How did street music from the South Bronx and Harlem evolve over forty years into a multibillion dollar global industry?

It wasn’t an accident.


In The Big Payback, Dan Charnas chronicles the volatile history of the hip-hop industry through its key players—hungry hustlers, innovative entrepreneurs, visionary handlers, and shrewd executives who had the business acumen to take the music of a marginal urban subculture and transform it into a mainstream pop culture phenomenon.

Spanning an epic forty years—1968 to 2008—from the early long-shot successes of Sugar Hill Records and Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five to Run DMC’s crossover breakthrough on MTV to the marketing of gangsta rap and the rise of stars like Jay-Z and Sean Combs, who head multimillion-dollar businesses, The Big Payback is a raw, real blow-by-blow tale of inspiration and treachery—of how hip-hop records got made and marketed, how the deals were done, and who won and lost in this epic struggle.

Focusing on successful marketing strategies—from the branding of hip-hop artists by labels like Profile and Def Jam to the key management choices that broke through the color barrier on radio and MTV—Charnas provides an insider’s analysis of what has allowed hip-hop to not only endure but dominate. Culled from more than three hundred revealing interviews with key industry players like Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin, Warner Records executive Lyor Cohen, and other more, The Big Payback is both a fascinating narrative and a provocative primer on hip-hop’s compelling paradigm for business success in a new, multicultural America.


The Epic Journey

From the first time that DJ Hollywood makes $15 for picking up a microphone, to the multimillion-dollar sales of Def Jam and Rocawear, The Big Payback shows the step-by-step evolution of hip-hop and introduces you to the people who fought behind the scenes to make it happen.

ALBUM ONE: Number Runners (1968-1981)

Hip-hop’s earliest entrepreneurs





ALBUM TWO: Genius of Rap (1980-1984)

Creating hip-hop’s first superstars





ALBUM THREE: The Beat Box (1984-1988)

Def Jam fosters a revolution in hip-hop art and commerce.





ALBUM FOUR: Hip-Hop Nation (1988-1991)

Rap traverses the continent





ALBUM FIVE: Where Hip-Hop Lives (1991-1994)

Rap conquers corporate radio





ALBUM SIX: Cops & Rappers (1991-1995)

Time Warner and corporate America grapple with gangsta rap





ALBUM SEVEN: Keeping It Real (1993–1999)

The branding of hip-hop and the rise of the superempowered artist





ALBUM EIGHT: An American Dream (1999–2007)

Hip-hop cashes out