If you have ever thought that the term “Hip Hop” when describing music has become a more broad, encompassing term for what we listen to today, you’re absolutely right. Hip hop’s meager beginnings in the South Bronx have evolved much over the years.
One part of hip-hop that hasn’t changed still deals with extremes, which gives reason for it to radiate among the vast array of human emotions. In exploring the rise of hip hop and how it has changed, starting from a street corner to sold-out concerts, you can understand how it branched out to become one of the most popular and dominant genres worldwide.
The Birth of Hip Hop
Hip hop started as way more than just music – the movement known as hip hop had rootings in cultural backgrounds and was rooted in specific elements that characterize it. Rapping, turntables, MCs, breakdancing, and graffiti art were foundational expressions and forms that developed hip hop into a revolution.
South Brox community leader Afrika Bambaataa was the first recorded to be a founder of the genre known as hip-hop. He’s been recognized as the godfather of hip hop and used his influences to overturn the gang he was a part of known as the Black Spades into a peaceful organization called Zulu Nation. He used those elements of DJing and rapping, preaching knowledge at block parties until people really started listening.
New York City during this time was experiencing an economic blunder due to minor construction and manufacturing. As a result, middle-class folk moved to the suburbs and created more segregation within the communities, making for worse conditions in those already disparaging ones. The block parties erupted, and thus the birth of hip hop came to be, thanks to not only Bambaataa but Dj Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, known as the “Holy Trinity” of hip hop.
While Bambaataa may have created the beginnings of hip hop, Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins is credited with coining the term “hip-hop” in 1978. He apparently used the word to mock a friend named Kokomo in the US Army chanting, “Hip-hop-hip-hop-hip-hop.”
DJ KOOL HERC
DJ Kool Herc was the organizer of dance parties where breakdancing, known as “b-boying,” grew popular. People used to breakdance to not fight with one another, so the act was a way to lessen violence in poor neighborhoods. You can see breakdancing represented in many early films of the 1980s, including in the hit movie Flashdance, which helped to bring the street style out in the open.
Grandmaster Flash was an intelligent and innovative DJ who figured out how to manipulate records backward and forwards, thus developing the style known as “turntabling.” In addition, he created the DJ techniques known as backspin, cutting, punch phrasing, and scratching.
His group known as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became widely known as one of the most influential hip hop acts, having developed a unique style where four rappers blend with DJ skills. Flash even made acrobat moves during performances as well. He would move the vinyl using his elbows, toes, and other objects. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five eventually were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 for making their mark in hip hop history.
The Hip Hop Revolution
Along with DJ Kool Her, Coke La Rock became the first rapper ever, with the complex art of speaking on beats gaining popularity among African American teens. The breakthrough came with Sugarhill Gang’s hit “Rappers’ Delight” in 1979 when the hip hop revolution went mainstream.
Rapping is a solid form of expression with roots in political empowerment. This revolutionary music form of speaking with rhyming to a beat is primarily considered a sophisticated style of poetry. Subgenres and deviations rooted in hip hop started to be adopted by multiple musicians, creating a new wave within society and culture.
The Golden Age of Hip Hop
By the 1990s, rap had matured to louder sounds and more complex lyrics, earning such subgenre music style names like “rapmetal” and “rapcore.” However, the most exciting aspect of the rap style is that it could be incorporated across any genre you could think of – disco, jazz, pop – and became a staple joining instruments and poetry.
Record labels and music producers recognized hip hop as an emerging trend of the hip hop genre and fought to keep up with the demand. New generations of producers now utilize more technological advances such as drum machines and samplers, which have taken hip hop to yet another level in music history.
During those times, there were no copyright laws protecting music samples, so hip hop used samples within music frequently. Samples weren’t even limited to music since the popular hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan sampled their clips from 1970s Kung Fu movies. Later in the 90s, copyright owners started to demand compensation for the use of their samples, and the government passed enforcement laws, which then provided hip hop to take yet another direction since samples were dying out due to cost.
Lyrics also changed during this decade, from the chants in the 1970s to the more metaphorical lyrics of the 90s and 2000s. The lyrics covered various subjects and were performed over many instruments, such as horns in jazz music or the violin. Run DMC combined their rap with hard rock instrumentals and took rap to another level with the hit “Walk This Way” in collaboration with Aerosmith, earning top ten status.
Hip Hop Today
Hip hop ended up being a top-selling genre in the late 90s and earned more mainstream success, making it a very prevalent genre across the world today. Hip-hop now sees emerging artists working with digital streaming websites and submitting to music production studios with original tracks, showcasing multiple genres, including gangster rap, west coast hip hop, and alternative rap.
Those who love the 80s and 90s style rap are considered “old school” since rap and hip hop of today is very different. Hip hop songs today typically are centered around sex, money, and drugs. While those subjects were covered in previous rap music, the emotions surrounding poverty and uplifting stories have fallen by the wayside.
Rap artists of today are known as “Turn Up” rappers without storytelling. Their lyrics are mainly repetitive and catchy, much more like pop music, and are focused more on entertainment and less lyricism.
Although rap and hip hop as a culture and music genre has changed much over the years, many featured artists and rappers still inspire the masses. The history of rap demonstrates that the foundation of underground art stemmed from uplifting stories of poverty, loss, and life on the streets.