Hip-Hop History & Culture
The Four Elements of Hiphop
& The Events that shaped The Hiphop Music of Today
Element 1: The DJ and Mixtapes The heart and Soul of HipHop:
DJ's and Mixtapes were part of the heart and soul of Hiphop during its inception. Hip Hop started not with the MCs but rather with the DJ. It was the DJ who controlled the night, The DJ "spun "the tunes and kept the party Rocking. The DJ essentially was the Master Of Ceremonies... he was the MC. Hip Hop actually developed from Reggae Music (no not the otherway around as newbies would believe) In Jamaica and In Reggae the word DJ means to rap or talk to the crowd on the mic. and Selecta [of Music] is what they called what we consider a DJ. Many did both as did the Godfather of Hiphop DJ Kool Herc. Disc Jockeys for radio stations already had their names truncated down to just DJ and as DJ Kool Herc Did his fair share of Both Selecting and DJaying or as we know it DJing and MCing So, In America the Term For our Turntable warriors became forever embeded as DJ.
The Beggining of DJs
The Very First DJs appeared as early as the 1940's during World War II
as they say "necessity is the mother of invention" The need for uplifting entertainment during the war lead to the invention of the DJ as an entertainer. DJs were actually a cheaper and more efficiant means of entertaining the Troops overseas.
"During WWII, persons armed with a turntable, an armful of records, and a basic amplifier would entertain troops in mess halls, spinning Glen Miller, the Andrews sisters, and Benny Goodman. It was much easier than sending an entire band overseas." -History of Turntablism
At first DJs were just live replacements for jukeboxes which in turn were the replacements for Coverbands. The DJ Was a perfect medium between utilizing a jukebox system and hiring an expensive cover band. It was also easier and faster to set up a club for a DJ than it was to do the same for an entire band. People flocked to clubs that had DJs instead of juke boxes since the DJ Could Essentially "program the Music on the Fly"
Developement of Reggae Music
Ska and Reggae Music which had been developing in Jamaica since before 1957 started evolving when King Tubby's gained access to creating "dub Plates" cheap lower quality accetate film records. He started removing vocals in certain key spots so sound sytem crews could insert their own Names, Toasts and Chants. This act of Chanting and toasting over vocal breaks became known as rapping, or papping to the crowd. As such Reggae became the predecessor to Hiphop and Rap Music. Toasting became quite popular in the Dancehalls and clubs of Jamaica and eventually made its way to America where in the Bronx a DJ By The Name of Kool Herc introduced this jamaican heritage to a new and eager crowd.
(Side Note: As far as Jamaican record-buyers are concerned, the word reggae was coined on a 1968 Pyramid dance single, "Do the Reggay (sic)," by Toots and the Maytals. )
DJ Kool Herc The Father Of Hip-Hop!
"Hiphop... after dark.... They Used to Do it out in the park"
Jamaican born DJ Kool Herc moved to New York in the late 1960's and brought with him the Jamaican tradition of "toasting", which involved reciting improvised rhymes over instrumental sections of reggae records. Since reggae music wasn't so well recieved in America at the time, Kool Herc used a unique playlist of R&B, Soul,Funk, and Obscure Disco Records. But he didn't just play them! During certain points of his sets he would play only the best part of each. These "best parts" would later become known as the break.
"on Every Record there exists that one part, usually only a few seconds long that just had the most energy, the craziest drums, I thought to myself If I could Just extend that piece"
Herc used twin turntables and cut back and forth between two seperate records to create a new sound known as the Break. By mixing back and forth between the two copies the break could be doubled tripled or extended indefinately. Deconstructing and reconstructing music and other found sounds with the turntables, the foundations of Beat Juggling.This was to become the foundation for hip hop, sampling to create new music with exsisting music and also the beggining of the DJ as a musician (or Turntablist).
