Ask any teen or twenty-something today about hip hop and they will probably talk about rap music. Hip hop however is a much wider movement than just rap music. In this article, we will be discussing the origins of hip hop and its growth and development through the 1980s and 1990s and up to the present day.
Hip hop is an artistic and cultural movement that grew among African Americans, Caribbean Americans, and Latino Americans in the Bronx in New York City. It grew up mostly during the 1970s, but its roots and inspiration were already established by that time.
Who invented hip hop?
No one person was responsible for inventing hip hop. It was very much a movement that arose within the communities in the Bronx. In a sense, everyone there at the time invented hip hop.
Three men, however, are almost universally credited with launching hip hop as a distinct cultural movement. First among these was Clive Campbell newly arrived from Jamaica. Using the name DJ Kool Herc he introduced the enormous sound systems he knew from Jamaica into the parties held in the Bronx.
The definitive date that most commentators use to mark the beginning of hip hop is August 11th, 1973. On that night Kool Herc started to mix albums across two turntables and introduced what was to become the breakbeat. He was followed by two other pioneers – Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Others soon followed and hip hop was born.
The 1950s and 1960s were times of great change in the larger cities of the US. Middle-class, mostly white, people were moving out of the inner city areas to live in the suburbs. The neighborhoods they abandoned were populated by people of African American and Latino American descent. They found that there were few opportunities in these areas, as the money and resources had moved away with those who headed for the suburbs.
The deprivation that followed this exodus out of the inner cities meant that those left behind had to manage with the few resources that were left to them. Out of this arose a philosophy of self-reliance that found new channels of expression. Hip hop offered just the vehicle young underprivileged people needed.
Rated topic: What MTV was like in the 80s
What are the 5 elements of hip hop?
Those commentators who have written about hip hop generally agree on 4 elements of hip hop. As a cultural movement, hip hop will inevitably inspire not just musicians but artists and dancers too.
The 4 elements that everyone seems to agree on are:
For many people, a DJ is just the guy or girl who plays records. In hip hop, the deejays use their skills to make music too. By using turntables, mixers and the records themselves hip hop DJs can create completely new music. Scratching and needle-dropping are just two of the skills they use.
Rapping is using spoken words to create music. Rappers use a rhythmic style of talking to complement the music backing them. The words usually rhyme and are spoken with a determination and forcefulness that connects the rapper with the words so that he or she becomes more than just a performer. Rapping also is called emceeing or MCing.
Graffiti art is a form of self-expression using spray paint in cans. Graffiti can be painted onto almost any blank surface – walls, pillars, and bridges are popular places especially near stations and railway lines. Even trains are subject to graffiti. The aim is to make the artist’s work unmissable. Passengers on trains can see the art as they pass through while the trains bring the art to those who stand and watch.
4. Break dancing
Break dancing is a distinctive style of dancing that had its inspiration way back in 1925 when a dancer called Earl Tucker aka Snake Hips’, began including slides and floats in his fluid and imaginative dancing. Breakdancers later took breakbeats as influential in their dance moves. Breakbeats were first used by Clayton Fillyau – who was the drummer for James Brown – in 1962.
The fifth element in hip hop is a more controversial choice and has been the subject of debate for over 4 decades.
The three elements that are contenders for the title:
⇒ Hip hop fashion
⇒ Street knowledge
Hip hop fashion in the early days centered on high-value brand names like Lois Vuitton, sneakers by Puma and Converse, and lots of gold jewelry. The use of gold jewelry was linked with the African ancestry of many hip-hop artists. In African history, gold was a sign of wealth and power. Gold was conspicuously worn by both men and women, and this practice transferred easily to the hip hop personalities of the 1970s and 1980s. Even today? bling’ is a big part of hip-hop culture.
Beatboxing is the ability to use one’s voice, lips, tongue, and mouth to create sounds that mimic those of drum machines. Mouth music of this kind is not an invention of the hip hop movement but has a long history. It was adopted by hip hop as a convenient way of creating sounds when there were no instruments available. It developed in hip hop from the early 1980s onwards. It has now become an integral part of hip-hop music.
Hip hop knowledge is an accumulation and amalgamation of wisdom, information, an attitude to life, and an awareness of the world. Brought together street knowledge is a way of viewing the world and its problems. It is the glue that holds all the elements of hip hop together and is the philosophy that grounds hip hop in the world community.
Individuals in the hip-hop community need this knowledge to create art or music or dance that is truly hip hop. Hip hop has evolved as the knowledge has deepened and become increasingly relevant. It is from the knowledge that members of the hip-hop community learn how to express themselves.
What is hip hop culture?
There are so many influences responsible for the development of hip hop that it is difficult to give a simple cultural overview. All those elements that have already been discussed contribute to the distinct culture that is hip hop. Some of those elements are not exclusive to hip hop and often have long histories. Graffiti, for example, was known in Ancient Egypt!
Hip hop has, however, taken all these elements and produced a single, if rather complex, culture. That culture is based on individual awareness and community responsibility. It encourages individuals to express themselves within the accepted norms of hip hop.
