The Early Days of Hip HopPosted on June 10th, 2011 by Lee Jarvis in Offbeat
(Image licensed via Creative Commons, courtesy of Shad Bolling)
I came across a very interesting (and slightly amusing) video piece recently covering the birth of Hip Hop. Back in 1981, ABC ran a news piece on their long-running 20/20 show called ‘Rappin’ to the Beat’, which tried to grasp the new sounds, sights and styles that were crossing from ‘underground’ to the mainstream media. Partially citing Blondie as helping this crossover with her hit ‘Rapture’ also made me think about the way that Hip Hop evolved from the music of the late 70s, with the help of artists, producers and DJs such as Grandmaster Flash, The Sugarhill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa.
The explosion of Hip Hop recording and performing was partly aligned with the technology boom of the time. Turntables and radios became portable; synthesizers, samplers and drum machines were born; breakdancing, beatboxing and graffiti joined the mix of music to create an entire lifestyle choice. DJing became an art form of its own, with beat juggling, scratching, cutting and blending all adding to the party vibe of the music and earning the term ‘Turntablism’. DJs such as Kool Herc would flicking between the break, which would often be solely percussion driven, on two copies of the same record, giving the dancers something to really get into and the MCs a beat to rap over. Eminent examples of this were Chic’s ‘Good times’ (later used to create ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang) and Kraftwerk hits such as ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Numbers’ (which would both heavily influence the production of ‘Planet Rock’ by Afrika Bambaataa). MCs evolved a little later than the DJs, but essentially helped to spread Hip Hop on a global scale, and labels such as Sugar Hill would go on to sell millions of records around the world.
Just imagining being involved in the growth of music experimentation and expression at that time is a very exciting idea. The way that artists and musicians would mash-up, create, remix, borrow, steal, regurgitate and do whatever they wanted proved to spawn a hugely important part of musical and cultural history. Maybe without the boundaries of copyright or the fear of legal action from major labels, musicians would experiment and create more freely and give birth to a whole new genre (/sub-sub-genre) of music. Maybe that is already happening; keep your ears open
by Lee Jarvis.