Hip-hop can be defined as a mass cultural movement that emerged among black and Latino youth in New York City during the 1970s and has since spread around the world. It is identified by four key elements – breakdancing (a distinctive style of dance practiced by dancers known as ‘b-boys’ and ‘b-girls’), graffiti writing, disc jockeying (or DJing) and emceeing (MCing) or rapping. It is expressed by its adherents as an attitude rendered in the form of dress, gestures, language, all embodying an urban street consciousness. Music played a formative role in the creation and development of hip-hop and continues to be the heartbeat of hip-hop expressive culture, vividly portrayed in hiphop’s first docudrama Wild Style (1983).
While many credit the Bronx, New York, with being the mecca of hip-hop culture, its development, in Paul Gilroy’s words, grew out of the ‘cross-fertilization of African American vernacular cultures with their Caribbean equivalents’ (1993, 103). Among those vernacular cultures are West African bardic music and dance styles, transmitted by enslaved Africans to the Americas by way of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Over time, African practices transformed themselves into African-American poetic renderings articulated in many different forms, including performed sermons, blues, girls’ game songs and ritualized games including the ‘dozens’ or ‘snaps’ (rhyming couplets between two people dueling about one’s mother or other relative), which were used extensively in storytelling traditions such as the celebrated toast known as ‘The Signifying Monkey.’ Verbal play common to the toast included repetition, mimicry, metaphor, boasting, exaggeration, formulaic expression, humor and above all, signification, commonly called ‘signifyin’’ among black vernacular speakers.
When, in the 1920s, African Americans began their massive migration from the South to the northern cities, they took southern traditions with them. Southern vernacularisms, too, evolved as an urban way of speaking, characterized by reassigning alternative meanings to English words (as, for example, with the word ‘crib,’ which translates as abode) and creating a non-standardized or new vocabulary that was in constant flux, known commonly among the urban black masses as ‘jive talk.’ The ingenuity of speaking in jive is predicated on having a personalized style, or simply being able to reinvent the English language to give it meaning for African Americans in urban environments. Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown capitalized on urban jive and blues forms in their works, and in the 1940s urban jive talk became the parlance of bebop jazz culture. While beboppers such as Dizzy Gillespie occasionally employed jive talk in their oral presentations, Louis Jordan, a former saxophonist with the Chick Webb band who had become a leading innovator of what was to be known as rhythm and blues, laced his songs with jive spoken in rhyme to the beat of his music, as in his 1940s classics, ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ and ‘Caldonia.’ By the late 1940s, jive was being popularized on the radio by black radio personality (disc) jockeys, most notably Al Benson of WGES and Holmes ‘Daddy-O’ Dayley’ of WAIT in Chicago, Lavada ‘Doc Hep-Cat’ Durst of KVET in Austin, Texas, Rufus Thomas and ‘Martha Jean the Queen’ Steinberg of WDIA in Memphis, Tommy ‘Dr. Jive’ Small of WWRL in New York, Hunter Hancock of KFVD & KGFJ in Los Angeles, and Jack ‘the Rapper’ Gibson of WERD in Atlanta, to name just a few. Talking jive was also made popular by a host of black comedians who surfaced during the 1950s and 1960s: Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley, Redd Foxx, Pigmeat Markham and Rudy Ray Moore, known for his famed audio recording of toasts such as ‘Dolemite’ and ‘The Signifying Monkey.’ Use of jive talk in rhyme was not limited to the above but also exploited by boxer Muhammad Ali, who taunted his opponents with rhyming couplets about his athleticism (Olsen 1967).
