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A Brief History of Rap & Hip-Hop Culture In The UK:Matthew Sweeney.28/05/00

Rap emerged as a style of music in the mid to late 1970s, although precedents of the form can be heard being used over the beats of blues tracks as far back as the early 1960s. To determine the exact birth of rap would, as Dyson (1993) suggests be a tricky process that depends on when one acknowledges a particular cultural expression or product as rap . (p.3) However, the release of the song by the Sugarhill Gang Rapper s Delight in 1979 is most likely to be the track hailed as the roots of the rap song as we recognise it today. As rap began to be accepted by the black youths of America, initially in its city of origin New York, the art form began to evolve and artists started to use the performance of rap songs to speak out. Rappers and the rap songs they produced began to describe the social, economic and political factors that gave birth to this musical style and continued to contribute to the development of this new found form of expression. These factors included poverty, drug abuse, violent past-times, police brutality and generally living on the wrong side of the law.

As interest in rap began to expand and grow it was also giving rise to the birth of a new culture, an identity to be associated with the music; this became known as the Hip-Hop culture. Hip-Hop culture included more than just listening to rap music, it involved other new art forms such as break-dancing and graffiti art. All of this in combination with the unique style of clothing worn was the embodiment of Hip-Hop culture. By the early 1980s young black Americans in inner city areas could be seen break-dancing to the beats and scratches of rap music on street corners that were littered with the bright colours of graffiti. The British experience of rap music more than likely began with the Run D.M.C. and Aerosmith song Walk this Way , which enjoyed chart success in both Britain and America. his song was a mixture of rapping lyrics, scratching turn-tables, bass break beats and screaching rock vocals accompanied by electric guitar riffs and acoustic drums. It was a major breakthrough for rap music as it was the first time the style of music in its true form was recognised with chart success. It is considered that the rap group Run D.M.C. moved rap into a different sphere of artistic expression Run D.M.C. is widely recognised as the progenitor of modern rap s creative integration of social commentary, diverse musical elements, and uncompromising cultural identification an integration that pushed the music into the mainstream and secured its future as (an American) musical genre with an identifiable tradition. Run D.M.C. s stunning commercial and critical success almost single handedly landed rap in the homes of many black and nonblack youths across America. (Dyson 1993, p5) The success of rap, and the Hip-Hop culture which was so well associated with it, amongst the black youth culture in the UK meant that soon Britain was producing its own rappers and Hip-Hop bands. Rap music was seen as representing all the factors the white man feared about black youth culture ; crime (especially what was now being termed street-crime), use and abuse of drugs (especially cannabis) and what was seen as their failure to mix with true British society. Rap music was therefore seen by the majority of white parents and authority figures in the country as being destructive and promoting illicit morals. . This was however being contended by other more commercially successful and less offensive rappers and rap bands such as De La Soul and Soul II Soul, led by front man Jazzy B who was contributing his Funky Dred style of British rap promoting self-help and harmonious living. Rap is now an accepted form of musical interpretation by most ethnic groups within Britain whether they be Asian, Black or White. As rap and its associated forms worked their way into the popular music marketplace in Britain, the demand from the non-black consumer increased at a staggering rate. Some of the most successful selling artists in the national music charts today are rap artists, such as; Puff Daddy, 2Pac, KRS-1, Eminem and many more. It is also worth noting that the majority of rap artists enjoying success since the mid-late 1990s are performing a hard-core or gangsta form of the music style. For most of its time in existence the world of rap has been dominated by black artists, with unsuccessful attempts by white rappers in particular to enter the arena. Artists such as Informer and Vanilla Ice have had high ranking hits in the music charts, only to never be heard of again except to be ridiculed to embarassing levels by their peers and fellow artists . It seems that now the market is no longer limited to black rap artists though. In 1998 Eminem emerged, the first white rapper to be signed by a black controlled record label (Dr.Dre s Chronic label) who is now enjoying immense commercial success in both Britain and America and not only is he accepted by other black rappers but is highly praised and respected by many of them. Barriers have been broken down between ethnic groups in Britain, not completely but to a stage where forms of music, dress sense, styles of speech and social attitudes have all reached a transracial level. At the 1997 Music Of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards Jamaroqoui a predominantly white jazz-funk band with a white lead vocalist were presented an award for their musical achievements. An acknowledgement by the black community that the music that has its foundations in their culture can be performed and appreciated by a multicultural audience.

There will always be a certain amount of fear, suspicion and ignorance regarding what is thought of by the people who hold these views as the realms of the unknown. Progression has been made in the efforts of the majority to recognise, understand and even embrace the difference between cultures of varied ethnicities without excluding them from the British culture . Popular music over the past decade and particularly in the last few years of the 1990s has made a valuable contribution to this. Music is a media which everybody understands and enjoys, but it is also a useful tool that can and is being used to educate the masses about the difference and similarities which exist between all people. Modern day popular music may therefore be seen as performing a task that the rap artist KRS-1 calls edutainment .

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