FYSM: Introduction to Hip-Hop
15 December 2019
Is It a Wrap for Rap?
The idea of hip-hop is characterized by four explicit elements, all of which represent the different aspects of the culture: Rapping, DJing, Breakdancing, and Graffiti art. It began its climb to modern Americana as a sub-culture among the urban community of Southern-Bronx in the mid 70 ‘s. It eventually broke out of the African-American and Puerto Rican community somewhere between the late-80 ‘s to early-90 ‘s and started to spread its influence around the globe from that point on. Today, it has grown to become the most listened-to genre in all of modern music and no longer belongs to one or two specific groups of people. Today, hip-hop can be heard in any country and in any language from around the globe and has turned into a worldwide phenomenon that has taken the music industry by storm. The phrase “hip-hop” was originally was meant as a sign of disrespect but eventually became the name of the sub-culture. Of all the aspects of hip-hop, rap is the most renowned and accepted today. Hip-hop has changed tremendously over time, adjusting to the sign of the times, but it might have taken a turn down the wrong alley.
Today’s recorded origins of hip-hop stem from block parties thrown by the infamous gang/music group, the Ghetto Brothers. More notably, however, DJ Kool Herc brought his sound to America from Jamaica. In Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, DJ Kool Herc remembers fiddling with his father’s sound system behind his back in Jamaica, “What I did was I took the speaker wire, put a jack into it and jacked it into one of the channels, and I had extra power and reserve power” (Chang 69). Herc figured out how to enlarge the volume of the speaker in order to make the music have the house thumping. He moved to the Bronx and would forever change the game. On a hot summer night in 1973, DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy put on a back-to-school party in the recreation room of their apartment block. Word spread fast about the event, and before they knew it, they were doing house and basement parties almost every month. Cindy said, “At the house parties, after a while, the parents would come in, flick on the lights and tell youth ‘You kids got to get out’ or ‘Too many people in here’” (Chang 78). He had a following. At first, he would play dancehall music that was traditional in his culture, but people didn’t really enjoy it. So, he learned how to use records that people loved and scratched them, sped them up, and adjusted them however he wanted to. A protégé of DJ Kool Herc, DJ Afrika Bambaataa said that he owes the furtherance of Hip-hop to Herc. He coined the name because of how Herc made people feel: “This is hip and when you feel that music you gotta hop to it, so that’s when we called it ‘hip-hop.’”(Chang, “How Hip-Hop Got Its Name”).
In 1979, The Sugar Hill Gang had released “Rapper’s Delight.” The song is very simple and basic. The rappers, Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank, were just singing and dancing. They were talking about themselves, their names, and what they like to do. They were having fun while other performers were suffering on the streets of the Bronx. In Yes Yes Y’all, a singer of the 70s reflected on the impact of the release of the hit. Kid Creole reminisces, “When Sugar Hill gang came out with ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ every jerk with a producer or promoter was trying to get a record out” (Fricke 201). Hip-hop had taken a turn from performance and competition to entertainment and money-making ideas. The DJ had really taken a step back, but they originally were the heart and foundation of the culture. Sound systems were gone. MCs and bands were the main focus now. They would perform at nightclubs instead of parks and public spaces. Their music was now being sold directly into people’s homes, and it has a very sedated sound. In the video of them performing, they look like they’re a part of a disco group. They were stealing people’s rhymes “In the days before “Rapper’s Delight,” the primary job of an MC was to keep the crowd engaged, whether through his call-and-response chants or unique rhymes by which they might remember him” (Chang, “How Hip-Hop Got Its Name”). The rappers had become the stars of the show.
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 teamed up to be a dominant force in selling records. They had signed to ENJOY records, but they did not feel like they were being paid fair for the success of their songs, especially “Superrappin'” where they were only paid $1,200 apiece. Evidently, they signed to Sugarhill Records with Sylvia Robinson. They were initially afraid of the song “The Message” because it was a different tempo and style than they were used to and what was selling. It’s lyrics directly combatted “Rapper’s Delight.” However, Mrs. Robinson thought it fit them perfectly, and it turned out to be the greatest hit they ever had. The song starts with Duke Bootee repeating “It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from going under.” New York is known as the concrete jungle. So, he is pondering on how he’s making it through the hardships of living in a crazy city stricken with poverty and gang violence. They are actually talking about the struggle some life they lived through their lyrics. The video that matched the song was filled with images of the Bronx, especially when it was a run-down community. There were many camera flashes of young men walking down the street listening to music on a big boom box. Music was the only way out of violence and financial limitations.
