is as much a status symbol as it is a stroll down memory lane. It is also a book of short interviews and rare photographs that capture the culture.

“You know, in one sense, I feel like I’ve been writing this book since I was nine years old,” Boyd explains. That would have been the year 1973 — the year attributed to the founding of hip-hop. As a youngster in Detroit, Boyd was influenced and inspired by the music that surrounded him. “Being a kid in Detroit in the early ’70s — a lot of what I wrote in the first chapter and, honestly, throughout the book, everything I write about, are things I lived, as well as observed,” he says.

The book is presented in a chronological format with a lengthy essay by Boyd to start it off. Rapper’s Deluxe also explores how other forms of Black culture like film and sports had and still have a significant impact on hip-hop culture — even 50 years later.

“I feel like this book has never been done before. You couldn’t have written this book, 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, you needed all that time to bring all these things together. And it’s not just music — it’s film, it’s sports, it’s fashion, it’s art, it’s politics, it’s comprehensive. And it’s all the culture.”

In the chapter “First Day of School,” Boyd compares growing up in the ’70s and the feeling of the first day of school to a “holiday,” where one had to be fresh dressed in a style that was true to the aspirational nature of Black Americans at the time. He notes how his experience mirrored that of Cindy Campbell who had the brilliant idea to throw a Back to School party on August 11, 1973 where her brother, Clive Campbell, also known as Kool Herc, would be the DJ. It is this party that is attributed to the start of hip-hop culture.

Boyd also notes that just days after the party, the Pam Grier-led film Coffy took the No. 1 spot at the box office. “The symmetry of the Back to School Jam, the birth of hip-hop, and Grier winning the domestic box office during this moment in August 1973 would, in hindsight, prove to be more than a coincidence,” he says, adding, “The cosmic connections forged by simultaneous, although uneven, cultural development would become abundantly clear in the years and decades to come.”

The book leads the reader by a golden thread to many political, social, and cultural happenings that led to or were influenced by hip-hop music and culture. The tone is one of a man in his 60s who gives more than a fan accounting, but a first-hand witness testimony.

“The process,” Boyd tells me, “was trying to bring all that out in such a way so that I could tell the story and other people would be able to appreciate it the same way that I experienced it.”

He adds, “A lot of the things that inspired me growing up or influenced me, I managed to turn into a way to make a living.”

A quick glance at Boyd’s biography or film credits prove that fact. He has appeared in nearly a dozen documentary films that speak to culture and is the author or co-author of a half-dozen books on African American culture. As for Rapper’s Deluxe, Boyd says, “It took me probably two years to work on the project from start to finish. From the writing part of it, to the curation of the photographs as well. I want people to experience it — both in terms of what’s written, and its visual nature.”

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