By the 1960s jive talk was redefined according to the changing mood and socio-economic climate among African Americans. Many attribute the shift from jive to rap to the Black Nationalist figure, Hubert or H. ‘Rap’ Brown, whose moniker acknowledges his mastery of urban street speech. Soon known as ‘rappin’’ to African Americans, this style of communication was nurtured in the context of the Black Nationalist movement via its artistic by-product known as the Black Arts Movement (BAM). Following the assassination of Black Nationalist leader Malcolm X in 1965, Amiri Baraka (formerly known as Leroi Jones), a poet-playwright and author of the classic Blues People (1963 ), summoned black artists to use their art to address the issues that most concerned the African-American community, thus making their art community-based and functional. BAM in effect reinforced the ideology of Black Nationalism, emphasizing self-pride and self-definition as well as an affiliation with African heritage and/or tradition, as seen inter alia in Kwanzaa (the annual seven-day celebration of the African-American inheritance), natural hairdos, African dashikis and Ki-Swahili names to replace anglicized ones.
In particular, poets of the BAM exploited a rappin’ style that made use of metaphor, word alliteration, repetition, breath cadences, heightened speech, intoned speech with occasional employment of expletives, and black vernacular street speech – all set to the accompaniment of African percussion or repetitive grooves. This new breed of poets honed their craft at local/neighborhood meeting places or at writers’ workshops such as the Watts Writers Workshop of Watts in Los Angeles or the Umbra Writers Workshop of Greenwich Village in New York City. Among these poets were Nikki Giovanni, Don Lee, Larry Neal, Ishmael Reed and Sonia Sanchez. The most popular poets of this style were among the first to be recognized through their spoken word tours and sound recordings – for example, The Last Poets’ eponymous 1970 album, Gil Scott-Heron’s A New Black Poet: Small Talk at 125th and Lenox (1970) and Nikki Giovanni’s Truth Is on Its Way (1971) – and have continued to be regarded by hip-hop artists as among the forerunners of the rappin’ style.
In 1973 Last Poets member Jalal ‘Lightnin’ Rod’ Uridin recorded a solo album called Hustler’s Convention. Unlike the politically toned poetry of other Last Poets, Lightnin’ Rod spins toast-like tales about the exploits of two urban characters, Sport, ‘The Gambler,’ and his side-kick Spoon. Because of its close association with street lore, black hypermasculinity and ‘jive’ talk, veteran hip-hop emcee Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers has deemed this recording a prototype of ‘gangsta’ or reality rap. Grandmaster Caz recalls that ‘I knew the entire Hustler’s Convention by heart. That was rap, but we didn’t know it at the time’ (quoted in Hager 1984, 49).
In the late 1960s the use of a rappin’ style – that is, speaking loosely over a repetitive musical vamp with occasional use of rhyme – was introduced to recordings by soul singer-musician Isaac Hayes on his debut LP Hot Buttered Soul (1969). Hayes’s approach inspired a legion of soul music and disco artists including Millie Jackson and Barry White, as well as funk musician George Clinton, the mastermind of the Parliament-Funkadelic collectives.
While Hayes’s style of rappin’ loosely over music is recognized as innovative in the context of soul music, Jamaican popular tradition is frequently recognized as a source of the practice. Hip-hop artist Lumumba ‘Professor X’ Carson noted in an interview that ‘Blacks growing up in the Caribbean … call rap toasting. … A lot of toasters [came] out of Kingston’ (Carson quoted in Keyes 2002, 50). Afrika Bambaataa, a key figure in the evolution of hip-hop, listed a legion of Jamaican toasters ‘Yellowman, I-Roy, U-Roy, Big Youth,’ whom he describes as ‘rappers over there like you have over here’ (Afrika Bambaataa, ibid.). If a direct source of hip-hop’s Caribbean connection undoubtedly lay with the dub poets of Kingston, even more important were the ingenious contributions of sound engineer Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby. In the late 1960s King Tubby ‘accidentally stumbled across a way to fade out the vocal and instrumental parts on the two-track recording machine. The technique of fading certain parts in and out or altering them in creating several varied cuts from the original resulted in dub versions’ (Keyes 2002, 54). Other trademarks of the dub style include riddims, a distinct bass line recorded over several dub tracks. The 1970s ushered in toasting, a sing-songy rappin’ style that makes use of patois, over recorded or dub versions called ‘talk overs’ (ibid.). The toaster credited as initiating this trend is U-Roy, who was soon to be followed by a bevy of competitors, including Big Youth, I-Roy, Prince Buster and Mutabaruka, who led the way until the transformation of the technique in the Bronx, New York by way of Jamaican immigrant, Clive ‘Kool DJ Herc’ Campbell (see below). But throughout Latin America one will find forerunners of other forms of hip-hop, for example capoeira in Brazil, which likens itself to breakdancing, or even the moves executed by those who danced to the mambo during its formative years in the Bronx and East Harlem areas (see the film From Mambo to Hip-Hop, 2006). Other forms of dance rooted in the African-American tradition also laid the template for breakdancing, as will be discussed later.