Race, it has to be admitted, is a factor in the story of hip hop. The beginnings in the Bronx were due to a wide variety of contributions from people of all races. There were Caribbean Americans – Kool Herc was from Jamaica – as well as African Americans and Latino Americans. There were poor white people involved too, but such was the dominance of non-white people that the later emergence of white hip hop performers led to accusations of cultural appropriation.
What does hip hop symbolize?
Hip hop is a cultural movement with a strong philosophical base that includes a number of doctrines.
These doctrines are:
Hip hop is all about the individual and their desire to find a true inner voice. Individuals are urged to know themselves and to find original ways of expressing their views and beliefs. Hip hop says to be yourself.
Hip hop demands that every element always tells the truth. That truth involves songs that reflect inner-city life, drug addiction, violence, police brutality, and the effect that decisions made by those in power have on the poor and under-represented.
Hip hop is by its nature rebellious and forever seeking change. It is to some extent anarchic as it changes and challenges constantly. It is a vibrant, ever-moving, ever-changing culture that responds directly to new circumstances.
Hip hop venerates the hood’ and demands that performers express their loyalty to their own. Successful performers are expected to share their good fortune with their families and their hood’.
This is the doctrine that encourages performers of all kinds to make music, art, and dance. Today hip hop has broken out of those areas and now has a political voice, an intellectual base, and an economic role. Hip hop encourages entrepreneurism and political campaigning.
The Evolution of Hip Hop
We have already seen how the increasing urban deprivation in the Bronx during the 1950s and 1960s created a situation in the 1970s where the area offered few opportunities for the poor folk left behind. With shops and businesses closing in the face of rising crime and falling trade, job opportunities vanished.
Young people were forced to look to themselves to provide entertainment. The result was the growth of block parties in the empty buildings. At last, those despairing young kids had something to believe in. The anger and pent-up frustrations had an outlet in the music, art, and dance that became hip hop.
From the 1973 party where DJ Kool Herc first mixed albums on two decks hip hop has grown into a worldwide phenomenon. The entire music industry has built up devoted to hip hop, with an accompanying cultural movement with its own philosophy and history.
Those early days are known as Old School’s hip hop. These were the exciting days when DJs and dancers were pushing boundaries to create the distinctive sounds and dance moves of hip hop. One of the earliest figures in the development of hip hop as a movement was Afrika Bambaataa. He had a vision that led to the creation of the Zulu Nation. This organization did much work to turn the youth of the Bronx away from drugs, violence, and the gangs that were a feature of everyday life.
It was Afrika Bambaataa who coined the phrase four elements’ to include art, dance, rapping, and DJing. The Zulu Nation continues to be an influential part of hip-hop culture. Probably the most innovative early DJ was Grandmaster Flash who introduced most of the techniques still used by hip hop DJs. He also caused rap music to develop further from its early roots. Kool Herc’s friend Coke La Rock has been credited with performing the first rap lyrics at one of the block parties. He improvised a verse that has since been recognized as unique at the time.
By the early 1980s, music technology was developing rapidly. New sampling technology appeared along with synthesizers, drum machines, and much better mixers and turntables. Hip hop DJs embraced this new technology and the sound they produced with enthusiasm. With this new armory, hip hop was ready to step into its Golden Age. Hip hop became a mainstream force from the mid-1980s onwards and entered its Golden Age. With an improved sound possible because of the new technology and lyrics becoming more relevant and wide-ranging hip hop was winning converts all over the US and worldwide. Local variants of the hip hop style developed in cities across the country and new performers emerged to take their place in the limelight.
Early hip hop had depended heavily on the weak copyright laws to sample music with no real risk of the original owners taking any action. As hip hop developed and became better-known copyright became an issue. New copyright laws made it much harder and more expensive to use sampled music. Rappers were forced to create more original music and consequently the influence of soul and jazz largely disappeared.
From the latter years of the 1990s on regional variations of hip hop began to emerge and distinct genres developed. Southern rap, West Coast rap, rap-rock, and gangsta rap all took their place with the hip-hop community. New artists rose to prominence, including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Jay-Z, and Nas. Hip hop also began to influence other mainstream styles of music.
Hip hop also ceased to the reserve of black guys. Young white men found the culture irresistible and white rappers like Eminem rose to prominence. Women, both black and white, challenged the male domination of hip hop with performers like Queen Latifah coming to the fore.
How does hip hop affect society?
There are two schools of thought as to whether hip hop has a negative or a positive effect on society. Those commentators who feel hip hop is a negative influence cite the explicit lyrics in rap songs, the violence that has occurred in the past, and the attitudes to women and sex that are expressed by singers and performers.
There has indeed been violence in the hip-hop community in the past. Often this has arisen because of rivalry and jealousy among performers. Detractors will reference the unexplained deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur as evidence of extreme violence in hip hop.
