Happy Birthday: Learn The History of Hip Hop Music as it Turns 45
This past Friday August 11th 2018 was the 45th birthday of hip hop music. That’s right hip hop music and culture actually have a birthday. The popular and influential music genre was born in the Bronx, NY on August 11th 1973 with African American youth. To celebrate the recent birthday of this culture phenomena genre of music we want to give you the history of hip hop music and culture.
How did hip hop music start?
Exactly how did hip hop music and culture start? How was it narrowed down to an actual day? Well it all started one day with a party. A young, black woman by the name of Cindy Campbell was getting prepared for the new school year to start. She wanted to get new school clothes and needed a way to raise money. She along with her brother Clive Campbell aka DJ Kool Herc decided to throw a party to raise money for her school clothes. Her brother Clive who was already a DJ going by the name DJ Kool Herc volunteered to DJ the music for her. The party was held August 11th 1973 at a recreation room located in building 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Bronx, NY. The party was a success with over 300 people attending. But it was what happened at this legendary party that literally gave birth to hip hop music and culture. During the party DJ Kool Herc played funk and soul classics such as James Brown records. His friend and music party also attended the party and helped him entertain with the music. DJ Kool Herc friend is none other than Coke La Rock. Coke La Rock is the 1st emcee/rapper ever. This is why. At that now famous party Coke La Rock talked into a microphone over the music as the crowd danced. It started out with Coke La Rock shouting out friends but doing it in a catchy, rhythmically way. It was completely spontaneous. The 1st official rhyme Coke La Rock said according to witnesses was:
“There’s not a man that can’t be thrown, not a horse that can’t be rode, a bull that can’t be stopped,
there’s not a disco that I Coke La Rock can’t rock.”
From that moment history was made. His rhymes became catchier and more popular. Another rhyme Coke La Rock stated which was actually used but revised in classic hip hop song “Rapper’s Delight” in later years was:
“Hotel, motel, you don’t tell, we won’t tell.”
Another popular rap phrase by Coke La Rock that have been used or reference in hip hop songs in later years was:
“You rock and you don’t stop.”
The success of that party by Cindy Campbell, Clive Campbell (DJ Kool Herc) and Coke La Rock quickly spread over the Bronx, NY area. The next day everyone was talking about the party. Soon DJ Kool Herc and Coke La Rock were throwing numerous parties where Kool Herc did the DJing and Coke La Rock rapped smooth rhymes over the beat.
How did hip hop music and culture begin to spread?
After the success of Cindy Campbell back to school party the news of how hip and fun her party was soon spread all over the Bronx. Popularity began to grow. The success of this party inspired fellow Bronx dj’s Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Afrika Bambaataa begin DJing and later on hosting his own parties around 1976. He wanted to use this new culture of hip hop music to pull children and teens out of gangs and inner city crimes. He then formed the hip hop group Universal Zulu Nation. During this time DJ Grandmaster Flash begin DJing and formed his own group named The Furious Five. The term “hip hop” was actually coined by a member of the Furious Five. Keith Wiggins aka Keef Cowboy coined the phrase hip hop in 1978. The story goes that he was playfully teasing a friend who had just joined the army. He started saying the phrase “hip, hop, hip, hop”, but he stated it in a way where he was mimicking the sound of marching soldiers. He later on added this “hip hop” marching cadence in his stage performances. Then the rest was history. Soon this became the term for this popular new genre of music and culture.
This new genre and culture soon begin to spread not only over Bronx, NY but also to Brooklyn , NY. Then it eventually spread to Queens and other areas of New York. The more popular it became the more elements of this new urban culture was born. For example, mixing when DJing was created by hip hop DJ Grandmaster Flash. Scratching which is a special element of DJing was created by Grand Wizard Theodore (who was the little brother to Mean Gene, who was a friend of Grandmaster Flash). The legendary story goes, Theodore was playing records in his room. His mother walked in and as she did he looked away from the turntable to look at her as she talked to him. As his mother lectured him he continued to move the record back and forth. As he did this the record made a sound of its own. He liked the sound it made and once she left the room he did it again. For months he perfected this new DJing technique and then revealed it at a party. From this moment on scratching was born.
While all these new elements of hip hop music was being born and more DJ’s were gaining popularity, the culture and genre continued to grow. During this time around 1977 a party promoting group named “The Force” was being born. The Force was known for promoting hip hop parties throughout the cities of New York. The Force consisted of several members one of them being the now legendary Russell Simmons. During this time Russell Simmons met Kool DJ Kurt. He talks Kool DJ Kurt into actually rapping. Russell Simmons also changes Kool DJ Kurt name to Kurtis Blow. Kurtis Blow would go on to become one of the most popular rappers, a pioneer, a legend and also go on to be coined “the king of New York.” This was around the time DJing began to take a backseat to rapping in the hip hop music genre. However, when hip hop music was first invented DJing was the primary force of hip hop. With the encouragement and guidance of then promoter Russell Simmons, Kurtis Blow becomes the first rapper to sign a deal with a major label.
