First off, quite simply, this is a great book. It’s easily among one of the best-written books on Hip Hop I’ve read, although quite often it steps outside and beyond the realm of Hip Hop.
Truth be told, I’m not a fan of most Hip Hop journalists and/or writers. They generally have, at least, one of three flaws: 1) They are so immersed in their writing style or themselves that the subject they are writing becomes merely an after-thought, 2) They are so concerned with the details that the writing is uninteresting, and 3) They seem to lack any real care for the subject and/or they are lost on the idea being objective. Dave Tompkins has mastered a style that transcends all those issues; his writing is unique, witty and abstract, yet still directly informative on the chosen subject. Plus his attention to detail is as astounding as it is overwhelming.
As for the book itself, the full title and range of information within is guaranteed to confuse the average quirky book-store worker: How To Wreck A Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II To Hip-Hop-The Machine Speaks. Inside he outlines the interesting, bizarre, and virtually unknown history of one of the most fascinating instruments of Funk, Hip Hop and Electronic music—the Vocoder.
He conducts interviews with the Vocoder’s creators and pioneers. There are government documents and photos detailing the evolution of the Vocoder and it’s cousins and counter-parts. As for the Hip Hop peoples, there are discussions with The Jonzun Crew, members of Zapp, Bambaataa, Grandmixer DXT, Egyptian Lover, DJ Disk, Whodini, Furious Five, Tito of Fearless Four, one of the final interviews with legend Rammellzee, and more.
Honestly, I feel I can’t get any more detailed without issuing spoiler alerts. I can reveal that you will learn more about the Vocoder than you ever imagined or needed to, but will be completely entertained and surprised along the way. Plus the explanation behind the books strange title remains one of the greatest discovery moments in my book reading history.
In short, if you love Hip Hop or The Vocoder or War History or just great writing then get this book! When Dave Tompkins first told me he was writing a book*, I was completely intrigued and knew the potential for it to be great was very likely, but I had no idea of the task he was undertaking. I wait impatiently for his next mission to be accomplished.
*In a random call placed to me while he was searching for some music; MC Player, MF Boyz, Iceman Ja, and His Majesti. I don’t remember what year this was but I recall mailing it to him on tape so it was probably a while ago… ☺
Fearless 4 "F-4000"
Whodini "We Are Whodini"
Project Future "Ray-Gun-Nomics"
Written By Kevin Beacham