Black America in the 1970s was filled with drugs and drug epidemics. At that time Black Americans were helpless as the government was cutting down on social service programs that the black, low socioeconomic class depended on. In the 1970s, an underground urban movement known as “hip hop” arose from Bronx, NY. This new form of music consisted of four important elements; DJing, MCing, B-boying, and graffiti. Hip hop music and the culture surrounding it was a way for young people to escape their problems, express their individuality, and be a part of something in their communities. As it grew from street corners of the Bronx to other states and countries, the culture within was able to expand. With outlying factors like the media, political and social problems influenced and challenged hip hop culture; turning hip hop into the world’s biggest musical genre and cultural influence.
Hip hop started in the Cross Bronx Expressway, an expressway that split the Bronx, created gentrification, and made Manhattan for the wealthy. This created displacement in the Bronx, creating a wide gap between the rich and the poor in the city. The minorities were dealing with a lot as the city divided. A Hip hop was used to tell a message from the people of the streets about the struggles they experienced. Hip hop was a way for black minorities in the city to convey their stories in a lyrical fun way. Hip hop became something unique that evolved and transformed as it spread throughout the world. According to Nelson George, “hip hop ‘jews grew’ in the damaged, insecure city of my youth, and neither poverty nor indifference nor racism could stop it. In fact, to some degree, all those things helped it grow.”(George VII). For the most part, all of those barriers George stated did help the hip hop culture grow. Those barriers inspired people to do more with the culture because it was their safe place from the damaged world around them.
Hip hop all started with the “blueprint maker of hip hop”, Dj Kool Herc. He was born and raised in Jamaica. At the age of 12, he and his family emigrated to Bronx, NY. As Herc was making this new transition to NY, he brought something vital with him, the sound system. His sound system was something that created and shaped this new form of music that the Bronx did not see coming. The sound system consisted of big speakers that would allow Herc to change the scene of the Bronx from misfortunes to hope and fun. DJ Kool Herc was very relevant to the early hip hop culture because he was taking over the public parks with his sound system and throwing influential parties that gave growth to this new culture of music. As hip hop was essential to everyone’s life in the ’70s, Herc was essential to these parties because he brought life to these individuals. DJing was the first element of hip hop to exist and with the influence of DJ Kool Herc, other influential DJs followed like Grandmaster Caz, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash, and many more as hip hop grew. With DJing, B-boying, MCing, and graffiti were introduced giving the youth more things to be evolved in.
As hip hop became more recognized, it went from the streets to being televised. The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was the first song to bring recognition to hip hop and bring significant changes to the commercialization of it. This was creating a platform for other MCs to hopefully get recognition to start signing to record labels and their music gaining recognition. When Rapper’s Delight was televised for the first time, there was no youth representation, no sound system, the racial makeup in the video was majority white and no competitive motive. Some thought that Rapper’s Delight was a double-edged sword for Hip Hop because it ultimately enabled the art form’s rise to dominance “while still rooting out and appropriating parts of the music that the more authentic pioneers and fans held dear.” Hip hop’s original MCs and DJs felt like their work was being overlooked as this new group became famous overnight. Rapper’s delight was also significant when the run time of songs was being affected. Before songs were put on the radio, DJs would mix and play songs and MCs would rap to accompany the music and keep club-goers dancing. As the music started playing on the radio, DJs and MCs had to shorten their song that would usually be 15 minutes long to a 7-minute version cut. This practice of quantity over quality was one of the first significant changes in Hip Hop’s transition to commercialization. Moreover, record labels became big at this time, but a problem as well because labels were controlling what the MCs were putting out. Making money was an eyeopener for these talented individuals who came up from impoverished communities. These groups and individuals didn’t care too much to know about how the music industry operated. They only cared about the fame and the money they were receiving. Commercialization corrupted the music industry because it was missing the realism of hip hop. Hip hop was becoming more about being accepting than actually putting out music for the love of the culture.
The premiere of Wild Style was an eye opening introduction for the rest of the world who didn’t know about hip hop culture. It was the first film to capture the rap movement and introduce the four main pillars of hip hop culture This document includes how the earliest pioneers of hip hop turned an everyday activity into a worldwide phenomenon. Wild Style portrayed hip-hop culture through a documentary lens, including real graffiti artists, DJs, and MCs who informed the world about the culture of hip-hop. According to Lee “it became a genius piece because it captured the energy and innocence of all of us”(Frickie, Ahearn 295). After Wild Style, the film industry started coming into the hip-hop scene because they wanted to capture every aspect of it dealing with graffiti, rapping, and breakdancing. After wild styles, Style Wars, and Flashdance which was nationwide and provided more exposure for the artist like the Rock Steady Crew. However, b-boying was changing as hip hop was evolving. As b-boying became a popular dance form, films and other media began to capitalize. With thee commercialization of b-boying, came the spreading of this hip-hop element, and its introduction to a larger audience. In the movie Flashdance, the Rock Steady Crew was a major key component. Film production companies started making money off the simple things of break dancing like the cardboard boxes that the original creators weren’t making money off. The media messed up the uniqueness of b-boying, driving it away from its original roots and foundation.