The post-Civil Rights decade of the 1970s provided the context for the growth of hip-hop culture. Political initiatives begun in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, such as Affirmative Action, aided the integration and participation of African Americans in the US mainstream. Additionally, the 1970s saw the introduction of a new era of black popular music, which reflected the growing optimism among the masses of African Americans in the wake of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Drawing on and reshaping past musical styles – jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, black rock ’n’ roll and soul – African-American artists created new and diverse forms of contemporary black popular music (Maultsby 1979, BM10), most notably disco and funk. Disco and funk were both instrumental in the development of rap music.
The musical basis for the disco sound was soul or gospel-style vocals, an orchestral arrangement supported by punctuating horn lines and a driving rhythm section with bass-drum rhythms accenting all four beats, subdivided by the hi-hat cymbals. Seminal figures of the disco sound were Barry White of 20th Century Records and groups such as the O’Jays, McFadden and Whitehead, an in-house orchestra MFSB on the Black-owned record label Philadelphia International Records (PIR), started by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The disco concept was later advanced in dance clubs that employed a disc jockey whose sole purpose was to spin records on a non-stop basis. To facilitate the continuous play model, the 12-inch vinyl record was invented, extending or even doubling the playing time of a single 45 rpm record, The 12-inch was to become a main staple in the vinyl collection of early hip-hop disc jockeys.
By the mid-1970s disco had been monopolized by European producers who reshaped the music’s sound in several ways, structuring its bass lines as an eighth-note bass line figure outlining the notes of a chord or in octave skips, highlighting the bass drum on all four beats, and sustaining orchestral or string lines, with less emphasis on punctuating horns. At times the speed of the music was a little faster than the earlier black disco productions. However, European producers such as Pete Bellotte and Giorgio Moroder maintained a connection with black American popular music by featuring an upfront African-American female vocalist, who performed in a soulful or quasi-gospel style. They elevated female vocalists such as Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Loleatta Holloway, Melba Moore and Grace Jones to diva status while black male singers were essentially shunned (George 1988, 154). Additionally, popular culture cashed in on disco’s growing popularity in the mainstream with films such as Saturday Night Fever (1977).
Alongside the disco craze was funk. The role of pioneering the funk music concept is usually credited to James Brown, who advanced what he refers to as an ‘on the one feel’ (Vincent 1995, 8) and a more earthy, gritty sound, characterized by interlocking horn and rhythm section groove lines and peppered with his own preachy vocals and grunts. Glimpses of Brown’s sound could be heard in the music of George Clinton and Larry Graham. Clinton’s and Graham’s collectives, Parliament-Funkadelic and Graham Central Station, placed much emphasis on the pulling-popping-and-slapping bass techniques and soulful background vocals, distinguished by each group’s use of keyboards – keyboard synthesizers in the case of Parliament-Funkadelic and Hammond B-3 in that of Graham Central Station. Other artists followed in the styles of Clinton, Graham or a combination of their styles. Many in the audience for funk were attracted by a party music that adhered to an earthy blues-based foundation without yielding to the crossover demands of the mainstream music industry. As George Clinton put it, ‘we just speeded blues up and called it “funk”’ (Clinton cited in Reid 1993, 45). Among inner city youth of New York City, funk was preferred to disco. That the music of James Brown, George Clinton and others would come to rank as the most sampled in hip-hop music is a testament to its widespread popularity (Schloss 2004).
