To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

By William Jelani Cobb | Go to book overview

1
The Roots

It begins with the words: mic check. The MC counts it off, one, two, one, two,
before running down his pedigree:
I go by the name of the one MC Lingo
of the mighty Black Ops and we came here tonight to get y'all open…
In the MC's ritual, the next task is the demographic survey—Is Brooklyn in
the house?—even though he knows the answer; always knew the answer
'cause the answer is always the same. Brooklyn is as ubiquitous as bad luck.
There's a cat behind him on the ones and twos; his head cocked to the left, head-
phones cradled between ear and shoulder. He has the fingertips of his left hand
resting on a 12” instrumental, the right on the cross-fader. His MC gets four
bars to drop it a capella, after that he comes behind him with Michael Viner's
Apache. A measure beforehand, he'll idle with some prelim scratches to let
the crowd know what's coming next. And if his boy got skills enough, if the
verbal game is tight enough, that right there will be the kinetic moment, that
blessed split-second when beat meets rhyme. The essence of hip hop. Come in-
correctly, though, and the heads in attendance will let you know that too. In
hip hop, subtlety is considered a character flaw. In hip hop, it is a moral wrong
to allow a wack MC to exist unaware of his own wackness. The DJ hits with
the track, the MC wraps his tongue around a labyrinth of syllables, and don't
have to chase his breath. We came here tonight to get y'all open …
He knows
when it's done correctly because the heads start to nod in affirmation.


ORIGINS OFTHE BOOM BAP

For those still concerned with the terms laid down by Webster, art is defined as this: 1. Conscious arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movement, or other elements in a way that affects the aesthetic sense: 2. A specific skill in adept performance, held to require the exercise of intuitive faculties: 3. Production of the beautiful. The MC, despite the grumblings of various antique-aged gripers, is a modern incarnation of the

-13-

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To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Microphone Check - An Intro 1
  • 1: The Roots 13
  • 2: The Score 41
  • 3: Word of Mouth 77
  • 4: Sphalt Chronicles Hip Hop and the Storytelling Tradition 107
  • 5: Seven Mcs 139
  • Conclusion 167
  • Shout Outs 171
  • Notes 175
  • Index 183
  • About the Author 200
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