Hip Hop Legends
Origins of a New Music: (Hip Hop) A Generation Defines Itself Tags: origins music hip hop word life production new quality entertainment featured blog

The rap musical style arose in 1973 in New York City’s South Bronx.  Its original purpose was to promote musical and dance competitions among the areas inner city youths who had few outlets for their creative energies.  Rap pioneer Kool Herc (aka Clive Campbell) began using simple raps to cover a mix of beats played from two turntables.  At the same time, Afrika Bambaataa developed a political version of rap by merging the ideology of the Nation of Islam with the Black Panthers’ culture nationalism.  Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation promoted competitions in break dancing, rapping, and graffiti art and helped spread rap among poor black and Latino neighborhoods. The first commercial rap hit, “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang, came out in 1979 and popularized the term hip-hop.  This was followed by the rise to stardom of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, which grew out of 1970s funk but added rap vocals and the technique of scratching-moving back and forth under a needle to produce a rhythmic, jarring sound, and manipulating turntable speeds.  Much of this music was made for entertainment in the club scene, but some rappers, following the early lead of the spoken-word artists and poets, Amiri Baraka, Gil Scott-Heron, and The Last Poets, offered a political critique of American society wrapped in taunting humor. For African American youths, who the world had seemingly left behind and ignored, hip hop became the most important cultural event of their lives.  It was a creative medium in which a disposed generation could discuss the things that mattered most to them, especially their lives in cities burdened by racial poverty and all which that entailed.


In the Reagan years (1981-1989), a few middle class Americans cared to acknowledge the millions left behind in urban decay.  Conditions in the inner cities worsened during this period, when crack flooded neighborhoods and gang warfare erupted over drug turfs.  The “Keeping it Real” lyrics of Hip Hop artists helped forge a sense of community and common destiny among members of a trapped generation.  As James McBride wrote in 2007 in National Geographic, hip-hop “is a music dipped in the boiling cauldron of race and class. Rap Music goes Mainstream Ironically, white indifference allowed the first hip-hop entrepreneurs to take control of the production, dissemination, and profits connected with this musical genre.  Russell Simmons saw the potential of rap street music in the mid-70s and recognized that the mainstream entertainment was not aware of it.  He became a concert promoter, encouraging earlier rap groups to stay close to the dress styles and language of the inner city African American community.  In 1984 he and Rick Rubin formed Def Jam Records. Their bands, such as Run DMC and Public Enemy, became enormously popular, and many of their albums sold millions of copies. Simmons expanded his business to include marketing hip-hop clothing under the label Phat Pharm and promoting poetry and comedy acts.


In 2000, he sold his share of Def Jam for over a $100 Million.  Like Simmons, P. Diddy (aka Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs) found success by working in the mainstream industry.  Raised in a suburban neighborhood, P. Diddy dropped out of Howard University in 1990 to work for Uptown Records, where his knowledge of the rap scene and instinct for hits fueled a rapid rise to vice president.  In 1993 he formed his own company, Bad Boy Records, which was an immediate success. Commercial success brought new groups to the fore, and the genre changed and grew tremendously during the 1980s and 1990s.  Rap bands such as Run DMC, which dominated the charts in the Mid-1980s, brought the sound to MTV and to a larger public, which soon came to include white suburban teens.  Hip-hop culture quickly spread beyond New York to other African American urban centers, and each developed a distinctive, and often more graphic variant of the original.  With the music came changes in clothing style, such as baggy, loose fitting jeans, that trend hungry fashion designers quickly adopted. White suburban youths had always been the wealthiest consumers of Hip Hop and its cultural artifacts.


By 2000, hip-hop had become a global cultural force and the source of astonishing profit for men such as Russell Simmons and Sean P. Diddy Combs-and for white-owned business and music companies.  Not surprisingly, the recurrence of the age old tension between black creativity and white profits fueled new debate.  As cultural studies analyst Gregg Tate put it, “Our music, our fashion, our hairstyles, our dances, our anatomical traits, our bodies, our souls continue to be considered ever ripe for the picking and the biting by the same crafty devils the African slave trade and the Middle Passage. Gangster Rap The Southern California group NWA (Niggas with Attitude) was one of the most successful of the new rap bands coming out in the late 1980s.  Their 1988 release of the album “Straight out of Compton” heralded the rise of gangster rap.  Its song “Gangsta, Gangsta” shocked many observers with its sexist and violent lyrics.  Particularly troubling, however is the persistent objectification of women in hard core rap music and related films.  The widespread use of the term @!$%#es and ho’s by rappers to describe black women reflects broader gender divisions within the black community.  Indeed, rap’s betrayal of black women as objects   and commodities to be used by men-as something less than human-bears an all too close resemblance to racist characterizations of black women from the era of slavery.


The emerging voluminous scholarship of hip hop black studies demonstrates a wiliness to tackle the hard questions about gender relations.  Many works explore the relationship between Hip Hop and commercial rap music, suggesting that commercial rap is to hip-hop what orange drink is to orange juice-a watered down imitation of the real thing.  Of particular interest to hip-hop scholars such as T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting and Mark Anthony Neal is the depiction in hip-hop lyrics of black women and the relationship between men and women and gays and lesbians within the larger society and especially in the hip-hop nation.  Sharpley-Whitley asked pointedly, “How have hip-hop’s lyrics and visual rifts on the acrimonious and sexually charged nature of male-female relationships encouraged the sexual abuse of young black women?”  This issue gained national attention in 2007 when white radio talk show host Don Imus referred to the black players on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy-head hos.”  His comments inflamed the black community and led Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton to mobilize a protest that resulted in Imus being fired.  Some of his defendants argued that he merely repeated often heard refrains in rap music.  Others insisted that both his derogatory comments and the use of the same words in rap lyrics arose from negative images of black women that were deeply rooted in American culture and needed to be condemned whenever they were used. It is important to underscore the fact that the rap genres include many bands that explicitly reject hardcore obscenity and violence.  Artist like Queen Latifah, for example, avoid denigrating other African Americans even as they put forward a message of empowerment for black women and men.  Other black female hip hop artists were also in the game.  Many, such as Lil’ Kim, made sexuality their signature in many ways that left little to the imagination. Even more noteworthy is the extent to which hip hop has migrated beyond the United States and is now such a global culture that commentators talk about a “Hip-Hop Planet.”  It has influenced music worldwide, particularly across the African Diaspora.  France, for example, has a thriving rap music scene.  Most of his artist is Arab, African, or Spanish descent whose music focuses on ethnic and racial discrimination and social criticism.  Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America have also developed rap that builds on indigenous African music.  The ability of rap to combine with other musical forms to create compelling hybrids and the global penetration of American popular culture ensures that hip-hop will continue to thrive and evolve.  In the words of National Geographic’s James McBride, “Hip-hop remains….a cry of ‘I am’ from the youth of the world.”


This article was taken from Tidewater Community College/The African-American Odyssey combined volume-fourth Edition pg. 677-680/Darlene Clark Hine/William C. Hine/Stanley Harrold







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