The hip-hop lifestyle began in the Bronx in the early 1970s by Black and Latino youth seeking entertainment and a sense of community. Hip hop music though started forming by the ingenuity of three hip hop pioneers which are known as the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity included DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash.
Over the years hip hop music has evolved and expanded across the globe. The hip hop evolution has pioneered many artists, but also new sub-genres in the hip hop realm. The socioeconomics of the time helped shape the aesthetics and culture of early hip hop history in the 1970s. Yet socioeconomics still shapes the modern-day hip-hop culture. The realities of life at a specific time and place are present by the verbal messages in the raps and beats of every hip-hop track.
The 1970s Pioneers
DJ Kool Herc is said to have DJed his first block party in 1973 for his sister’s back-to-school birthday party. Which is considered to be the event that gave birth to what is now a global music-based culture. The party’s original flyers were written down on lined index cards that read “A DJ Kool Herc Party: Back to School Jam”. The block party was soon voiced across the Bronx and soon after found throughout the city’s walls elaborately spray-painted with slogans reading “Back to School Jam”.
Another hip hop pioneer is Afrika Bambaataa considered as one of the hip hop artists that paved the way for hip hop DJs and turntablists. Afrika Bambaataa was later coined the name “The Godfather” after his legendary hip hop track “Plant Rock” in 1982. The ingenious track was the first of its kind to blend the known beats of the hip hop style with electronic techno-pop funk that was inspired by German music legend Kraftwerk.
Afrika Bambaataa was also considered to be the pioneer who brought the hip hop lifestyle to a larger scale. Due to his organized large-scale block parties across the city from the mid to late 1970s, he took the art of emceeing to the rise of rap.
Yet, after the late 1980s, Afrika Bambaataa took his hip hop skills to the background and founded the Zulu Nation collective. The collective took a rise with some of hip hops Golden Age artists including Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, and De La Soul.
Grandmaster Flash innovated many DJ techniques that are still used to this day for hip hop music producers and DJs. His early innovative technique as a DJ was the backspin. The backspin included mastering the breakbeat technique founded by DJ Kool Herc, but instead of playing the same track in a loop Grandmaster Flash played different tracks with the same beats in an endless loop. This technique caused audiences more breakbeats to break into their hip hop dance including B-Boying/B-Girling also known as breakdancing.
Grandmaster Flash also introduced the punch phrase (also known as clock theory) and the famous technique of scratching. Punch phrase/clock theory was the act of laying horn hits and drum bits over tracks and punching them across a set. Whereas scratching was first introduced by Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash perfected and introduced it to a new music genre and audience. He used scratching manipulation to create new musical beats, instead of just passively spinning the records for that scratch sound.
The Golden Age of Hip Hop
After the early 1970s of hip hop culture inception came the Golden 80s of hip hop music. The Golden Age of hip hop brought secondary elements to the hip hop culture including the importance of fashion, music sharing, and new geographic stakes.
Sampling was the beginning of changes in the musical genre and the start of 80s hip hop. It allowed DJs and producers to sample beats across all genres but also beats from the past. Mixtape recording and distribution was also a major component in the rise of 80s hip hop. Live performances were the lifeline for all hip-hop artists at the time, but the distribution of mixtapes made those lifelines longer.
Mixtapes were a combination of live-set recordings and pre-recorded songs from either one artist or multiple artists. The hip-hop mixtape got its start in New York at live performances and was first handed out to attendees, but later sold.
Hip-hop also started to shift with new voices, faces, and beats. New York City still reigned supreme in the 80s introducing household acts like Big Daddy Kane. Big Daddy Kane is said to have redefined the term hip hop rap and introduced innovative entertainment to live performances. Big Daddy Kane was also the first hip-hop artist to hold not just one but two sold-out live shows at the infamous Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York City.
Other hip-hop artists that took the Golden 80s reign including L.L. Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, and Run DMC.
Hip hop music took on a new subgenre in the early 1990s known as gangsta rap. Gangsta rap took a commercial rise and focused on lyrical messages due to violence, drugs, and misogyny. Pioneers of gangsta rap included Ice-T and N.W.A. who introduced social and political issues by way of hip hop lyrics to new realms and parts of the country.
Another redefining moment for the hip hop culture was the national introduction of West Coast hip hop. West Coast hip hop was at full force in the early 90s introducing hip hop artists like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Tupac. With the West Coast dominating the 90s hip hop landscape a feud soon started between the East Coast and West Coast hip-hop artists. The most notable feud was between East Coast-based rapper Notorious BIG vs. Los Angeles-based rapper Tupac.
Although born in New York City, Tupac is known as a West Coast hip hop legend. He relocated to California at the age of 17 first to San Francisco and later to Los Angeles. His debut album 2Pacalyps Now released in 1991 which took widespread fame due to his social issue-focused raps and a new twist in backbeats known as the California funk. Tupac soon became the central figure of the West Coast hip-hop scene.
East Coast-based Bad Boy Records founded by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs signed Brooklyn-based rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) in the early 1990s. By 1994 Biggie Smalls released his debut album Ready to Die which was an instant global hit and brought the hip-hop scene back to the East Coast. Biggie Smalls took overnight success for his ingenious cadence, storytelling, and freestyling skills that no one had heard before. He is known as a legend for his ability to compose and drop polished new tracks quickly which helped his overnight success.
Although discovered in the mid-1980s Tribe Called Quest’s second album is regarded to have pioneered alternative hip hop music. The hip hop group was discovered in Queens, New York City, and was back by hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa in his Native Tongues artist collective and later signed with Jive Records.
A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album was released in 1990 which was received with high marks. Yet, their second album released in September of 1991 got them their namesake as alternative hip hop pioneers for their musical interplay between hip hop and jazz fusion. The group also established a lyrical movement that focused on social issues including date rape, consumerism, and even criticizing the hip hop industry.
These notable hip-hop artists and many more have formed what is now a 50+ year musical and cultural phenomenon. The early decades of old-school hip hop gave way to the modern new school of hip hop artists including Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and Missy Elliott.