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Friday, August 24, 2007
Hip Hop Pioneers & The History Of Rap Music
Mar 20, 2006
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Hip-hop lyricist KRS One battled a then more popular lyricist, MC Shan, when KRS One’s record was not played on the radio. MC Shan had previously made “The Bridge” about Queensbridge’s effect on Hip-Hop. KRS One felt that MC Shan didn’t correctly represent for the Bronx, the city where Hip-Hop originated, so he made a song called “South Bronx.” Because KRS One battled one of the more popular lyricists in the mid-80s, his career skyrocketed with “The Bridge Wars” battles. Roxanne Shante, a 14-year-old female rapper, made a song called “Roxanne, Roxanne” which was so instigative that it launched over 100 records in retaliation to her rhymes. In today’s raps, emcees like 50 Cent, Game, Nas, and Jay-Z and others boost their career with battle rapping, even after the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. They can thank old school artists like Kool Moe Dee, L.L. Cool J, Ice Cube, and Roxanne for this way of gaining popularity. And while they’re thanking them for selling records by challenging top lyricists, new Hip-Hop emcees should thank the pioneers of Hip-Hop for everything else too.
The Beginning of Hip-Hop
Hip-Hop’s first inspiration came from drums from West African and African American music. Poets like the Last Poets and Jalal Mansur Nuriddin rhymed with jazz music in the 1960s. James Brown screamed and rhymed over ‘60s and ‘70s music with the same energy that early old school Hip-Hop artists did. But a Jamaican man named Clive Campbell, nicknamed Kool Herc. The Father of Hip-Hop, brought Dub music to America. Dub music was a mix of ska and reggae, which emphasizes drums, echoes, and lead instruments moving in and out. Sound effects like animals, children, and cars were also intermingled into the rhythm. Kool Herc took beats like these and rhymed over them, making the first element of Hip-Hop (deejaying). With his group, Kool Herc & the Herculoids, the emcees introduced themselves (“Kool Herc is in the house and he’ll turn it out without a doubt”) and greeted audience members. Improvising with four part beats, counting to the beat “one two, one two”, and bragging in simplistic rhymes were the original ways to perform Hip-Hop music. This rhyme pattern brought on the third element of Hip-Hop: emceeing. MC (pronounced emcee) was rumored to mean “move the crowd” or “master of ceremonies.
With the music came the second element of Hip-Hop (breaking). Don Campbell, a popular street dancer in Los Angeles was rumored to be the inventor of a dance called Campbellock, now shortened to “locking.” The Nigga Twins, one of the earliest African-American b-boys and Batch, one of the earliest Latino b-boys also contributed to the breaking movement. Although the verdict is still out on how breaking went from dancing on foot to dancing on the ground, the moves continued to evolve. Using “breaks” (two break silence for every eight bars) in the music, expanding the music with two turntables and double copies of a record to mix music, and light rhyming, B-boys and B-girls “break boys” and “break girls”, the dancers) would entertain the crowd by doing different body tricks like spinning on their heads, contorting their bodies into pretzel-like forms, twirling around on their backs, doing the “uprock”, etc.
Michael Jackson would later perform a breaking move, the Moonwalk, on Motown 25 TV Special. The U.S. believed that Jackson was a b-boy but he actually learned this move from a Los Angeles breaking crew.
Tagging in the early ‘70s came about by a mail courier named Vic. He would ride on subways and buses and tag his name on public property with the goal of riding every single New York City subway and bus. Writing on the transportation was his way of remembering which ones he’d traveled on. An art form similar to tagging and the fourth major element, graffiti, in Hip-Hop was made famous by a guy named Demetrius, nicknamed TAKI 183, a Greek teenager from Washington Heights. In 1973, the Ex-Vandals became one of the most popular graffiti crews ever, although no one has been given credit for being the originator of graffiti. In 1976, Lee Quinones became well-known for his murals on poorly-maintained transit subway cars of New York.
The four elements of Hip-Hop (deejaying, emceeing, breaking, and graffiti) made a culture, believed to be a fad, into a long-lasting culture and music dominating urban cities, commercials, magazine ads, clothes, and the people of The Baby Boomer Generation up to Generation Z. Kahyan Aasim, nicknamed Afrika Bambataa and the Grandfather of Hip-Hop, Grandmaster Caz (of the Cold Crush Brothers), Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flash (the creator of mixes and cutting in record play) organized block parties in the Bronx, NY where b-boys and b-girls would dance, emcees would rap, and deejays would play music to heavily-infected percussion beats. Bambataa renamed a group he was apart of, “The Organization” to “The Zulu Nation.”
