44 years ago today, the party that started a music revolution was thrown, and the world was forever changed.
Nobody could have predicted that a party in The Bronx would end up changing the world. But, that’s exactly what happened 44 years ago today when Kool Herc threw a back to school jam where instead of just playing a record or songs, he used two turntables to isolate the breaks of a song and play only the breaks.
This is, pretty much, the mutually agreed upon genesis of hip hop music. Kool Herc’s parties became legendary and eventually an entire genre of music was born from the concept started by Kool Herc. It didn’t take long for hip hop groups to start forming, playing parties and taking their new sound with them as they pursued larger and larger audiences. Groups like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, which featured a young Dr. Dre, and Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation drove the early portion of hip hop history. Eventually, hip hop started to replace disco as the music that audiences in night clubs would flock to.
While hip hop groups were finding night club audiences, the next generation, inspired by what these groups had done, would be seizing their opportunity on the mic. The mid-80’s marked a shift in not just sound but lyrical content. Technology was helping DJs develop new tools to make music with. Sampling and digital recording helped facilitate new sounds that DJs could never pull off just using turntables. Groups inspired by songs like Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” that portrayed a realistic portrait of street life started to make music that shared their own struggle. Groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy and Gang Starr challenged their audiences with politically charged lyrics. The anger unleashed by these groups paved the way for the next wave of hip hop music – gangster rap.
Dr. Dre, looking for a more honest approach to making his music, teamed up with Arabian Prince, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube and later DJ Yella and MC Ren to form the legendary group N.W.A. A harder, more aggrssive form of hip hop rocketed into the mainstream: gangster rap. N.W.A carved a path for artists like Notorious BIG and Tupac to find success. The music, both sonicly and lyrically, was violent and aggressive leading to the government to hold hearings on music content famously leading to the “Parental Advisory” warnings that would exist on music packaging. Enter Detroit native Eminem who, after being ignored for years by Detroit radio stations, developed a hyper violent, unstable, pill popping alter ego named Slim Shady to blast everyone from the Detroit DJs that wouldn’t promote him to the music industry that was ignoring him. A copy of The Slim Shady EP found its way to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and soon Eminem would become a household name and the hottest recording artist in America. After the murders of Biggie and Tupac there was another shift in hip hop music that would shift the focus back on to the party.
Which brings us mostly current. Hip hop has mostly been focus on making party music for about the last decade, and now we’re finally starting to see a shift. The internet has been a disrupting force for all forms of music, and hip hop is no exception. The popularity of musicians like Childish Gambino, Chief Keef, and Chance The Rapper have been driven more by the internet than the music industry promotional machine. It’s hard to ignore someone like Chance winning 6 Grammy awards last year, even though the music industry did for a long time. Macklemore has achieved mainstream success without ever signing to a record label. At this particular moment in time, there’s a fascination and focus on “mumble rappers” like Lil Yachty, Future and Migos whose origins are commonly attributed to Lil B and whose popularity was driven through websites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
So, there we go, a short history of hip hop as told by a life long hip hop fan. But, I have to be honest, I did get a little bit of help from the Netflix docu-series called Hip Hop Evolution, hosted by the Canadian MC SHAD, which is available for streaming right now if you’re a Netflix subscriber.
So sit back, crack a Forty, smoke ’em if you go ’em and celebrate 44 years of Hip Hop History!