Black America in the 80’s, was filled with the crack epidemic and poverty. Black Americans were helpless with the Reagan administration cutting down on social services that benefited people in low socioeconomic classes, primarily black Americans. But then they found a voice and that voice was hip hop. And this so called hip hop became one of the biggest cultural phenomenon’s the world has seen. From the street corner to the world stage, hip hop has grown immensely into being the world’s biggest musical genre and cultural influence. Yet to my fellow peers, little is known about its cultural roots and history. In this research paper, I will discuss hip hop’s rise from the inner city to a global force and more importantly, I will examine how it can become a dominant musical and cultural force.
Hip hop is one of the biggest genre in the world, yet it is only about thirty years old, and it is still going strong. How does a tiny American subculture go from the street corner to almost every corner in the world? Before I can answer this question, it is important to discuss what hip hop is and how it originated.
a. Four Elements of Hip Hop
Some people think hip hop is just music when really it’s actually a culture. In fact, there are four key elements in hip hop, which are: DJing, MCing, B-Boying, and Graffiti. Most people imagine rappers when they are asked about hip hop, but what they may not realize is that MCing is the first major characteristics of hip hop.
DJing is the art of playing a record on turntables. The people who do this are called deejay. It consists of turntables, an audio mixer, and original recordings. Then the DJ performs techniques such as mixing, scratching, cutting, and sampling to make a whole new piece of music from other people original recordings. The first DJ to show his skills was DJ Kool Herc and was the first one to make the breakbeat. The breakbeat was when he put two copies of the same record on the turntables and use an audio mixer to switch between them which made them loop. Thus the breakbeat was born and so was DJing (“The Four Elements of Hip Hop”).
MCing is the spoken word rhyming over a beat. Also known as ‘mic-controllers’, MC’s rapped over the music spun by DJ’s, like Pete “DJ” Jones and Hollywood and Eddie Cheeba who created music by mixing old and new records that included funk, like James Brown. Earlier MC’s were Coke La Rock, Luvbug Starski, and Busy Bee. Initially they helped incite the crowds to have a good time and they are considered the original B-Boys (Nelson, 14-15). Soon MC’s became the main attraction and today, the MC is the face of hip hop.
The dance associated with hip hop is B-Boying, one of the four major elements of hip hop. B-Boying was given birth by DJing, and the people are called B-Boys and B-Girls who dance during the DJ is spinning his records. The B-Boys include high-energy combination of complex footwork, spins, kicks and ‘freezes’ – when the B-Boy or B-Girl is balanced on hands, head or shoulders. During the early days of hip hop culture, B-Boy and/or B-Girl battles were common. People would make crews and face other crews for bragging rights and dance supremacy (“The Four Elements of Hip Hop”).
Graffiti is one of the most overlooked elements in hip hop is artistic visual side of the genre. But people don’t call it graffing but tagging is one of the types of graffiti which is to write one’s signature. There are three types of graffiti: with tag being the first one, then ‘throw up’, and then a piece. Throw up is an evolved tag perhaps more of an outline, two colors and so on. After you are done with the throw up you can move to a piece, a full-on masterpiece of graffiti. To be a called a piece you must have at least three different colors. Even though graffiti is overlooked in hip hop it has accomplished several accolades. Such as graffiti artists like Keith Haring or Lee Quinones, whose art has graduated to art galleries (“The Four Elements of Hip Hop”).
These four elements are what makes hip hop so great and unique. Hip hop started out as the voice of Black America in the 80’s, which was filled with the widespread use of crack cocaine, poverty, and racism (which is still very alive today). Over time, this become a national and even global phenomenon.
b. History of Hip Hop
When I around ten years old, I was first introduced to this music and culture. The first full album I bought (which was rare) was Jay Z’s The Blueprint. After listening to that album, I quickly found out more about this music and culture. I fell in love with the hip hop world and I became a part of its culture. Since The Blueprint, I have experienced hip hop culture in my daily life, yet I was not fully familiar with the story of hip hop. As a true fan of hip hop, I needed to go deeper and come to understand the history of hip hop.
On August 11, 1973 a new, unique, and controversial genre of music was born. DJ Kool Herc is what people say the blueprint maker of hip hop. He was born in Kingston, Jamaica the same place where Bob Marley came from. He was born Clive Campbell and later moved to Bronx, New York. When he moved to Bronx he brought with him his knowledge of a mobile sound system. He would repeat the breaks in parts of songs that are most danceable to. His catalog consisted mostly of funk records which is why many early hip hop songs had funk samples. Hip hop grew out of notable funk artists like James Brown, Mandrill, and the Jimmy Castor Bunch (Nelson 16-17).