Funk music was a vital part of the Los Angeles underground dance culture, providing the moderate tempo beat for the ‘pop’ and ‘lock’ moves that emerged in the city’s clubs and party jams and which, according to producer-director-historian Thomas Guzman-Sanchez, were a forerunner of breakdancing. Don Campbell stands out as a seminal figure in the creation of the robotic ‘locking’ dance technique that accompanies the funk sound as popularized by his dance collective, Campbellock Dancers, or the Lockers (Guzman-Sanchez, quoted in Smith 1998, 268). In the 1970s the Lockers introduced their jerky, locking robotic movements to the masses via the national syndicated television dance show Soul Train, as well as two other widely watched shows, Saturday Night Live and The Carol Burnett Show. Hip-hop film classics, Breakin’ (1984) and its sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984), further introduced popping and locking dance move styles idiosyncratic to the West Coast to mainstream viewers.
Alongside the release of these hip-hop films were docudramas and documentaries that captured a burgeoning hip-hop arts movement in New York specific to the Bronx. Docudramas like Wild Style (1983) and documentaries such as Style Wars (1983 [rereleased in 2003) gave audiences a glimpse of the interrelationships of the four elements of hip-hop arts among the youth of New York City. Audiences soon observed the style of breakdancing associated with New York City breakers, dubbed break-boy/break-girl or b-boy/b-girl. While New York City dancers had incorporated popping and locking moves, New York breakers institutionalized others involving the upper torso and foot movements (called uprocking and toprocking), as well as athletic moves in the form of headspins, back-spins, acrobatic movements with extensive footwork and angular movements punctuated with the final freeze-like poses. Popular breakdance crews of New York City who dominated during the formative years of hip-hop included the Rock Steady Crew, the Rockwell Association (of the Bronx), the Dynamic Rockers (of Queens), and Rubberband Man and Apache (of Brooklyn). The latter two incorporated salsa and the hustle dance moves to create uprock, a stylized move out of Brooklyn (Schloss 2006, 211–432). It was quite common to see breakdance groups or ‘crews’ challenge each other at hip-hop jam parties.
In general, the preference for funk music over disco was more evident among inner city youth of New York City who witnessed the exploitation of dance music by a predominant white middle-to-upper-class following. Bill Adler, hip-hop music critic, observed:
In New York City in the mid-70s, the dominant black popular music was disco as it was every place else. The difference about New York was that kids were funk fiends who weren’t getting their vitamins from disco music. It was ‘too nervous,’ in their terminology, which meant too fast. It was too gay. It was something, but it just didn’t move them, and so they were thrown back into their own resources, and what happened was that they started to … play a lot of James Brown. … His old records were staples, and Kool and the Gang, and heavy funk like that developed. I mean, part of it just had to do with there being a lot neighborhood parks in New York City … and what kind of music was played in those parks by the disc jockeys there’
|--(quoted in Keyes 2002, 44).|
While the over-commercialization of disco undoubtedly helped to set the stage for the development of hip-hop culture dance and music, other geopolitical factors were important in fostering its early development: the disruption of rent-control communities in the Bronx as a result of the construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway; post-industrial conditions (such as the replacement of industrial factors with information service corporations); and, eventually, the dwindling of funds from inner city or public arts programs. By the 1970s federal monies allocated to inner city infrastructure were being redirected to build suburban areas. In the phenomenon known as ‘white flight,’ whites fled areas like the Bronx for the suburbs, leaving behind an increasingly neglected inner city inhabited by the poor black and Latino working-class. Thus ‘modest blocks were bulldozed flat in the name of social progress, and the promise of these high-rise projects rapidly soured’ in areas like the Bronx. Between 1970 and 1975, there were 68,456 fires in the Bronx – more than 33 each night (Rooney 1995, 46).
