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As an art form, hip-hop is a very young phenomenon. Originating in the South Bronx in the late 70 s/early 80 s, hip-hop itself is only ca. 20 years old. However, despite it s recent founding, it has become a tremendous influence on American culture and global culture as well. It has been a creative output for many people and gone down in history as one of the most important art forms to emerge in the last few decades.
Hip-hop has borrowed from many earlier art forms, whether they be rock and roll, r&b, beat poetry, or even disco. However, what many people don t realize is that it has strong roots derived from past traditions such as slave music or even from the church. Slaves were for the most part unable to get ahold of instruments, thus using whatever they had in their hands to create a beat. Hip-hop is just the same, in that it is merely someone rhyming over a beat. In fact, during hip-hop s earlier years, many people used their mouths to create a beat for someone else to rap over. This was dubbed the beatbox. Slave music is also reflected in rap s subject matter. Many people who rhyme with their friends on streetcorners simply talk about whatever is on their mind through their music, whether it be a girl, their job or any other simple day to day thought. Slaves would do the same, singing about their thoughts, mostly though about going home and freedom. The idea of community, heavily evident in slave songs is also represented in hip-hop. During many songs sung by slaves, during work for example, one person would begin and then another take over or someone else adding in their point of view. Many rappers do the same, beginning a rhyme in a circle of friends and then letting somebody else take over and finish it. Church music can be detected in hip-hop as well. A preacher, often times in a black church (which is generally more lively), would use call and response to involve the people in the sermon. He might call out for and amen or hallelujah and then receive it from the entire congregation. Often times a DJ or rapper does the same. In order to liven up a party or involve an audience, they might call out someone s name or yell out something.
Many people consider DJ Kool Herc to be the father of hip-hop. Kool Herc immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica to the South Bronx, NY in the 70 s. He brought with him a vast knowledge of the Jamaican DJ style as well as Jamaican sound systems. He applied this knowledge when Djing block plarties. His system had to be the biggest and loudest. Thus bringing him fame as one of the premier DJs in the South Bronx. Kool Herc is widely known as the creator of hip-hop for several reasons. With his revolutionary technique of the breakbeat, he layed down the foundation of an entirely new musical style. At block parties, he would play instrumental versions of many funk songs (more often than not James Brown). Since these instrumentals were much shorter than the original songs, Kool Herc used a device known as a mixer to lengthen the songs by repeating the climactic part many times. This became known as the breakbeat, due to the fact that many dancers would simply freak out and dance wildly during these parts. They were dubbed breakdancers, a now famous dance style. Thus, Kool Herc can even be credited with inventing this style even though he didn t dance.
Another Jamaican technique Herc importe with him is the idea of toasting. This meant he would call out people s names during parties in order to get crowd involvement and liven up parties. When he began to perfect his Djing craft, he had no time to continue doing this due to the need of more concentration, therefore he passed the microphone to his friends and let them do it. This eventually evolved into the form of rap or Mcing.
The poplarity of hip-hop is due to numerous factors. One would be the fact that the hip-hop is not only an art form, but an entire culture. One can be apart of this culture without having any connection to music. Many people feel there are 4 elements to hip-hop: Djing, mcing, grafitti and breakdancing. Another reason for its popularity, is that hip-hop is an outlet for many urban youths (often times poor and under-educated) to express themselves creatively. There are absolutely no rules in hip-hop, thus allowing one to be entirely original. Many times when on tour, famous hip-hop artists modify their pre-written songs on-stage in order to possibly reflect a current event or how they feel on a certain issue. One major reason for hip-hop s initial sudden popularity was that it was an escape from drugs and violence. During the late 70 s and early 80 s, gangs where a heavy influence for urban youths, especially in New York.
Afrika Bambaataa, many of whom consider the godfather of hip-hop, played a major role in the formentioned escape of youths from violence to hip-hop. He used to be the leader of one of New York s largest gangs The Black Spades. He grew tired of the constant violence and found an outlet through music. He feels that hip-hop is a tremendous thing as when you have aspirations of making it in music, you have absolutely no time for gangs. His personal motto was to have a war with creativity, not weapons; to have a battle of different styles in order to turn sensless violence into productive energy. He was also on one of the first international hip-hop tours, helping to bring this new musical form to the global level.
To give an entire detailed history of hip-hop would be an almost endless endeavor, so the next few paragraphs will simply note some of the most important events to occur. In around 1979/80, Sugarhill Records was founded by Sylvia Robinson. It was one of the first large and successful hip-hop labels. It is also credited with bringing this new musical style to the masses with the song Rapper s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang. It became an enormous success in sales, something completely unheard of at the time for a rap single. Some people question the merit of the single and argue that the Sugarhill Gang had no real talent and was only in it for the money. However, their single still remains a prominent bookmark in the history of rap.
About a year later, a group of MCs (or rappers) called The Furious Five recorded a single called The Message. It s lyrics were full of protest against politics in the US at the time (such as Reaganomics) and the maddenning frustration of living within a ghetto and having absolutely no way out. For example:
The bill collectors, they ring my phone and scare my wife when I m not home. Got a bum education, double-digit inflation, can t take the train to my job, there s a strike at the station.
A child is born with no state of mind, blind to the ways of mankind.