The Media’s First Glimpse
Former gang members from Afrika Bambataa’s Universal Zulu Nation would rap at these block parties and when gangs pitted against each other, they would “break” (dance). Although this art form and music was popular in the New York City area, the media didn’t take notice of Hip-hop until two commercial hits came about by the Fatback Band with “King Tim III” and the Sugarhill Gang came out with the hit record, “Rapper’s Delight”. Sugarhill Gang’s hit record became a Top 40 hit on the U.S. Billboard pop singles chart, and soon after, artists like Kurtis Blow would release top selling songs like “The Breaks.” Blow was the first Hip-Hop artist who was accepted into mainstream society enough to appear in ads. In the 1980s, he did a commercial for Sprite. Meanwhile, Joseph Simmons (brother of Def Jam owner Russell Simmons) was hired as his deejay. Joseph was nicknamed “Run” (later a member of Run DMC) because he could switch between two turntables so swiftly.
After these artists, many more rappers followed with hits from the ‘80s to early ‘90s: L.L. Cool J., Slick Rick, and Ice T, the originator of “gangsta rap”. The first major black female group, Salt n’ Pepa, launched their way onto the Billboard charts with the single “The Show Stoppa.”
While Hip-Hop music has sampled jazz, reggae, and ska, Run DMC took Hip-Hop an unheard way by completing a collaboration with Aerosmith in 1986 called “Walk This Way.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were the first group to win a Grammy award, in 1988, for their commercial music. Hip-Hop had become a unique entertainment with danceable music, an energetic atmosphere, and a unique way to make a beat: with the mouth. This vocal creation called beatboxing was started by artists like Dougie Fresh, nicknamed “The Entertainer” and Darren “Buff the Human Beat Box” Robinson of Disco 3 (later known as The Fat Boys).
In 1983, Flashdance was in theaters and this was the second movie where breaking was showcased, with the first being Wildstyle. The Rock Steady Crew performed in the first film. In 1984, Harry Belafonte’s Beat Street included a B-boy battle with the Rock Steady Crew and NYC Breakers. Kool Herc, Dougie Fresh, and Kool Moe Dee were also part of the cast. Adolfo Quinones starred in Breakin and Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo movies as one of the battle dancers.
Hip-Hop music broke into pop charts and onto MTV, a music television statement that had initially banned this type of music for its political and misogynistic messages. Public Enemy brought Hip-Hop to another level unheard of from the party anthems, bragging, shout-outs, and chanting that it was used to.
Public Enemy, consisting of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and DJ Terminator X, created songs like “A Letter to the New York Post,” “Fight the Power,” “Bring Tha Noize,” and “911 is a Joke.” In the last song, they made controversial comments about how the police department is crooked, emergency crews from 911 take an extreme amount of time to come to ghetto communities, and how the government does not care about people from poor, black areas. Chuck D was imprisoned for refusing to follow-up with a U.S. draft letter he received to join the army. He made a rhyme about it called “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”:
I got a letter from the government The other day I opened it and read it It said they were suckers They wanted me for their army or whatever Picture me givin a damn I said never Here is a land that never gave a damn About a brother like me and myself Because they never did I wasn’t wit it But just that very minute It occurred to me the suckers had authority Cold sweatin as I dwell in my cell How long has it been They got me sittin in a state pen I gotta get out but that thought Was thought before I contemplated a plan On the cell floor Another fugitive on the run But a brother like me begun To be another one Public Enemy serving time They drew the line y’all To criticize me for some crime Nevertheless they could not understand That I’m a Black man And I could never be a veteran
NWA (Niggas with Attitude) of Compton, CA, (consisting of Eazy E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre) made similar controversial and political claims in 1988 when they made the song “Fuck Tha Police.” Radio stations were told not to play it, the video was banned on MTV, and the Federal Bureau Investigation sent a warning letter to Ruthless Records, where NWA was signed. NWA was ordered never to perform the song again but in 1989 (in Detroit), they did and were arrested. This highly controversial song about the attitudes of many young, black youths towards the police solidified NWA’s popularity and only made the group stronger for standing up to the conservative community. Chuck D referred to Hip-Hop as “The Black CNN” and the late ‘80s and early ‘90s brought about “conscious” music and poetic lyrics from other well-known groups and artists such as Eric B. and Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, Schoolly D, A Tribe Called Quest, Just Ice, Spoonie Gee, Jeru the Damaja, Slick Rick, Guru, Heavy D & The Boys, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Grandmaster Caz, Big Daddy Kane, and Melle Mel.
