The History Behind Hip Hop

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Updated: Apr 19, 2021
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The History Behind Hip Hop essay

Introduction to Hip Hop

As the legendary Notorious B.I.G. said, “I’m making music for the people. If y’all love the music, y’all gonna buy the music.”1 In this sense, music unifies experiences and through these experiences, communities are unified and sometimes, divided. Music serves many purposes in life, whether it is to celebrate or grieve. For instance, music of one culture unites them but divides them from another culture. It is interesting that music is, at its root, combining different sounds and rhythms to make meaning. However, different cultures all over the world have such different combinations which constitutes an integral part of their identity.

Hip hop is a movement that started in the late 1970s that is usually identified by the uniqueness of rapping.2 Hip hop first became popular in New York City when block parties gained their popularity.2 Furthermore, the creation of hip hop is credited to the African American, Latin American, and Caribbean youth living in the Bronx area of New York City.2 This movement has spread through the world and is still a popular genre of the music. However, with its popularity also comes controversy.

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Background Information About Hip Hop

While hip hop was created around the late 1970s, it was not played on the radio until 1979.2 This delay in the time of hip hop’s creation and its radioplay is attributed to the widespread poverty seen and the also, the rejection of hip hop outside of the impoverished neighborhood of Bronx.3

Many believe that hip hop has roots within the jazz and blues genre that were popularized earlier near the 1950s.4 A like some other genres, hip hop was created by the fusion of other cultures.4 It is believed that during block parties, DJs had a more receptive audience when they played genres such as funk and soul and they took it a step further and amplified the percussions used in a song which later became known as the Jamaican dubstep.4 The popularity of this technique lent a unique problem of songs not having long percussive phrases.5 To overcome this problem, musicians employed turntables to extend the percussions of a song and this became a founding pillar for the hip hop genre.6 The rise of hip hop can be attributed to the increased ubiquity of the technology used to make music. For instance, drum-machines became more affordable so the general population had access to it.7 Drum machines became instrumental in hip hop with its unique techniques of having long percussive breaks in the music.7

As the hip hop culture developed, it was influenced by the disco genre. Disco had an essential role for the DJ in its music since the DJ made tracks that the listeners could dance to.8 However, the hip hop music is thought to be created as a backlash against disco subgenres. Disco has a similar background to hip hop because disco was founded through African-American and Italian-American roots for the purpose of underground dance clubs.8 As disco music became popularized, the music industry made disco more mainstream and several believed that the quality of disco music was corroded and this paved the way for hip hop. In fact, Kurtis Blow, an American rapper, stated that hip hop was made in response to the weakened mainstream disco music.9 However, the elements of disco in early hip hop remained prominent. In the beginning of the 1970s, hip hop employed disco tracks to create beats in a subgenre called disco rap.9 For example, “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang was the first rap song to be popularized in the United States and it was built on the foundation of another song called “Good Times” by Chic, a disco song.10 Eventually, as hip hop moved away from disco and increased in popularity, the disco genre became more unpopular.9

The second pillar of hip hop is known as “emceeing” or more commonly called rapping.11 Emceeing is identified through its distinctive rhythms and word play that was originally done without a background rhythm but was modified in recent years to include it.11 This second pillar has origins within the African American style music through a technique called capping where musicians try to outperform each other through their language, in several different areas such as politics and boasting over their skills, in order to win over the audience.11 Therefore, the rivalry and rap battles commonly seen within the hip hop culture is largely rooted in the African American music.11 The role of rapping has slowly evolved within the hip hop culture. First, a Master of Ceremonies (MC) would come out on the stage to introduce the DJ and make the crowd receptive to the DJ.11 As time progressed, the MC’s role also included telling joke and having witty banter with the audience.11 Gradually, the MC’s position developed into including rhythmic wordplay into what’s known today as rapping. Rapping almost always has a 4/4 time signature.11

After hip hop’s first radioplay in 1979, it became the mainstream music of United States and later spread throughout the world in the 1990s.12 Hip hip was especially favored within the long night of dance parties and hip hop expanded to include more rhythms that people could dance to.13 Hip hop music allowed the youth to handle the difficulties that they faced, especially among the minority youth of United States. Some of the difficulties included the rise of violence and the increase in gang-life. Furthermore, artists such as the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five spoke about the issues in their lives such as the their lives in their housing projects.14 Moreover, hip hop allowed the disenfranchised youth to monetize on their struggles through their music and the consumers of the hip hop music became aware of these economic, social, and political problems through the music.14