The word hip-hop itself was derived from the act of hip-hoppin on the turntables from one turntable to the other to create "The Breaks"
Element 2: Break-Dancing
"Breakers" (Breakdancers) loved the break and would use those moments to really showcase their skills. Whenever the "breaks" would come on so would their energy hence the name break-dancing. (though my momma thought it was cause "they're gonna break their neck dancing like that")
During the break Herc would also chant things like "B-Boys Go Down" "Throw your hands in the air/And wave'em like ya just don't care!". This type of crowd pleaser was known as "rapping" to the crowd. At that time rap was not yet known as 'rap' in America but rather called 'MCing'. He later turned his attention to DJing and let two friends Coke La Rock and (the orginial) Clark Kent handle the mic. This was rap music's first MC team. They became known as Kool Herc and the Herculoids.
"So what I did here was go right to the 'yoke'. I cut off all anticipation and played the beats. I'd find out where the break in the record was at and prolong it and people would love it."- DJ Kool Herc
To this day there is still speculation as to what Herc Meant by the term B-Boy some say it stood for "Bronx Boy", others "Boogie Boy", But the most common and favored is still "Break Boy"
Kung Fu & Dancing Merge To Become Breakdancing!
Break Dancing another element of hiphop developed partially with New Yorks afficionation with the 3' Oclock channel 5 Kung FU theater flicks.. as many of the drunken and monkey styles of kung fu incorporated intricate ground fighting movements like windmills, caterpillar rolls, worms and kip-ups which the Breakers developed into a dancing artform.
The Break Loop!
Grandmaster Flash (shown Above) perfected the looping of breaks and beats by adding a headphone cuing system This allowed him to hear the song in his headphones without the crowd hearing it. Now he could insert breaks and loop them seamlessly by backcueing the record (backspinning the record while listening to it) and repeating the process he could extend the break perfectly and endlessly.
The Third Element Of Hiphop: The MC
The First Hiphop Albums Were Mixtapes!
The MCs begin to gain skill and recognition for their rhyming ability and their ability to control and move the crowds with their chants. At this time DJ's begin putting together the first mixed tapes. Mixes and blends of the days great music selections and rare grooves. Party mix-tapes...essentially just recordings of parties they did onto cassettes. People payed upwards of $20 to get their hands on these gems. They contained rhymes and raps as well as chants and breaks. So, long before the first commercially released Hiphop Album, there were mix tapes. The mix tapes were the Albums... since the record companies weren't ready to accept hiphop as a proper form of music...or at least not as a profitable one. But soon the explosive growth of the Hiphop Movement would catch their attention.
The Fourth Element Of Hiphop: Graffiti Art
Between Vandalism and Art Lies the Art of Graffiti!
Since its conception Graffiti has remained on the borderline between Vandalism and Pure Art.
The notion of it being vandalism stems from the Graffiti artist's choice of Canvas- Other peoples walls and property. As well as from the fact that often times too many artists can ruin a canvas and sometimes a not so good artist comes along and ruins the canvas. (non skilled Graffiti Artists etc)
Graffiti Artwork Above By: Seakone
The Art Of Graffiti
The art of graffiti lies in its beautification of drab environments. Graffiti can enhance and alter its surroundings
through a colorful explosion of geometric and serpentine shapes and colors. The Grafitti artist is a master of Color and is capable of making even contrasting color schemes work together by countering each clash with even more prominent color harmonies. Unfortunately much of the stigma behind graffiti stems from tagging. While tagging and Graffiti share some commonalities... The two are not the same.