As conditions worsened in the Bronx, crime increased. Youth street gangs were formed as a way to protect their neighborhoods from outsiders, but eventually what began as protection gave way to gang territorial or turf wars. Statistics reveal that in 1973 New York City had 315 gangs with over 19,000 members (George 1992, 11).
As gang violence eventually made its way into the neighborhood clubs, local disc jockeys (DJs) decided to use their music as a way of controlling the crowd. They took the music out of the clubs and into the streets, setting up large sound systems in outdoor contexts such as parks and block parties. DJs such as Maboya and DJ Flowers in Brooklyn, DJ Hollywood, and Pete ‘With the Funky Beat ‘DJ’’ Jones in Harlem garnered prestigious reputations in their immediate areas, not only for their ability to establish social cohesiveness among their local audiences, but also for their extraordinary skills in spinning funk dance music on the turntables. Many of these DJs also traveled from borough to borough or location to location, becoming well known as street or itinerant DJs, who were judged not only by their repertoire but by the size of their sound systems, which enabled them to be heard over considerable distances.
The street DJ who provided a shift from a style based on spinning records to one which aimed to create a dance track via the assemblage of musical fragments was Jamaican-born Clive Campbell of the Bronx, better known as Kool ‘DJ’ Herc. Around the early 1970s, Herc began patterning his approach on the dubs of Jamaican DJs by introducing the break-beats (beats) or ‘breaks’ concept. Rather than play a record in its entirety, followed by a fade to the next record, Herc blended musical fragments or beats from one record to the next with the use of a cross-fader lever between the two turntables. He also added electronic sound effects – ‘echoing and reverbing back and forth between the vocal and instrumental track; [while manipulating] the treble and bass knobs’ – a trademark of Jamaican sound engineer King Tubby (Hebdige 1987, 83). The source of his break-beats ranged widely from classic Jamaican reggae to funk music. Herc highlighted a particular part of the records: the percussion section groove (i.e. bongos/congas, drums and bass), called the ‘break’ section. His insertion of break sections became a trademark in early hip-hop music recordings.
DJs often performed non-stop music at neighborhood block parties and ball courts. In a similar way to that of their Jamaican predecessors, they recited catchy phrases to motivate their audiences to dance. In due course DJing became quite competitive, making room for the ‘rhymin’ MC,’ who took on the responsibility of reciting phrases in rhyming couplets to the dance crowd. In a continued effort to combat gang violence, some DJs-turned-MCs created catchy phrases. One such was Lovebug Starski of the South Bronx, who recited to his audience ‘hip hop you don’t stop that makes your body rock.’ The person responsible for extracting the term ‘hip-hop’ from Lovebug Starski’s words and designating it to embrace what were to become the four elements of hip-hop culture was Afrika Bambaataa.
Bambaataa, a member of the notorious Black Spades gang in the Bronx, opted to occupy himself with DJing rather than violence by performing at neighborhood clubs and block parties. Known as the ‘Master of Records’ because of his uncanny way of finding beats from various musical genres, he also envisioned hip-hop as a deterrent to gang violence by starting a nonviolent organization called the Youth Organization at his place of residence, the Bronx River Projects, in 1973. He eventually renamed it the Zulu Nation. The Zulu Nation consisted primarily of black and Latino youths, and offered them the prospect of competing creatively against each other rather than through violent means. As Bambaataa recalled, ‘people were into breakdancing, DJing, rapping and graffiti. They would battle against each other in a nonviolent way, like rapper against rapper rather than knife against knife’ (quoted in Keyes 2002, 48).
