New York City’s Paley Center was packed for the star-studded premiere of the first two parts of a four-part-documentary-series titled The Tanning of America: One Nation Under Hip Hop. The documentary, which is based on a book of the same, was followed by a panel including legendary Queens rapper Nas, O Magazine’s Editor-at-Large Gayle King, Civil Rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, FUBU’s founder Daymond John, director and former Yo! MTV Raps host Fab Five Freddy, and the author and director of The Tanning of America Steve Stoute.
Each panelist brought their own expertise to the panel – Reverend Al Sharpton with politics, Nas with music, Daymond John with fashion, Fab Five Freddy with his knowledge of the music industry, and Stoute on his own creation. Gayle King was the moderator of the panel discussion that focused on how hip hop and black culture moved to bring people together or “tan” America.
Part 1 and Part 2 were titled “Word Is Bond” and “Fight The Power,” respectively. Each part follows about a decade of the history of popular culture and how it led to and intersected with hip-hop culture. The crowd included comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld and his wife Jessica as well as Harlem fashion designing legend Dapper Dan; and Stoute mused that “only hip-hop could do.” The documentary features never-before-seen interviews with black icons like Dr. Dre, P. Diddy, Mariah Carey, Naomi Campbell, and the aforementioned Nas.
There were some startling quotes from young white children, including a young girl who said, “I want to be brown like Beyoncé.” The documentary also draws a parallel between Fonzie from Happy Days and JJ Walker from Good Times, something King said she hadn’t realized. Fonzie had the catchphrase “Aaay,” JJ was famous for “Dy-no-mite!” and both shows aired on the same night. It also highlighted the career of Norman Lear, producer of Good Times, Sanford & Son, All In The Family, and The Jeffersons.
However, the documentary lacks a strong voice for women in hip hop such as MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, or JJ Fadd. Although in the panel, Stoute said he “hopes this is only the beginning of the conversation,” he believes “the value of women – white, black, latino—in driving the tanning philosophy forward” is important and he wished he could have interviewed more people.
The documentary will air each night in parts starting on Monday, February 24 at 11pm on VH1.