By Jackson, Brenda; Anderson, Sharon
Black History Bulletin , Vol. 72, No. 1
The Birth of Hip Hop
Hip hop music has, for over three and a half decades, delivered a resounding message of freedom of expression, unity, peace, and protest against social injustices. But exactly when and where did it begin, and what impact has it had on our society, both locally and globally? To answer this question, one must first make a subtle distinction between the terms "hip hop music" and "hip hop culture." The hip hop beats created by DJs in the 70s actually sparked what is now known as "hip hop culture." Hip hop culture originally included rapping, breakdancing, graffiti, beatboxing, and looping and scratching (techniques used by DJs to accentuate, repeat, or isolate the beat), and has now expanded to include urban clothing, expensive jewelry (i.e., bling-bling) and cars, speech patterns and slang, mindsets, and movement styles. Hip hop culture is now defined by a commercialized lifestyle far from the humble beginnings surrounding the inception of hip hop music. However, by its very definition, hip hop music is now a subculture within the culture from which it originated.
In the early 70s, in New York's South Bronx, the cultural phenomenon of hip hop was born. The mastermind behind its birth was Clive Campbell, aka DJ Kool Herc, who was from Kingston, Jamaica. Responding to the nightclub culture of the Bronx, DJ Kool Herc began to use two turntables to accentuate the parts of the song that people liked best, and he rapped along to encourage breakdancing and emphasize a syncopated beat. This gave rise to rap music: competitive DJs began to rap while sampling, mixing, and scratching music during block parties that were hosted by Kool Herc. Inspired by Kool Herc's musical stylings, Afrika Bambaataa, known for his world-renowned crossover hit "Planet Rock," began hosting his own block parties. Bambaataa saw hip hop as more than a mere platform for music, but also a force "helping [to] promote the values of hip hop that he believed were based on peace, unity, love, and having fun." (1) As such, he founded an organization called The Zulu Nation that would serve to curb gang violence through breakdancing, which provided a way for the gang members to utilize their energy in a positive manner. The Zulu Nation consisted of graffiti and rap artists, DJs, and breakdancers who traveled with Bambaataa "outside the United States on the first hip hop tour. Bambaataa saw that the hip hop tours would be the key to expanding hip hop and his Universal Zulu Nation. Through their travels, Bambaataa's influence inspired many overseas artists." (2)
Hip Hop Is Changing the World: The Big, The Good, The Ugly, and The Bad
As hip hop has grown and gained world prominence, it has continued to have a strong social impact and has been a major stage for many to express themselves openly on various controversial social and political issues. For instance, in 1980, Grandmaster Flash sang about freedom and the ghetto, and in 1983, Grandmaster Melle Mel voiced his opinions about drugs in his song "White Lines (Don't Do It)." In the 1990s, on Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing movie soundtrack, Public Enemy's controversial song "Fight the Power" introduced lyrics that voiced injustices faced by African Americans. In the last decade, in similar fashion, rap artist Jadakiss's 2004 political protest song "Why" was a world crossover hit that questioned presidential influence in the September 11,2001 attacks and the movie roles African Americans must accept in order to receive acclaim for their acting talents. To date, hip hop continues to be an international realm for expressing feelings about politics, crime, poverty, violence, and other social issues through song lyrics, urban-themed movies, and informal conversation. (3) Many of our students listen to hip hop music, watch hip hop movies, and use hip hop slang. Now it is time for educators to understand the influence that hip hop culture has on our students. …