Whatever Happened To...?
Unlike R&B, classical, jazz, blues, and rock n’ roll, the founders of Hip-Hop are frequently ignored in the latest Hip-Hop songs and in much of the media. Overall, the audience only wants to see the newest artists on the cover of Hip-Hop magazines or the most up-to-date artists on the radio. But there are a few old school artists who have managed to hold on to their longevity by continuously submitting their creativity to the Hip-Hop world.
Chuck D has a Top 20 radio show on AOL Radio where he plays a variety of old school and new school Hip-Hop artists. L.L. Cool J has put out eleven Hip-Hop albums to date, new songs like “Headsprung,” and a recent single with Jennifer Lopez called “Control Myself.” He also starred in movies like “Deep Blue Sea,” “SWAT,” and “Deliver us from Eva.”
Although Flava Flav has not been on the music scene, he has taken the reality show world by storm on the third season of VH1’s Surreal Life and his own reality dating show called “Strange Love” with his love interest Brigitte Nielsen. Kool Moe Dee created a book in 2003 called “There’s a God on the Mic: The True 50 Greatest MCs.” The foreword to this book is by Chuck D.
Dr. Dre of NWA went on to become the president of Aftermath Records and has signed popular artists like 50 Cent, Eminem, and the Game. Along with making guest appearances in ‘90s Hip-Hop movies like “Breakin” and “Breakin 2,” Ice T has been seen in movies such as “New Jack City” and “Judgment Day.” He has recently been a continuous actor on the “Law & Order” television show. Ice Cube has been acting in top box office movies like “Barbershop,” “Barbershop 2,” “Are We There Yet?,” and “Boys in the Hood.”
In addition to Will Smith’s successful tv sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” which is now in syndication, he has taken the cinema by storm in box office smashes like “Men in Black,” “Bad Boys,” “Bad Boys 2,” “I-Robot,” and “Independence Day.”
Although many breakers have grown through the years and can no longer perform the way they used to, ‘90s artists like Common still break when he performs at concerts like the House of Blues (Chicago) and MTV’s “Wildin’ Out.” In 2002, pioneer b-boys and b-girls came out with a movie called “The Freshest Kids” which showcased the pioneers in Hip-Hop. The Rock Steady Crew showcases annual shows where new b-boys and b-girls come out to perform and admire the technique of the founders, who are still skilled in the craft of breaking.
Old School vs. New School
Because Hip-Hop went through so many different phases that not all artists were ready for, old school artists like KRS One drew a bridge between “real Hip-Hop” and rap music. The latter was considered to be the commercial music that was catered to dance clubs, commercials, and more acceptable to diverse audiences. Real Hip-Hop was labeled as political, controversial (in an academic sense), and the pattern of the words were in multi-syllabics instead of simple end rhyme more suitable for a Dr. Seuss book.
KRS One said in the first version of the movie “Beef” that each year, he writes a rhyme that would destroy the career of the Top 10 Hip-Hop artists on the countdown. He tried to prove that point when Nelly came out with the track “Number One” for the soundtrack to the movieTraining Day. On the track, Nelly boasts that he’s the number one Hip-Hop artist. The lyrics that annoyed KRS One were:
I'm tired of people judging what's real Hip-Hop Half the time it be them niggas whose fuckin album flop (You know) Boat done sank and it ain’t left the dock (Cmon!) Mad cause I'm hot (He just) Mad cause he not
During the same time that “Number One” was released, KRS One had released a track called “Clear ‘em Out” which called out those who had a problem with KRS One’s definition of real Hip-Hop. Because of what would appear to be a reply on Nelly’s end, KRS One felt he was being attacked by the new artist labeling himself as the number one rapper. The Hip-Hop veteran KRS One retaliated with a diss track “I Can Slap Him Around for Days,” which led to Nelly’s retaliation on “Roc the Mike (remix)” featuring Beanie Siegel, Freeway, and Murphy Lee. In this rhyme, he makes fun of KRS One by telling the old school lyricist that he’s the first rapper in need of a pension plan. This battle led to KRS One asking his fans, on his 2002 album, Kristyle, to attend one of Nelly’s concerts and boo him off the stage. Although this booing incident did happen, spectators never did come to a unanimous conclusion on whether it was Nelly haters or KRS One’s request. But record sales show that KRS One’s wish for Nelly’s album to flop did not work. KRS One did an interview on Allhiphop.com stating that if he said Nelly’s album was wack, it would stop selling 2-3 million copies. He was right. Nelly’s sophomore album sold close to ten million copies, regardless of KRS One’s suggestion for a boycott. Ironically, although the two artists were battling, they had something in common. Both did a track with the words “number one” in the title, both claimed to be number one, and both of them talked about old school artists in the song. But KRS One took a different route on his. He stated in his single “Still Number One”:
No one's from the old school, 'cause rap on a whole isn't even thirty years old. Fifty years down the line you can start this then we'll be the old school artists. Even in that time, I'll say a rhyme a brand new style, ruthless and wild. Runnin' around, spending money having fun But even then, I'm still number one!