Herc’s break-beats concept was taken further by Grandmaster Flash, also from the Bronx. Observing how Herc would occasionally miss beats while going between one turntable and another, Flash invented a way to shift turntables and keep the music playing without missing or skipping a beat. A wizard at electronics, Grandmaster Flash invented the one-ear headphone that allowed him to hear the music playing on one turntable while pre-cueing the next recording, and thus avoid missing or skipping a musical beat. Furthermore, as a student of electronics, Flash, as Keyes reports, ‘later invented an apparatus allowing him to cue-up a record while the other is played through the speakers. He accomplished this with an external amplifier, headphones (later a one-ear headphone), and a single-pole, double-throw switch, which he glued to his audio-mixer’ (2002, 58).
Drawing on his acumen at turntable techniques, Flash also became an innovator of two other techniques, backspinning and punch-phrasing. Backspinning requires the use of two turntables with the same record; the DJ spins a record counterclockwise back to a certain part of the recording, repeating the process on the second record, thereby creating a loop-like effect. Punch-phrasing, also known as phasing, occurs when the DJ accents a certain segment of a record during the playing of a second recording on another turntable aided by the turntable’s cross-fader switch.
Another turntable technique, scratching, was invented by one of Flash’s protégés, Grand Wizard Theodore. Scratching involves moving a record back-and-forth in a rhythmic matter while the tone arm’s needle remains in the groove of a record, creating a scratch-like sound. The sound appeared on Herbie Hancock’s hit single ‘Rockit’ (1983), featuring DJ Grandmixer D.ST. Although DJs on the contemporary scene continue to execute scratching in this matter, a similar sound can be created using drum machines and CDs.
Many of the DJs had ‘crews’ or personnel consisting of DJs/MCs. For example Kool ‘DJ’ Herc’s crew was known as the Herculords. Among its crew members were MCs Clark Kent, Jay Cee and first-lady of the crew, Pebblee-Poo. Afrika Bambaataa’s crew, Soul Sonic Force, consisted of MCs Cowboy (not Cowboy of the Furious Five), Mr. Biggs and Queen Kenya. Other crews included the Cheeba Crew, Fantastic 5 MCs, the Mercedes Ladies and the Malachi Crew. But the MCs who revolutionized rhyming to the rhythm of the beat by trading off rhyming couplets (similar to trading fours among jazz musicians) were Grand-master Flash’s MCs, dubbed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Their style of rapping to the beat has continued to serve as the basis for crews with two or more MCs.
Other well-known MCs of the time were Grand-master Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, Sweet G, Kurtis Blow and Junebug. DJ Hollywood, known for his wit and skill at extemporaneous or freestyle rhyming, was also extremely popular and his rhymes were widely sampled by others. MCs such as these were the first to sell their raps over DJ beats as mix tapes, then on eight-track tapes, in their communities at affordable prices.
By the late 1970s, as hip-hop continued to flourish throughout New York City and neighboring boroughs, it started to attract the attention of music entrepreneurs. Witnessing its commercial potential and its youth appeal they sought dancehall spaces to rent, in which they would hire a DJ with MCs to host dance events. Additionally, local neighborhood clubs hosted hip-hop arts, incorporating all four elements of hiphop culture, on an occasional basis. Harlem World, Dixie Club, the Funhouse and Club 371 were among the most popular. But the club that featured hip-hop on a nightly basis was Disco Fever, established by Sal Abbietello in the Bronx area in 1976. Soon, the Fever, as it was known, was to become a magnate for music entrepreneurs seeking to sign music talents. In the wake of the success of Disco Fever others began hosting hip-hop entertainment. Kool Lady Blue, for example, an English punk clothing entrepreneur-turned-hip-hop promoter, began hosting hip-hop nights at the famed Roxy club (a former skating-rink) and at Negril in Lower Manhattan during the early 1980s.