1980’s Hip Hop

As New York city was where hip hop was founded, New York became the hub for the development of the hip hop culture.15 In 1982, “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa combined elements of hip hop and the electro genre.15 In the middle of the 1980s, hip hop included some rock music which was a great shift in the hip hop genre whereas the earlier influences of disco, jazz, and blues was classified as “old-school” hip hop. Roland TR-808 drum machine was a game changer for the hip hop genre because of how affordable it was, its analog, and various sounds such as the drum sound.16 This allowed hip hop artists to incorporate more electro sounds.16 All these elements paved the way for “new school” hip hop. Hip hop became more geared towards commentary on socio-political issues as well as bragging and taunting about their rapping.16 Additionally, the music was delivered is an aggressive manner that was also self-assured.16 Also, the songs created during the new school hip hop era were shorter.16

Also, during the 1980s, the hip hop genre spread to several other countries. Most notably, Greg Wilson was one of the first DJs to initiate the United Kingdom audiences. Hiroshi Fujiwara similarly spread hip hop to Japan by taking hip hop records to Japan.17

People Important to the Development of the Hip Hop Culture

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is an essential figure in the hip hop culture. Many might recall his famous saying:

“Float like a butterfly

Sting like a bee

The hands can’t hit

What the eyes can’t see”

– Muhammad Ali 18

With these iconic words, Muhammad Ali became the first hip hop poet of his time.18 As seen in African American music, Mr. Ali would trash talk his opponents by using rhymes, usually couplets, along the same lines as a battle rappers, like capping.18

Through his inspirational life, he was not only a world-famous boxer but he also changed the cultural landscape of the music through his achievements.18 Hip hop was created during a difficult time for African Americans and Muhammad Ali served as a role model for success for many African American youths.18 Cassius Clay, a.k.a. Muhammad Ali became a symbol of hope and strength for the African American youth and gave courage to them to break out of their oppression and sing about it to become a voice of hope like Mr. Ali.18

Furthermore, Ali also recorded an album called “I am the Greatest!” which the Rolling Stone believe to be a political move for change because of how rhetorical and comedic his songs were.19 By inciting laughter from his diverse audience, Mr. Ali emphasized his normality.19 In fact, the Rolling Stones credit Mr. Ali for making his audience see African Americans in a different light.19 Since Muhammad Ali was big public figure throughout the world, his words and actions still impact society today.19

DJ Kool Herc

DJ Kool Herc is known as the father of hip hop music.20 It began when his sister Cindy Campbell wanted to purchase back-to-school items and she wanted her brother to play from music from their apartment room.20 His main contribution to hip hop was to create breaks that emphasized the drums in the music by using a turntable, which became the third pillar of hip hop.20 Later on, he had dancers help him to continue the rhythms with speech which paved the way for rapping.20 These dancers were dubbed “break-girls” and “break-boys”.20 He quickly rose to fame and became a town hero in the Bronx area of New York city.20

Hip Hop In Recording

In the early hip hop days, the music was performed in live venues such as regular parties and block parties.21 Also, in the early days, hip hop recording consisted mainly of mixtapes and PA system soundboards brought to the live parties.22 In the 1980s, the main elements in hip hop were established and one of the most notable songs to encompass these elements were “Nunk” by Wrap 9 in New York city’s WKTU radio station.23 Hip hop, while mainstream in New York, was not very mainstream outside of New York but still present in prominent cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and more.23

1990’s Hip Hop

Hip hop began to diversify especially in the 1990s. For instance, southern rap became more known.24 Also, many genres were invented with the popularization of hip hop. A genre called Neo soul was created by combining hip hop and soul music.25 Rap metal which was invented by combining hip hop and rock music.26

Conclusion – Hip Hop Today

The hip hop genre has spread throughout the world and has grown so popular that each country has its own modified version of hip hop. One of the most notable subgenres of hip hop is called Trap music.27 Trap music can have elements of two or three-time divided hi-hats, a heavy bass drum, and overall ominous environment within the music.28 However, there is controversy surrounding Trap music because the music is very auto-tuned and can still be difficult to understand.29

Additionally, platforms like Spotify, Pandora, and SoundCloud have had a great impact on the music industry because it is easier to access music and be exposed to a different variety of music.30

Overall, hip hop is more of a social movement for minority youths to express problems within their worlds and has changed the course of music history.


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