Although many old school artists appeared to be more fond of the conscious rap that Hip-Hop used to be, there were newer school artists who also were more comfortable with Hip-Hop being underground and discussing newsworthy topics. A Chicago lyricist named Common Sense (later shortened to “Common”) came out with a song called “I Used to Love H.E.R.” in which he talked about the different stages that Hip-Hop had gone through since its beginning in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s.
Verse one: I met this girl, when I was ten years old And what I loved most she had so much soul She was old school, when I was just a shorty Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me On the regular, not a church girl she was secular Not about the money, no studs was mic checkin her But I respected her, she hit me in the heart A few New York niggaz, had did her in the park But she was there for me, and I was there for her Pull out a chair for her, turn on the air for her And just cool out, cool out and listen to her Sittin on a bone, wishin that I could do her Eventually if it was meant to be, then it would be Because we related, physically and mentally And she was fun then, I’d be geeked when she’d come around Slim was fresh yo, when she was underground Original, pure untampered and down sister Boy I tell ya, I miss her
Verse two: Now periodically I would see Ol girl at the clubs, and at the house parties She didn’t have a body but she started gettin thick quick Did a couple of videos and became afrocentric Out goes the weave, in goes the braids beads medallions She was on that tip about, stoppin the violence About my people she was teachin me By not preachin to me but speakin to me In a method that was leisurely, so easily I approached She dug my rap, that’s how we got close But then she broke to the west coast, and that was cool Cause around the same time, I went away to school And I’m a man of expandin, so why should I stand in her way She probably get her money in L.A. And she did stud, she got big pub but what was foul She said that the pro-black, was goin out of style She said, afrocentricity, was of the past So she got into R&B hip-house bass and jazz Now black music is black music and it’s all good I wasn’t salty, she was with the boys in the hood Cause that was good for her, she was becomin well rounded I thought it was dope how she was on that freestyle shit Just havin fun, not worried about anyone And you could tell, by how her titties hung
Verse three: I might’ve failed to mention that the shit was creative But once the man got you well he altered the native Told her if she got an energetic gimmick That she could make money, and she did it like a dummy Now I see her in commercials, she’s universal She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle Now she be in the burbs lickin rock and dressin hip And on some dumb shit, when she comes to the city Talkin about poppin glocks servin rocks and hittin switches Now she’s a gangsta rollin with gangsta bitches Always smokin blunts and gettin drunk Tellin me sad stories, now she only fucks with the funk Stressin how hardcore and real she is She was really the realest, before she got into showbiz I did her, not just to say that I did it But I’m committed, but so many niggaz hit it That she’s just not the same lettin all these groupies do her I see niggaz slammin her, and takin her to the sewer But i’ma take her back hopin that the shit stop Cause who I’m talkin bout y’all is Hip-Hop
Ironically one of the most political old school artists of Hip-Hop music was offended by the second and third verse of this song. The artist was Ice Cube from NWA, who not only did songs about governmental injustice, but also openly talked about being a member of the California gang, Crips. In “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, Common rhymes about how Hip-Hop has changed from being anti-afrocentric, more concerned with talking about guns, violence, gangs, and hardcore rap that gangsta rappers like West coast artists Ice Cube, Ice T, Warren G, Nate Dogg, and Eazy-E concentrated on.
This rap battle turned ugly when the Westside Connection (a group that Ice Cube was in, along with Dub C and Mack 10) made their first song, “Westside Slaughterhouse,” which lashed out at Common for speaking against gangsta rap. Initially, Common ignored the rap stating that he wasn’t specifically targeting artists like Ice Cube. He reasoned that he was just stating the transformation that Hip-Hop had gone through. But when the Westside Connection were on BET continuing to belittle his character, Common, a conscious rapper, lashed back. He created a song called “The Bitch in Yoo” where he insulted Westside Connection and performed this song in the California hometown of Westside Connection, at the House of Blues. Luckily, this situation, along with other beefs, stayed on wax and was resolved later on down the line during a truce ceremony with Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Media’s Take on Old School Hip-Hop
In the 2002 movie “Freshest Kids,” Crazy Legs said “We did the first shows and set the foundation of what the…what has become an industry now, and we ain’t gettin’ no love. Why is that?”