N.W.A (Niggas With Attitude), a group of Compton, California, originally consisted of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. They were a team that emerged in the mid-80s. They are famous for a song called, “Fuck Tha Police,” which came out in 1988. In this tune, the rappers talk about their first-hand accounts of police brutality. From the beginning, the rappers place the listeners into a courtroom setting, where they are verbally fighting with a police officer and a judge. Ice Cube says, “A young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown and not the other color, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority.” Being a Black person means that authoritative figures receive your presence as a threat. Police officers are known to take advantage of citizens because of their power, especially people of color. MC Ren utilizes violence to express his anger from the mistreatment. He says, “I’m a sniper with a hell of a scope. Taking out a cop or two, they can’t cope with me.” The rhyme scheme of his bars is really interesting. He does not necessarily have a direct rhyme at the end of every line, but it works well with the message he is getting across. He is not afraid to shoot an officer or more. He’s been through enough experiences with the police, so he’s tired of the way they make him feel. He has all the right to react the way he wants, but he will have to pay the consequences as well. The song is about an issue that is still relevant and related to the Black community. It is a daily struggle.
Lil Pump arrived on the rap scene with the hit song “Gucci Gang” in 2017. The song is irritably repetitive. Throughout the whole song, Lil Pump can be heard saying “gucci gang” over and over again. “Gucci Gang” is a duo made of Lil Pump and SmokePurpp, another rapper with a similar style. Gucci is also an expensive brand that rappers are obsessed with, including Pump. With lines like, “My bitch love do cocaine,” which isn’t grammatically correct, and “My lean cost more than your rent, Lil Pump is encouraging and promoting the use of prescription drugs. The youth need people to look up to who will actually motivate them to do the right thing. The song only has one verse, but the catchy chorus is what hooks people to it. There is no real message behind the song, and it isn’t really saying anything at all. It is commercializing and idolizing materialization, drugs, misogyny, and infidelity. Unlike the songs of the Golden Era, there were no real empowering motives or drive for this one.
Throughout the past years, hip-hop and rap artists use their music to express their views, opinions, and how they are feeling in their songs. From the artists’ lyrics, someone will have an understanding of what the artist is talking about because either they have done the same things or are having the same problem. The first amendment of the constitution is freedom of speech, and that’s what rap artists are doing. One of the most significant positive influences of hip hop music is that an entire segment of the population developed a way to relate their experience artistically to the world. Much of the style and the language used was determined by the lives and cultures of the artists. Since most hip hop artists were of Black, much of established white America saw music as a threat. They heard the explicit lyrics and the violence that some of the music talked about. This gives people a voice of expression. When inner conflicts are expressed to others, often times that expression allows others to relate. Even though the lyrics are violent, they may actually give an outlet. Today, however, there seems to be a lack of meaning and passion in hip-hop and rap. Many artists produce the same sound and same style of music. Lyricism is not tested at all; a hit is based on how catchy a song is. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Rap seems to have taken a dark twist, where the origins of hip-hop don’t matter anymore.
Bradley, Adam. Book of Rhymes: the Poetics of Hip Hop. Basic Civitas, 2017.
Chang, Jeff. Cant Stop Wont Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Picador, 2005.
Chang, Jeff. “How Hip-Hop Got Its Name.” Medium, Cuepoint, 10 Apr. 2016,
Fricke, Jim, and Charlie Ahearn. Yes Yes Yall The Experience Music Project: Oral History of
Hip-Hops First Decade. Da Capo, 2002.
“Lil Pump – Gucci Gang.” Genius, 23 Oct. 2017, https://genius.com/Lil-pump-gucci-gang-lyrics
“N.W.A – Fuck Tha Police.” Genius, 9 Aug. 1988, https://genius.com/Nwa-fuck-tha-
“Rapper’s Delight.” YouTube, 1979 YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=
“The Message.” YouTube, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PobrSpMwKk4.