Then on August 11, 1973 DJ Kool Herc threw a party on 1520 Sedgewick which became the birthplace of hip hop and a historical landmark. The party became the foundation for hip hop where he showed his talents to the Bronx community. Unfortunately DJ Kool Herc later faded away in the limelight when hip hop became more mainstream. Hip hop was still not international – or even national, but that took a turn later in the 80’s when more acts and groups became emerging from the underground (Nelson 16-17).
Of course DJ Kool Herc was not the only pioneer of hip hop. Rappers, too, played a major role. The first hip hop hit was Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight.” The song reached in the Billboard Top 40. This new style of music was initially loved by the world. When The Sugar Hill Gang rapped on TV, a whole new genre has been made. The song was of the three members (Wonder Mike, Master Gee, Big Bank Hank) rapping over a funky beat. This was history in the making for Black people and America (Steven, “DJ Kool Herc”).
Hip hop initially had its start on the street corners of New York City, but then hip hop saw bigger acts coming up in the 80’s which brought the street acts to the national stage. Run D.M.C. was considered a pioneered hip hop group. They rapped over Jam Master Jay’s hard rock samples. A lot of their samples were rock sampled but when they collaborated with Aerosmith that’s when America saw what hip hop was. Hip hop was used by African Americans for many things. Some used it to brag about materialistic things. Some used it about the struggle they came from and others used it to talk about the political disadvantages black Americans were facing.
Eventually hip hop made its way to the big screen with lesser known films Breakin (1984) and Breakin 2 Electric Boogaloo (1984), but it was not until Public Enemy’s 1989 “Fight The Power” used in Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing (1989) that hip hop crossed into mainstream society. Not only was rap a focal point in the film, but the hip hop culture was focus on as well. This song single most handedly revolutionized hip hop and the first major politically rap song which showcased their pro Black beliefs and even dissed iconic figures Elvis and John Wayne.
Hip hop at the time was just in the East Coast but when it started spreading, it grew like wildfire and exploded in the West Coast. Soon fans were introduced to rap artists like Too Short and MC Hammer, and eventually fans were introduced to Gangsta Rap. But Gangsta Rap is nothing if you do not mention N.W.A. (i.e. Niggaz Wit Attitudes) is what they called themselves. The members, some of having a famous solo career, being Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and of course their manager and part-time rapper Eazy-E. This group was so gritty, controversial, and violent that the FBI put them on their list. The lyrics of N.W.A were talking about fuck the police, hardships in South Central L.A., gun violence (Coker 251-263).
Hip hop not only spread to the west coast but to other regions of the nation, like the South. Southern rap is a style of hip hop that originated from southern places like Houston, Atlanta, and New Orleans. The Dirty South is what people would call it and it was much different from the west and coast. Notable hip hop artists Lil Wayne, T.I. Ludacris, Scarface, and Outkast helped bring southern hip hop to mainstream. The south captures the money and “bling-bling” culture of hip hop. Most southern artists incorporate the car-culture, fashion, trends, jewelry slang into their music. The hip hop community is somewhat polarized when it comes to southern rap with some saying that it holds no meaning in their music and portrays African Americans in bad manner to America. On whatever side you are on, you know that the dirty South changed the tide in hip hop history and helped bring the genre more mainstream than it was. But the pioneers who put the south on the map were The Geto Boys debut album Grip It! On That Other Level (Adaso, “Southern Rap”).
The genre had spread through much of the national in the 2000’s. But hip hop is not only in the United States but it has gone to reach many regions like South Korea, Europe, and even South America. This genre was once an all-black culture and it has now been practiced by Asians, Europeans, and Mexicans.
III. Hip Hop Today
Hip hop stars have taken over much of the mainstream scene with their promotion on many products. 50 cent, P.Diddy, Jay-Z and Kanye West have endorsement deals with major soda companies, bottle water companies, etc. Many top rap artists are more than rappers; in fact, many have their own clothing lines. Kanye West has Donda, Jay Z has Rocawear. P. Diddy (i.e. Sean Combs) has Sean Jeans. In addition, 50 Cent has his own vitamin water line.
Although hip hop has taken over popular music and it has become an integral part of American culture, it still stirs up controversy in many parts of the United States. Many in America continue to think of hip hop negatively. Nas, the platinum selling American rapper from New York, released his ninth album Untitled in 2008. But the original title was Nigger which sparked massive outrage from both Black and White Americans. It did get support from artists but much hate towards the original name. Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil-rights activist, condemned the album’s name, by stating, “Again, I’m opposed to anybody using the term. And also, I think we need artists to lift us up, not lock us down.” But artists like Akon and Method Man supported Nas’ choice saying it will put less “sting” to the word (Reid, “LA Reid…”).