You say I m cool, I m no fool, then you wind up dropping out of high school. Now you re unemployed, all non-void, walking round like you re Pretty Boy Floyd. Turned stick-up kid, look what you done did, got sent upstate for an eight-year bid.
And perhaps the strongest line is the chorus:
Don t push me, cuz I m close to the edge. I m trying not to lose my head. It s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.
The first superstar rap group came with three men (two MCs and and one DJ) calling themselves Run D-M-C. They brought the name of hip-hop to a new level. In 1983, MTV played a video of theirs. It seems like a small honor, but at that time MTV played only rock and roll videos. Thus, a rap video on this mainstream station was a major victory for hip-hop. A few years later they remixed a song called Walk This Way by the rock group Aerosmith. This single was huge, popular among rap and rock fans, thus bringing the two genres together, strengthening hip-hop s following and forcing MTV to create an all rap music show due to extreme demand.
In around 1986, a group called Public Enemy formed. Their lyrics were extremely political. These hard and harsh verses explained to their audience the corruptness and faults of America and its society at the time. For example:
Don t Believe the Hype
Caught you lookin for the same thing
It s a new thing check out this I bring
Uh Oh the roll below the level
Cause I m livin low next to the bass. C mon
Turn up the Radio
They claim that I m a criminal
By now I wonder how
Some people never know
The enemy could be their friend, guardian
I m not a hooligan
I rock the party and
Clear all the madness, I m not a racist
Preach to teach to all
Cause some they never had this
Number one, not born to run
About the gun
I wasn t licensed to have one
The minute they see me, fear me
I m the epitome of Public Enemy
Used, abused without clues
I refused to blow a fuse
They even had it on the news
Was the start of my last jam
So here it is again, another def jam
But since I gave you all a little something
That we knew you lacked
They still consider me a new jack
All the critics you can hang em
I ll hold the rope
But they hope to the pope
And pray it ain t dope
The follower of Farrakhan
Don t tell me you understand
Until you hear the man
The book of the new school rap game
Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane
Yes to them, but to me I m a different kind
We re brothers of the same mind, unblind
Caught me in the middle and
I don t rhyme for the sake of riddlin
Some claim that I m a smuggler
Some say I never heard of ya
A rap burglar, false media
We don t need it do we?
It s fake that s what it be to ya, dig me?
Don t believe the hype.
Don t believe the hype it s a sequel
As an equal can I get this through to you?
My 98 s boomin with a trunk of funk
All the jealous punks can t stop the dunk
Comin from the school of hard knocks
Some perpetrate, they drink Clorox
Attack the Black, cause I know they lack exact
The cold facts, and still they try to xerox
Leader of the new school, uncool
Never played the fool, just made the rules
Remembe there s a need to get alarmed
Again I said I was a timebomb
In the daytime the radio s scared of me
Cause I m mad, plus I m the enemy
They can t c mon and play me in primetime
Cause I know the time, plus I m getting mine
I get on the mix late at night
They know I m livin right, so here go the mic, sike
Before I let it go, don t rush my show
You try to reach and grab and get elbowed
Word to Herb, yo if you can t swing this
Learn the words you might sing this
Just a little bit of the taste of the bass for you
As you get up an dance at the LQ
When some deny it, defy it I wing bolos
Then they clear the lane I go solo
The meaning of all of that
Some media is the whack
You believe it s true, it blows me through the roof
Suckers, liears get me a shovel
Some writers I know are damn devils
For them I say don t believe the hype
Yo Chuck, they must be on the pipe, right?
Their pens and pads I ll scratch
Cause I ve had it
I m not an addict fiendin for static
I ll see their tape recorder and grab it
No, you can t have it back silly rabbit
I m goin to my media assassin
Harry Allen, I gotta aske him
Yo Harry, you re a writer, are we that type?
Don t believe the hype
I got Flavor and all those things you know
Yeah boy, part two bum rush the show
Yo Griff, get the green black red and
Gold down countdown to Armageddon
88 you wait th Sis will
Rock te hard jams treat it like a seminar
Teach the bourgeoise, and rock the boulevard
Some say I m negative
But they re not positive
But what I got to give
The media says this
In 1989, another major group emerged in the world of hip-hop, also bringing a new genre of hip-hop to the masses. N.W.A., which stands for Niggas With an Attitude, popularized gangsta rap, a style normally laced heavily with obscenities, durogatory referencs to women and a general lack of respect for everything (especially police) except for violence. This style mainly represented the gang filled atmosphere of the western coast US. N.W.A. didn t pioneer this music, but became the first group to top the billboard charts with it, and even more impressively doing so without any airplay whatsoever. No radio station dared play their music due to the content. Further popularity was granted to the group after the F.B.I. banned a song of theirs entitled Fu$% the Police, which referred to policeman in a disrespectful manner. The group was even arrested for performing this song on tour, which also elevated their popularity and image.
Today, hip-hop is the most dominant musical form in the charts. This is quite an amazing feat when one considers its humble beginnings. This street culture is now its own enterprise, spawning even its own fashion industry. Many popular artists today have their own clothing lines which have even been internationally modelled. One can go outside and in a matter of seconds find someone wearing a hip-hop brand (Fubu, Ecko, etc ). This musical style is a global phenomenon effecting not only just American culture, but the entire world.
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