Mainstream hip hop music
With as universal and global as hip hop music is today it’s hard to imagine that at one point and time it was completely grassroots. You may think hip hop music and its culture has always been mainstream. However, it had to become mainstream slowly over time. So exactly when did hip hop become mainstream? Well the first official hip hop record that was introduced to the general public and went beyond New York was “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang. The Sugarhill was comprised of Michael “Wonder” Mike, Henry “Big Bank Rank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’brien. The trio was put today by the producer Sylvia Robinson who produced the record “Rapper’s Delight” and founded the label Sugar Hill Records. The record was recorded over funk/r&b group Chic song “Good Times” beat. The single became the first hip hop song to hit the top 40 on the billboard hot 100 chart. This definitely set the tone for what was to come in terms of hip hop artists and their music becoming mainstream.
Although “Rapper’s Delight” set the tone for hip hop music to be heard on a national level it still wasn’t a household name. One collaboration that really helped take hip hop to the next level was Run DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith “Walk this Way.” In 1986 Run DMC did a remake of the song with Aerosmith himself. It became a collaboration and an instant hit. This helped steer hip hop music to mainstream and give it recognition in another genre of music, rock.
Arguably the most popular song that brought hip hop music to the mainstream and made it “here to stay” was rap group Public Enemy’s classic song “Fight the Power.” Released in June 1989 “Fight the Power” debuted. It was featured on the soundtrack of Spike Lee movie “Do the right thing” and on Public Enemy’s 1990 “Fear of a black planet” album. It received rave reviews, topped the charts and was called “the best song of 1989” by several music critics. Soon followed controversial Los Angeles, Ca based group N.W.A who went on to become very successful and generate mainstream attention. By the late 80’s and early 90’s the genre of hip hop, its culture and many hip hop artists were officially mainstream and well on its way.
4 Elements of hip hop music and culture
Hip hop is more than just a genre of music. Hip hop is a culture, a revolution and history. There are several factors that make up hip hop. According to the pioneers and legends of hip hop culture here are its 4 elements.
- DJing – hip hop music actually started out with DJing. Initially DJing was the most important aspect of hip hop. It eventually took a backseat to emceeing or being an MC (Master of Ceremonies). The first DJ of hip hop music and also called “The Father of Hip Hop” is DJ Kool Herc.
- Emceeing/Rapping – is now the most popular element of hip hop music. Emceeing or rapping over music has always been apart of hip hop culture. However, it didn’t become the driving force for the genre of music until around 1977-78. The very first emcee/rapper ever is Coke La Rock.
- Breakdancing – another prominent aspect of hip hop is breakdancing. Break dancing was there during the very birth of hip hop at the now legendary party held August 11th 1978. When Kool Herc would DJ he would focus on centering the song around the instrumental portion which was usually the drum beat aka “the break.” This part of the music was soon nicknamed to “the breaks.” When the breaks would come on people would get out in the middle of floor and show of their dance moves. Since the youth was dancing during the break of the song it soon was called “break dancing.” DJ Kool Herc coined the phrase “break-boys” for the male dancers and “break-girls” for the female dancers. This was soon shortened to “b-boys” and “b-girls.”
- Graffiti – became an important element to hip hop but was actually out before the birth of hip hop music and its culture. Graffiti began to emerge during the late 1960’s in New York. It started in urban, inner city areas of New York particularly the South Bronx and Washington Heights. Of course it begin to spread and grow in popularity. Graffiti writers saw this newfound art as a way to express themselves and their culture. These graffiti writers wanted to mark the city with their “tags” aka “signatures” once they completed their artwork and hopefully make a name for themselves. How graffiti became linked to hip hop is due to a lot of factors. Hip hop music was birthed in the same location urban graffiti was which is Bronx, NY. A lot of DJ’s and MC’s were former graffiti artists. A lot of hip hop DJ’s would ask graffiti writers who were friends of theirs to create artwork to promote their hip hop events and parties.
Hip hop’s legacy
Hip hop music and culture is now a global phenomena. Not only is it national, it’s international and known all over the entire world. You can literally listen to rap music in any language. It’s hard to imagine this popular genre of music was once a grassroots movement that was started by black youth in the Bronx, NY. Many of the pioneers of hip hop never wanted for fame and fortune. They never imagined hip hop would take on a life of it’s own. If anyone has to question the legacy of hip hop just look around you. Rap music is now the number 1 genre in the world. Many R&B and Pop artists have collaborated with hip hop artists. Many hip hop artists are household names and have appeared on mainstreams shows. Many hip hop artists have become the face for international products. A lot of hip hop artists seal lucrative endorsement deals. Not to mention the numerous hip hop artists who have become music legends such as Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Nas, Jay-Z, Eric B. and Rakim, Lauryn Hill, Ice Cube, LL Cool J and more. There are now even college courses on hip hop music, the culture, its history and its artists. I think this is more than enough to show the amazing legacy of hip hop music.
Below are some amazing facts and historical dates surrounding hip hop culture:
- The first female rapper was a MC by the name of MC Sha Rock. She started out as b-girl in the late 1970’s. She was in the hip hop group The Funk 4+1. She made her first t.v debut in 1981.
- Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 song “The message” is considered the first hip hop song to discuss conscious topics such as inner city violence, racism and poverty; moving away from the party themed songs that previous hip hop songs were mainly about.
- In 1984 the film “Breakin” is released which was the first movie to bring hip hop to Hollywood.
- Chaka Khan is noted as the first singer to collaborate with a rapper/hip hop artist. In 1984 with her version of hit “I feel for you” (written and originally recorded by Prince) featured rapper Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.