Hip hop has changed dramatically over the decades. Rap lyrics at first was about political and social issues, but to many critics today, it has changed into a corporate money making business with no message or deep meaning. It seems that many labels tell their artists what to wear and what to rap about in order to sell more albums. Many follow the labels formula which does not make the rapper grow in artistry (“Hip-Hop Is the Most Important Youth Culture on the Planet”).
A new and young rapper, Soulja Boy, had an argument with legendary rapper Ice-T because to Ice-T, Soulja killed hip hop with his 2007 hit Crank That. But in Soulja Boy’s defense he said that hip hop has evolved and will keep evolving. To many other people, rap has evolved due to many factors. Such as legal rights, technology, and lyricism. Due to song protection laws, sampling is too expensive for producers in this day in age. And the availability of synthesizers and electronic techniques. With that, the sound of hip hop had been changed (C., Justin. “How Has Rap Music Evolved?”).
IV. How Hip Hop is Now a Dominant Cultural Force
Before hip hop, America had rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and even disco before it died. But when hip hop was introduced in the 1980’s rock ‘n’ roll was the trend for mainstream American kids and music loving adults. When hip hop emerged from the streets to the mainstream limelight, it was due to a collaboration between Aerosmith and Run D.M.C who remade Aerosmith’s Walk This Way. It showed White rock stars with Black rap artists singing and rapping. This broke the underground barrier hip hop once was.
Hip hop went further and even started to expand commercially by selling hats, clothing, shoes and other apparel. Many rap artists nowadays sell merchandise and clothing apparel as part-time jobs. Such artists and groups like Run-D.M.C, P. Diddy, 50 Cent, Wu-Tang, Odd Future, and Young Money have clothing labels which generate millions of dollars for their labels.
Hip hop was made and used by Africans Americans to talk about the hardships in life but when White people saw the beauty of the genre it became a big hit for Whites in the 2000’s. When Eminem dropped his debut major album, The Slim Shady LP in 1999, this opened the door for White Americans, especially teens and kids, to come in to Hip Hop culture. Eminem is an American rapper who grew up in Detroit having incredible lyricism. As a White rapper, Eminem faced obstacles in a Black dominated city. But he did not care and helped make hip hop into the mainstream genre it is. Eminem influenced White demographics to listen to rap music and which in turn may had more people discover more about hip hop.
The above is important to note because Eminem helped make hip hop an integral part of mainstream American and even world culture. His career influenced the whole “White boy trying to be Black” trend. In the 80’s, not many White people were assimilating to the hip hop culture. Then the 2000’s rolled in and White kids started to sag their pants, wear do-rags, use hip hop slang, and even claim that they were from the streets or the hood.
Hip hop now has become a global phenomenon. It went from being a street corner routine for most kids in New York to an international wide craze that has lasted for many years. In the earlier days of hip hop, rappers’ lyrics focused on daily struggles in the poverty-stricken streets. This message has crossed not only racial lines, but political lines as well.
Hip hop as a voice of revolution in the Middle East. Artists in the region used hip hop as a way to bring change to their countries. Hip hop artists in the Middle East use it to build a future for their countries, and in addition, they use rap to get through the struggles they face. The past sixty years in Egypt has been a rough time for the people there, but hip hop has actually been helping redefine their identity while they are trying to create a democracy after the end of a dictatorship (“Hip-Hop Revolutionaries In North Africa…”).
V. Significance of Issue
Even though the genre is only about thirty years but it has influenced the world greatly. So greatly that later in time it should be taught in music classes and maybe even yet college courses. The reason being that is part of American culture and history during the late 1900’s and twenty-first century. But the genre is a dominant force in mainstream and corporate America that has been discussed endlessly and that it should be taught to students later in the future. Later in the future because hip hop is compared to other genre’s and in general is still young. The genre only has about two eras being “old” and “new” school. Hip hop should be taught sometime in the next ten years.
Although there are has been university courses offered on hip hop legend Tupac Shakur, who was multi-platinum, award winning American rapper who has influenced many people in and out of the hip hop community. In my opinion, this is great for hip hop, being that it breaks another barrier for the genre with a university course being offered for hip hop. Tupac Shakur was an inspiration to many and was and is an icon in American history. The course will be a great start for people who are novice to hip hop.
Hip hop’s rise from the inner city to a global force and more importantly, it can become a dominant musical and cultural force. Hip hop was born by DJ Kool Herc who invented the breakbeat. Then people started to rap along these beats and those rapper became the main focus in hip hop and they are the ‘face’ of hip hop today. Who knew this little thing called hip hop that Blacks used to express their struggles and would have turned into a multi-billion global force? I did.