The rise of gangsta rap was a game-changer for hip hop, which ultimately made the west coast the face of hip hop in this era. It was always tension between the east and the west when it came to rap, but the west coast brought more attention to gangsta rap. According to a Los Angeles Times article, “South Central Los Angeles was an epicenter of a harder, rawer brand of rap and, in turn, established the West Coast as a force in rap. DJ Toddy Tee, Ice-T, Eazy-E, and his N.W.A crew were some of the genre’s forebears.” The West coast was breeding MCs that were competitive in the industry like Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube. These rappers were rapping to express concerns and ideas to a greater audience, in innovative and different voices. Rappers and rap groups like NWA rapped to tell stories about community issues, personal experiences, and movement issues. In Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, Chang shows the uprise from the black community against law enforcement and the government and how this caused rap lyrics to become more political. Los Angeles was surrounded by violence. As the people demanded peace, police brutality increased despite the decrease in violence. These problems sparked west coast rappers like Ice-t and Ice Cube, amongst others to point out serious problems in the criminal justice system, specifically issues around police brutality towards the people of color community in their raps. While black people were fighting for justice and desegregation, I would say this affected the hip hop culture because it also changed. When I say changed, graffiti was found everywhere and not just subway, b-boying disappeared and was replaced by dances called the Cabbage Patch, Whop, Reebok, etc. DJs were replaced with record producers and sampling technology. Last, but not least rap became the new face of hip hop because it was “endlessly novel, reproducible, malleable, perfectible”(Change 228). This new music genre hip hop that started from the Bronx was now transitioning to a new era. Artists were now using their platforms to send political messages through their songs, which storytelling played a huge part in rap.
One assigned rap song that caught my attention was Stray Bullet by Organized Konfusion. In this song, Organized Konfusion demonstrates storytelling of describing the travels of a bullet fired from a gun from the perspective of the bullet. In the lyrics below,
Niggas who knew hit the ground runnin’ and stay downExcept for the kids who play on the playground’Cause for some little girl she’ll never see more than six years of life
Trifling, when she fell from the seesaw
But umm wait, my course isn’t over
Fled out of the other side of her head towards
A red Range Rover, then I ricochet
Fast past a brother’s ass, oh damn, what that nigga say
“Aww fuck it”, next target’s Margaret’s face *bang*
And I struck it, now it’s a flood of blood in circumference to her face
And an abundance of brains all over the street
Pharoahe uses prosopopoeia and a lot of end rhymes to make the lyrics/rap flow. In this couplet, he starts to tell the story from the perspective of the bullet giving this bullet human-like characteristics that are considered personification. Now that bullet has entered the real world, it is looking for its victim. He then goes on describing how the bullet is traveling through a playground, however, the adults get on the floor for safety, while some kids are still playing because they are clueless to what’s going around their surroundings. As a result, an innocent young girl gets hit with this bullet. After hitting the young girl, it finds its next victim, a woman. The woman is hit in the head, leaving her bleeding to death on the street. Pharoahe uses “abundance” to not exaggerate, but to describe the significant amount of blood on the ground because of this stray bullet. He also uses Onomatopoeia to give the sound of a bullet to give the audience a sense of sound to convey his story more. Overall, the unfortunate course of a stray bullet that misses its initial target, which leads to hitting innocents individuals.
By 1979 hip hop music had become a mainstream genre. This helped explain the most influential elements shaping global entertainment and youth self-expression. It spread across the world in the 1990s with controversial “gangsta” rap. This then led to the Golden era of hip hop through 1985-1995. It was more diversity in music sub Genres of rap and aesthetic quality. This was the beginning of innovation and experimentation of rap techniques and beat sampling. Hip hop was maturing as an industry with the rising of record labels, magazines, and TV shows like MTV. This then led to a global media industry like The Source and Vibe Magazine. These magazines created this sense of national identity for the hip hop culture.
Who knew this little thing called hip hop that black people used to express their struggles would have turned into a multi-billion global force? Kids that lived in projects with no money, were the founders of the important elements of hip hop that eventually turned into a notorious industry. Hip hop binds all of these people and nationalities all over the world together helping to create and shape hip hop to what it is now. The changes in hip hop culture have their pros and cons. Commercialization made it more about money and changing the originality of the culture. However, these changes created a well-rounded genre that is still important in today’s world. Hip hop was there for people and it helped change people’s lives. Without commercialization and global recognition , this amazing genre of music would’ve stayed in the small streets of New York.
CHANG, JEFF. CANT STOP WONT STOP: a History of the Hip-Hop Generation. PICADOR, 2020.
Elkouby, Sebastien, et al. “The History of Hip-Hop.” Rap Rehab, 20 Aug. 2015, https://raprehab.com/the-history-of-hip-hop/.
Fricke, Jim, and Charlie Ahearn. Yes Yes Yall The Experience Music Project: Oral History of Hip-Hops First Decade. Da Capo, 2002.
“Hip-Hop’s Game-Changing Moments.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 26 Jan. 2018, https://www.latimes.com/la-et-ms-hip-hop-gamechange-moments-20180125-htmlstory.html.
“Organized Konfusion – Stray Bullet.” Genius, 16 Aug. 1994, https://genius.com/Organized-konfusion-stray-bullet-lyrics.
“Prosopopoeia.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prosopopoeia.
“Rapper’s Delight: Breakdown.” Hip Hop Golden Age, 24 Oct. 2016, https://hiphopgoldenage.com/rappers-delight-breakdown/.