Hip-Hop Evolution

TV review by
Dana Anderson, Common Sense Media
Hip-Hop Evolution TV Poster Image
Frank, fascinating history of a music genre, culture shift.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Shows how hip-hop artists used creativity and innovation to make a whole new music genre and to express (and sometimes change) very difficult cultural circumstances in the Bronx in the 1970s to Los Angeles in the 1990s.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teens can learn about how hip-hop artists used childhood inspiration, community organizing, and social frustrations for artistic expression, social commentary, and cultural change. Frank discussions about how the portrayal of real-life hardships in the inner city made some rappers "heroes to a whole generation," while they also prompted politicians to put warning labels on records. Somewhat slanted to focusing only on characters who made it; lacking discussion of artists in the genre who have suffered violent deaths.


Frank discussions about and images of how gang violence affected the development of hip-hop and how violence is part of the segment of the genre that focuses on "sex, money, guns" gang culture. Video footage of dead bodies in drive-by shootings and mass arrests of gang members in South Central Los Angeles. Images of guns, references to guns as "tools." Footage of the Rodney King beating, police acquittal, and subsequent riots.


Hypersexualized images of women, objectification in photo images, and some videos with suggestive behavior. Risqué sexual activity in party scenes shown or implied.


The "N" word," "f--k," "motherf----r," "p--y," "s--t," "damn."


Mentions numerous record labels, names of groups, albums, fashion brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discusses how drug use was part of the creative process ("We was high as s--t"). Video footage of drug use at parties, on the streets; disturbing drug overdose video scenes. Discussion about how people were making $10 million a week from selling drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hip-Hip Evolution is a thought-provoking documentary series that traces the history of hip-hop from the early pioneers in the Bronx to today's mainstream rap stars. This no-holds-barred doc combines archival video footage and photos, interviews with music scholars, industry experts, and historic hip-hop heroes like Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, and Ice-T to tell the true, often inspiring, and sometimes brutally frank story of the genre. While the creativity, innovation, and cultural influence of hip-hop take center stage, portrayal of some drug use, sexy stuff, and violence is part of the story.

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What's the story?

The Bronx in the 1970s sets the scene for the beginning of HIP-HOP EVOLUTION. Through archival video footage and photos, interviews with music scholars, industry experts, and historic hip-hop heroes, viewers travel through the stages of the development of the genre. Narrator/rapper Shad takes viewers on a look back at historic influences from jazz, film, and radio DJs; innovations in how turntables and other music-recording and -playing tools were used; new forms of dance; and coast-to-coast variations. The final episode ends with the mainstream acceptance of rap in American pop culture.

Is it any good?

For teens and adults who love rap music, or for anyone interested in the creation of new art forms, this is a terrific documentary. It shows how in the early days of hip-hop, it was part community organizing against gang violence, part alternative to disco party. Later rap became a freedom-of-speech lightning rod, as the Justice Department accused rappers of inciting violence, while gangsta artists said they were simply portraying their real lives. Hip-Hop Evolution explains how artists used music "as a weapon against oppression."

On the flip side, rap as house-party anthems for "drinking, smoking, girls, and forget about your problems" is also portrayed with little context about negative impacts of drug and alcohol glorification. One other disappointment: the lack of female voices in a documentary about a genre to whose development women artists also contributed and which has been criticized as misogynistic. Overall, though, Hip-Hop Evolution is an entertaining, informative look back at a culture-changing genre.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the people and artists Hip-Hop Evolution chose to talk about the development of the genre. Did it leave out any artists it should have included?

  • Talk with your teen about how music can shape individuals and culture, positively and negatively.

  • What other genres of music does your teen like? Find media resources to learn more about its development and pioneers, too.

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music

Themes & Topics

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