Tagging Up On A Wall Vs. Art
Tagging was initially the final signature one would place on their finished Graffitti masterpiece. As Graffitti became more popular Artists began to stake out a claim on a wall they planned on painting on by tagging it first with their signature... as if to say this is my canvas find your own! Gang Members began using this as a way of staking claim to neigborhoods and lesser Graffiti artists saw it as a way to "get up" on the walls too, and be recognized... After a while it was no longer a claim to a wall to be first but soon it became a status quo to be seen as the highest tag on the wall, the one with the most tags around the city or the one with the most inaccessible tags, the one with tags in super hard to access areas of the city... Trains being one of them trains being one of the best places for graffity, as the trains would travel around the entire city exposing the art or the tag to millions from all over....Soon Graffiti as Vandalism became the view of most. lesser artists wanted the recognition of others art and would occasionally tag over artwork claiming it as their work,, this became the basis for the movie "Beat Street" Which featured Characters representative of each of the four elements of hiphop. And which helped expose millins more to the phenomenon which was to become...
Sugar Hill Gang- Rappers Delight
One of the first Rap Singles becomes the worlds best selling 12"
In 1979 Sugar Hill Gangs Rappers Delight is released. This is one of the first commercially produced rap recordings. It became an international hit and went on to become the best selling 12inch record ever, selling over 2 million copies. This record coined the word "hiphop" and made it a popular word throughout the world. They used beats and baselines from the Disco Track "Good Times" By Chic. Utilizing beats breaks and baselines from various gospel, jazz, motown, funk and disco tracks became known as sampling- The Musical Core or Spine of hiphop. Behind the sampling? Who better than the DJ, with his knowledge, the grand Musical Database in his head. The DJs knew of more great music and musical rareties than any-other people on the earth.
Scratching And DJing take Center Stage in Herbie Hancocks "Rockit"
Grand Wizard Theodor accidentally invents the scratch one day when he stoped the record to listen to his mom yell at him to turn down the music. While she was yelling he heard the sound the record was making in his headphones as he rubbed his hand back and forth on the record. He thought this could be a cool sound. He began to experiment with different records trying to create a sound people could feel and understand. Thus the scratch was born.
But it would be DJ Grand Mixer DST (now Grand Mixer DXT) who would ultimately become responsible for introducing scratching and the Hiphop DJ to the entire world. His showcase on the grammy awardwinning "Rockit" had the world perplexed. His appearances on Television at the Grammy Awards show with Jazz music Legend Herbie Hancock finally answered the question in alot of peoples minds... what was that sound on the song Rockit? His live scratch performance during Herbie Hancocks "Rockit" would inspire a new generation of DJ's including legendary DJ's Qbert, Mixmaster Mike, The Beat Junkies and The Executioners amongst countless others.
Hip Hop & Rap Music Become A Huge Phenomenon
The Hip hop scene explodes, with huge B-boy Crews, Graffiti, MCs and DJs everywhere (the Four elements of Hip-Hop).Super hits emerge from GrandmasterFlash- and the Furious Five. Conscious Rap comes into play for the first time with "The Message" one of the first singles to break away from the typical rap lyrical boasting "I'm the best, the biggest-the baddest" It was the first song to depict the hoplessness of the Ghetto. Melle mel and Grandmasterflash soon release white lines (don't do it) another single with a positive conscious message which became a rap anthem and international hit. Within the span of just a few years hip-hop had become a huge phenomenon.
Afrika Bambattas sampling of Kraftwerk became hugely successful in "Planet Rock" which is still a big hit with breakers of today. The Hiphop Group Run DMC Emerged bringing the DJ back as a big part of the group, They set a new standard for hiphop and made it profitable for clothing companies. Adidas sponsered the group and paid them a six figure sum to wear their clothing seeing the amount of influence the group had on the youth of the era.
The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, KRS One, Eric B and Rakim, Public Enemy and more became emensilly popular, and at first the DJ was a huge portion of each group. Providing the music to sample and music for live performances But in later times as new groups emerged the record companies greed starts eliminating the DJ from the Hiphop groups. Passing all the power over to the MCs. They didn't reallize the DJ's would still control the music...for the DJs would still control the Streets and also the Clubs. And the Streets are where hiphop came from and where it must turn to make its money.
Parts 2 and 3 coming next month stay tuned!
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