Detractors also accuse hip-hop of being homophobic and transphobic. There is plenty of evidence to support these attitudes in the lyrics of a large number of rap songs. LGBT performers have found it difficult to be successful in the hip hop community, although gradually attitudes are changing. The gay rapper Kevin Abstract, the pansexual Angel Haze, and the bisexual Azealia Banks are all achieving success within hip hop.
Attitudes to women have also changed. With female hip hop performers such as Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Missy Elliott pioneering an empowering image, black women now have a much higher profile in hip hop. It cannot be denied, however, that hip hop is dominated by male performers and that the genre continues to struggle to lose its reputation as objectifying women.
Now, though, I will turn to the positive benefits that commentators have identified as flowing from hip hop. There is some anger among supporters of hip hop that its negative aspects get all the publicity. They suggest that there are five positive aspects to hip hop.
Firstly hip hop gives a voice to a large section of society that feels underrepresented. By making political and social commentary in their lyrics, rappers can draw attention to inequalities and discrimination. Graffiti artists can also use their medium to highlight issues that otherwise would not be brought to widespread attention.
For educators, hip hop provides a means of interesting students in poetry. Rap lyrics are now recognized as a form of poetry and also as proof that words do have power. Creative writing can be inspired by hip-hop lyrics and the statements made by artists and performers working in the genre.
Hip hop has a unifying effect as it brings together communities across the world that suffer from similar problems.
Hip hop also empowers these communities and the individuals who live in them. There are identifiable benefits to mental health and personal development. I can give a positive example of the effect of hip hop from personal experience. A young friend of my family had developed addictive habits as a teen, using drugs and alcohol to help him cope. His love of rap music, however, has proved salvation. He began performing rap of his own, recording and releasing albums and mixtapes. Influenced by hip hop he began to take responsibility for his life, gave up both drugs and alcohol, and has been clean now for over a year.
Hip hop helps those in need of therapy because there are triggers for discussion and debate contained within rap lyrics. Hearing their problems in songs gives patients the confidence to talk about them.
What instruments are used in hip hop?
As we have already seen, the beat lies at the very heart of hip-hop music. Drum machines create that beat and the favorite has always been the:
from E-MU. Today computer programs can be used to create the same effect.
Popular ones include:
and BFD from Xpansion. Sampling is another core feature of hip-hop music. While in the early day’s samples had to be recorded either from a record or live performance. Now CDs can be obtained each with a selection of samples. A favorite sampler is the
Hip hop also uses synthesizers to create additional sounds and there are many models on the market that will do the job just fine.
Newer models include the
Most hip-hop musicians and rappers like to have a selection of different microphones as each will offer different nuances. The Neumann U87 is an expensive microphone but is an excellent choice. Other favorites include the
Any hip-hop musician will need a computer and there are very many available and some appropriate software. DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is an essential bit of software.
Ten of the top early hip hop artists and their songs
Publishing this list that claims to be the top artists and I know there will be controversy. I do not intend to rate these hip-hop stars. They are all pioneers in the development of hip hop. This list is just a summary of some of the articles that were more in the spotlight.
1. GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE
Best song: The Message ( released 1982)
One of the most influential songs in hip hop was the first to make comments about social issues.
2. PUBLIC ENEMY
Best song: Rebel Without A Pause ( released 1987)
This was the first song written for Public Enemy’s first album, and it is still considered a classic hip hop release.
3. RUN DMC
Best song: Sucker MCs (released 1983)
This single showed how hip hop was developing from its Old School roots as it entered its Golden Age.
4. BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS
Best song: My Philosophy (released 1988)
Considered by many to be one of the biggest songs in hip hop. This song looks ahead to the future while also commenting on commercialization.
5. BIG DADDY KANE
Best song: Set It Off (released 1988)
Considered by many to be the purest hip hop song with brilliant rapping and lyrics.
6. LL COOL J
Best song: Rock The Bells (1985)
One of LL Cool J’s signature songs and an important stage in the development of hip hop.
7. DOUG E FRESH & THE GET FRESH CREW – THE SHOW
Best songs: La Di Da Di (released 1985)
With Slick Rick featuring, this double? This release is considered a classic set of hip-hop songs.
8. ERIC B & RAKIM
Best song: Microphone Fiend (released 1988)
Hailed as having a perfect beat and perfect lyrics, Microphone Fiend rates as one of the greatest hip hop songs. It wasn’t successful when originally released, but has since become a classic.
Best album (all the songs!): Straight Outta Compton (released 1988)
This album has the distinction of being at the forefront of Gansta Rap. Its release led to a change of direction for hip hop and was to be an influence for years afterward. A classic album.
10. KURTIS BLOW
Best song: The Breaks (released 1980)
This single was the first hip-hop song to achieve gold-level sales. Kurtis Blow became the first rap star to sign up with a top record label. Another important step in the history of hip hop.
Hip hop is full of larger-than-life characters, fascinating stories, controversy, and tragedy. Hopefully, you enjoyed my overview of the whole culture and now appreciate its importance in the music industry and society as a whole.