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A Brief History of Hip-Hop

Updated on April 14, 2014

Hip-hop culture

Today, hip-hop seems to be everywhere. Hip-hop in not only music or dance—it is a culture. The lifestyle that many thought would be a passing fad has, three decades later, grown to become a permanent part of world culture. Hip-hop artists have become some of today’s heroes, replacing the comic book worship of decades past and joining athletes and movie stars as the people kids dream of being. Names like 50 Cent, P. Diddy, Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, Foxy Brown, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Flavor Flav now ring as familiar as Elvis, Babe Ruth, Marilyn Monroe, and Charlie Chaplin.

The fathers of hip-hop

While the general public knows many of the names, videos, and songs branded by the big companies that make them popular, it’s also important to know the holy trinity, the founding fathers of hip-hop: Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa. All are deejays who played and presented the records that rappers and dancers delighted themselves upon. Bambaataa single-handedly stopped the gang wars in the 1970s with the themes of peace, unity, love, and having fun.

Artistic creativity

Hip-hop is simply a term for a form of artistic creativity that was spawned in New York City—more precisely, the Bronx—in the early to mid-1970s. Bronx is one of the places where the best hip-hop music was conceived. Amidst the urban decay in the areas where black and Hispanic people dwelled, economic, educational, and environmental resources were depleted. Jobs and businesses were all but moved away. Living conditions were of a lower standard than the rest of the city and country. Last but not least, art and sports programs in the schools were the first to be cut for the sake of lowering budgets; thus, music classes teaching the subject’s history and techniques were all but lost.

The beginning of rap music

From these ashes, like a phoenix, rose an art form. Through the love of technology and records found in family collections or even those tossed out on the street, the deejay emerged. Different from the ones heard on the radio, these folk were innovating a style that was popular on the island of Jamaica. Two turntables kept the music continuous, with the occasional voice on top of the records. This was the very humble beginning of rap music.

First recordings

Rap music is actually two distinct words: rap and music. “Rap” is the vocal application that is used on top of the music. On a vocal spectrum, it is between talking and singing and is one of the few alternatives for vocalizing to emerge in the past 50 years. It’s important to know that inventors and artists are side by side in the importance of music’s development. Let’s remember that inventor Thomas A. Edison created the first recording, with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in 1878, most likely in New Jersey, the same state where the first rap recording—Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”—was made in 1979, more than 100 years later.

Hip-hop is a form of popular music that's comprised mainly of MC-ing and DJ-ing. The other two components that complete the four elements of hip-hop are breakdancing and graffiti. Hip-hop evolved into big business. The four elements of hip-hop (MC-ing and DJ-ing, graffiti and breakdancing) are constantly being merged with others like clothing trends, slang, general mindset and culture.


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