Born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. Education: University degree in drama.
Agent—c/o Omnibus Press, 8/9 Frith St., London W1D 3JB, England.
Journalist and author.
(With David Upshal) The Hip Hop Years: A History of Rap (includes CD), Channel 4 Books (London, England), 1999, Fromm International (New York, NY), 2001.
Radiohead: Standing on the Edge, Boxtree (London, England), 2000.
Top Ten: The Irreverent Guide to Music, Channel 4 Books (London, England), 2001.
The Def Jam Record Story, Omnibus Press (London, England), 2002.
Rebels without a Pause, Music Sales Limited (London, England), 2002.
Rap Lyrics: From the Sugarhill Gang to Eminem, Wise Publications/Omnibus Press (London, England), 2002.
Author of introduction, The Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music, edited by Colin Larkin, Gullane Publishing (London, England), 1992; contributor to The Rough Guide to Rock, edited by Mark Ellingham and Jonathan Buckley, Rough Guides (London, England), 1999.
Alex Ogg is a journalist who has written or contributed to a number of books on popular culture, music, musicians and music history. Among these are Radiohead: Standing on the Edge, about the influential British band Radiohead, and Top Ten: The Irreverent Guide to Music, based on the popular British television program. With David Upshal, he co-wrote The Hip Hop Years: A History of Rap, a guide to the development of hip hop in the United States up to the 1999 Grammy Awards. The book offers interviews of more than 100 rappers, DJs, music writers, and producers who found unprecedented success, or merely a fleeting moment of fame, in the genre that attacked the mainstream until it became mainstream.
The rap movement began in New York City in the 1970s when gang members turned to competing against each other, not in combat but with break dancing moves as each vied to put on the best show. At ten years old, Afrika Bambaataa was a Bronx DJ for parties that offered a safer environment for street kids he organized as the Zulu Nation. Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Sadler) was also a talented South Bronx DJ who trained others in mixing the sound for the rappers who were then known as MCs. At that time, the lyrics were happy and not violent or antisocial. Run-DMC, from Queens, took pride in the music that emanated from their neighborhood.
The themes changed in the 1980s, in part because rappers were looking for original and untested ways of getting noticed. The breakthrough came when Public Enemy began recording for Def Jam Records. The politicizing of rap lyrics took off with their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, released in 1988. Paula Friedman wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "From here on in The Hip Hop Years, Ogg and Upshal adopt an almost thriller-like approach in recounting the birth of gangster rap, and the toll it took on the lives of its practitioners."
West Coast rap, called by the authors "the poor relation to New York's hyper-creative hip hop expansion," began to be heard in the late 1980s, first with rapper Ice-T. The group N.W.A., featuring Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and others, recorded songs filled with violence and obscenity, and achieved high sales numbers.
Friedman noted that "the notorious Southern California rival gangs the Bloods and the Crips made their way into rap primarily via the company Death Row Records, a group that allegedly employed members of the Bloods. Artists like Snoop Doggy Dog …and Tupac Shakur …helped forge the relationship between rap and real life violence." Some feel that the popularity of rap began to wane after the highly publicized murders of Shakur in 1996 and the Notorious B.I.G. the following year.
Library Journal's Richard Koss maintained that in this history, "the nurturing role of underground radio, the growing contributions of Latino rappers, and the influence of Five Percent Nation ideology are among several themes that are largely ignored." A Publishers Weekly reviewer who called this book "essential," wrote that the authors, "by detailing rap's lasting contribution to global culture …offer a corrective to the way rap is so often covered by the press."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Library Journal, April 15, 2001, Richard Koss, review of The Hip Hop Years: A History of Rap, p. 96.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 28, 2001, Paula Friedman, "A Music Genre and the Culture That Defines It," p. E1.
Publishers Weekly, April 16, 2001, review of The Hip Hop Years, p. 54.
Times (London, England), May 6, 2000, Mike Pattenden, review of Radiohead: Standing on the Edge, p. 22.*