Hip Hop Culture: From Then to Now

Hip Hop is often thought of as the genre created for rap music when in fact it is so much more. Hip Hop didn’t even originate with rap music being at the forefront. Hip Hop is a culture consisting of various music styles, rhythms, dance moves, clothing and art.

Hip Hop was born in the Bronx, which remains one of the key New York City boroughs for Hip Hop music. Out of the Bronx came DJ Kool Herc who was the first

Disc Jockey to become well known throughout the city for his turntable and MCing skills at parties. He introduced the disc jockey technique called “looping”. He would have two copies of the same record and play them on separate turntables allowing him to play the break beat on one record and then throw it over to the other turntable and play the same part. He did this over and over to various songs making it his trademark. Through his looping technique, he was able to battle out other DJ’s in the area. One of his foes that he took down on many occasions realized that the breakbeat playing by itself left room to showcase his creative skills on the turntables. The breakbeat is the part of a dance record where all sounds but the drums drop out. With all the other sounds being eliminated, MCing and disc scratches became key components in creating a new distinct sound which allowed Hip Hop to be recognized as a genre. This DJ that fathered such a sound was none other than Grandmaster Flash from the South Bronx.

Grandmaster Flash’s success began to rise in the late 1970’s as his style of using the breakbeat stimulated the creation of break dancing. Flash became the face of many breakdancing contest throughout the Bronx and Brooklyn. The dance contest often began with the dancers exchanging insults about their opponents family members using rhyme schemes over the beat (which later became known as battle rapping).

The birth of mainstream rap is often credited to the Sugar hill Gang for releasing “Rapper’s Delight” in late 1979 on the independent African American-owned label Sugar Hill. However, the first released rap song was by The Fatback Band with their single “King Tim III” in May of 1979. Another group who was known for early forms of rap music by implementing MCing in their music was The Gap Band, with the release of their song “I Don’t Believe You Want To Get Up And Dance” in October of 1979 (prior to “Rapper’s Delight”) .

In the mid-1980s came a new wave of artist who introduced different styles of Hip Hop music to American culture. At the forefront of the wave was Run-D.M.C., a trio of middle-class black men who mixed rap with rock and roll. The trio also introduced a new style of clothing Hip Hop with their Adidas sweat suits that were compliments by their polished goldlinks around their necks. Their style of music and clothing made them trendsetters as they brought rap to a mainstream audience. It was during the 1980’s when several new labels took advantage of the growing market for rap music. Of the many labels who benefited from rap, Def Jam was home to three important innovators in the Hip Hop culture:

  1. LL Cool J- who was America’s first romantic rapper to go mainstream

  2. The Beastie Boys- who were a white trio that broadened rap’s audience and made digital sampling popular as they composed music with sounds electronically extracted from older recordings.

  3. Public Enemy- who were the first major rap group to include radical black political ideology in the lyrics.

It was during this time that Hip Hop also introduced female rappers such as the dynamic duo Salt-n-Pepa to mainstream music. The female Hip Hop artist at this time offered an alternative to rap’s male driven industry, in which most music had demeaning and misogynistic viewpoints.

As the mid 80’s pushed on into the late 80’s, Hip Hop artists from places other than New York City region began to surface. Two significant artists to surface were DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Will Smith), from Philadelphia and M.C. Hammer, from Oakland, California.

The most significant shift from New York being the epicenter of Hip Hop came in 1989 with Los Angeles’s very own N.W.A., who released their dynamic album Straight Outta Compton. N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude). Out of N.W.A came rappers Ice Cube, Eazy E, and Dr. Dre, who led the way as West Coast rap grew in the early 90s. It was the graphic and explicit tales of life in the inner city from West Coast rappers like Long Beach native Snoop Dogg, that gave rise to the Hip Hop generated genre “gangsta rap”. As the Los Angeles-based label Death Row Records built an empire around Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and the super talented and complicated rapper/actor Tupac Shakur, it also entered into an unnecessary rivalry with New York City’s Bad Boy Records. This media-fueled hostility between East Coast and West Coast rappers, unfortunately culminated in the still unsolved murders of Tupac Shakur and the exceptionally gifted Brooklyn native, the Notorious B.I.G.

By the late 1990s Hip Hop was artistically dominated by 3 main hitters:

  1. The Wu-Tang Clan- from New York City’s Staten Island, who combined their street credibility, neo-Islamic beliefs, and kung fu slang to make them one of the most complex groups in the history of rap.

  2. Diddy- who is known by a variety of names, from Sean “Puffy” Combs to Puff Daddy. As a performer, producer, and president of Bad Boy Records, he was responsible for a series of innovative clothing styles and music videos.

  3. The Fugees- who mixed pop music hooks with politics and launched the two iconic solo careers of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill.

In the early 2000s, Hip Hop’s creative center found its home in America's Southside. The success of the extremely musically experimental Hip Hop group OutKast helped to kick start creativity of Hip Hop music in the South. However, it was the New Orleans-based record companies Cash Money and No Limit Records (founded by Master P) that were responsible for party anthems of such rappers as Juvenile, Lil Wayne and Three 6 Mafia. They brought the south distinctive sound to the mainstream in s genre the deemed as the “Dirty South”.

In 2012, the Hip Hop world was introduced to yet another form of rap music created in the poverty and crime stricken Southside of Chicago, Illinois. This form of music is deemed as "Drill Music" and is very similar to that of the music from the Dirty South (that evolved into modern day "Trap Music"), in which the lyrics speak of selling drugs and getting women. However, Drill Music is ten times more violent and explicit than the music made in the Dirty South. Drill music was originated by gangs that slid in hidden messages within their lyrics as they called out rival gangs. Some of the most notable Drill rappers are Chief Keef , Lil Durk and G Herbo. Chief Keef and the late LA Capone ,who died in a senseless act of gang violence being murdered as he left his studio session, were the first major Drill rappers to bring international popularity to the new style of rap music.