The odds of finding a Hip-Hop icon on a recent cover of a Hip-Hop magazine are slim to none. Although the late lyricists Tupac and Biggie still grace covers (even though they weren’t out nearly the amount of time as still-living artists like KRS One, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc, Will Smith, Chuck D, Flavor Flav), editors tend to go for the newest and hottest Hip-Hop stars.
And with that showcase for new artist stardom comes the diminishing of Hip-Hop music into Rap music. Hip-Hop fans have drawn a line between commercial Hip-Hop and underground Hip-Hop by calling mainstream Hip-Hop rap music and conscious music Hip-Hop. This is precisely what Nelly was talking about in his “Number One” track from Nellyville. Old school artists and underground artists are saying that Hip-Hop is now too commercial and the music is selling itself out. But with one of the greatest influences in Old School Hip-Hop, like Kurtis Blow, being labeled a sell-out for doing a Sprite commercial, rap fans take this label with a grain of salt. If Hip-Hop icons like Kurtis Blow and rappers who have turned to acting, such as Will Smith, Ice Cube, L.L. Cool J., and Ice T, are picked on for doing more mainstream movies and raps, then who’s selling out? The icons are the originators. If the icons sold out, then how do the new school artists respond? And how do the originators “sell out” when they set the format for Hip-Hop?
Whereas Nellyville sold multi-platinum, KRS One’s album at that same time didn’t sell a fourth of that. But Hip-Hop fans wonder whether Nelly sold more because his album was considered better or because of promotions for a new artist. If rap battles like Ja Rule vs. 50 Cent, Tupac vs. Biggie, East Coast vs. West Coast, Eminem vs. Benzino, and Jay-Z vs. Nas help albums sell, then why wouldn’t KRS-One’s album sales increase?
The media has proven repeatedly that once an artist is out of the limelight or record sales are not coming on a platinum basis, that artist is not respected as much as newer artists. In the top three Hip-Hop magazines (Vibe, XXL, The Source), only one of those three magazines has put a Hip-Hop old school artist on the cover in 2005-2006. L.L. Cool J was featured on the January 2005 cover with Tyra Banks, the producer of America’s Next Top Model and one of the previous top models for Victoria’s Secret ads, in the January 2005 issue. Although no founders were given cover stories in any of the three magazines, and only XXL featured an online download for a Kool Moe Dee rap, several new artists were given the 2005 cover: Game, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z. Not even a full year later, 50 Cent, with his G-Unit rap crew, were given another cover in XXL magazine. The reviews for L.L. Cool J and Will Smith’s 2005 album weren’t given reviews by all three magazines, but the two artists were showcased as actors in upcoming movies.
It is an ongoing problem for underground culture, like breaking and emceeing, with the media. Before the media got ahold of Hip-Hop, there was no “East Coast vs. West Coast” beef. Before the media started making money from breaking, there were no big news stories about breakers having health issues (ex. a breaker who injured his neck while dancing) nor was it considered “played out.” The media prefers women shaking their butts in music videos over b-boys and b-girls dancing. The media discourages lyricists from talking about the current events that were so common in beginning Hip-Hop. The media favors electronic beats more than live deejaying. MTV, a station that refused to play Hip-Hop music in the ‘80s, is now one of the lead stations in showcasing commercialized Hip-Hop. The mass media has consistently tried to dilute the culture and ignore the history in the process.
The irony of the snub is that while the media feels the four elements of Hip-Hop may not be important, Hip-Hop crews like the Rock Steady crew have gone to other countries like Germany and Japan where the original style lives on. Breakers have gone back to the basics of putting cardboard on the ground, doing the original breaking moves, with live deejays and emcees. There are nationwide chains of the University of Hip-Hop in major metropolitan areas. At the University of Hip-Hop located in Chicago, their program is broken up into groups. One section learns about historical Hip-Hop icons and current events. Another section learns how to break or practice their moves with popular Hip-Hop breakers. While students are being educated on the culture, there’s a section of people rhyming. Although the media may not give these pioneers attention, smaller programs do make a point to talk about the historical aspect of the culture. No matter whether it’s emceeing, breaking, graffiti art, or deejaying, true Hip-Hop headz understand that history is as important as popularity.