A consistent element in all the aforementioned venues during the early period of hip-hop culture is that they incorporated all four elements of hip-hop – breakdancing, graffiti writing, DJing and MCing or rapping – as recalled in the hip-hop film cult classic Wild Style (1983). The film’s title derives from a graffiti writer’s term meaning ‘a complicated construction of interlocking letters’ (Cooper and Chalfant 1984). The oldest of the four elements of hip-hop culture, graffiti dates back to World War II or even earlier. But its recognition among New York City youth can be dated to the 1950s, when gangs began to ‘tag’ their names on neighborhood walls to mark their territory. In 1971 the New York Times featured a story about a writer of Greek origin, Taki 183, whose name was tagged throughout the city. While city officials view graffiti as a crime, its creators perceive graffiti as an art, for they treat subway trains, walls and even popular landscapes as concrete canvases on which to showcase their talent. Writers often began their ideas in sketchpads, prior to transferring them to large public canvasses using various spray paints (such as Krylon). As seen in Wild Style, it was not unusual for the work of ‘graf’ writers to be featured as the indoor and outdoor backdrop for party jams, helping to create a hip-hop ambience.
When entrepreneurs outside of the tradition moved to commercialize hip-hop, they contributed to the separation of hip-hop’s four elements. Their interest shifted from the street aesthetic of hip-hop to the element they judged to be the most marketable and the best known to the average music consumer – the upfront MC backed by singers with musical accompaniment. The ‘rhymin’ MC’ familiar to hip-hoppers would soon be called the ‘rappin’ DJ’ and the music would be popularly known as rap music. Early music entrepreneurs who took an interest in recording rap music were often veterans of rhythm and blues or small record shop owners-turned-independent record producers. Among these were Bobby Robinson of Enjoy Records, Paul Winley of Winley Records and Sylvia and Joseph Robinson of Sugarhill Records. The latter was the most successful of these independent record labels, producing hip-hop’s first successful commercial recording ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (1979), which introduced a trio of MCs assembled in New Jersey called the Sugar Hill Gang. New York MCs challenged the originality of the Gang’s rhymes, accurately claiming that members of the Gang borrowed rhymes from Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers. New York MCs also discounted the validity of ‘Rapper’s Delight’ as the first song to feature a rhymin’ MC, giving the credit instead to ‘King Tim III’ (1979) performed by the Fatback Band of Harlem and featuring rhymin’ MC King Tim III, which was released some months before.
As rap music moved farther into the mainstream, it eclipsed the popularity and the commercial potential of the other hip-hop arts. Street music promoters-turned-music entrepreneurs erected artist management companies that specialized in a street production concept. These companies utilized an underground promotion concept of pitching a tape mix of their artists to their respective communities before the official release of an album. This new school of music entrepreneurs included Russell Simmons of Rush Productions Management, Simmons and Rick Rubin, co-founders of the legendary Def Jam Records, and Tom Silverman of Tommy Boy Records. Silverman’s first successful rap music act was Afrika Bambaataa and his group Soul Sonic Force. Influenced by the techno-pop sound of Kraftwerk of Germany and Yellow Magic Orchestra of Japan, Bambaataa modified techno by fusing it with the funk music styles of James Brown and reintroducing techno-pop into rap music as a synthesizer-funk-electronic-driven concept dubbed ‘electro funk,’ which became the basis for his recording Planet Rock (1982).
Another successful yet unique rap music act during this period was the Fat Boys, a trio from Brooklyn who popularized the human beat box – the vocal rhythmic simulation of drum and bass sounds – leading some to argue that beat-boxing is hip-hop’s fifth element. But since the Fat Boys and other groups, and indeed the forerunner of the human beat box, rapper Doug E. G Fresh, are MCs, beat-boxing is more usually considered to be a subcategory of MCing, since it is a vocal technique commonly exploited by MCs. Other MCs to gain recognition during this period include Kurtis Blow, the first rap act on a major label (Mercury Records), and the first female MCs, Lady B, the trio Sequence, and Sha Rock of the collective, Funky 4 1, all signed to the Sugarhill label.
Between 1980 and 1985 other rap music acts surfaced across New York City, including Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Boogie Down Productions featuring KRS-One and Scott La Rock, Dana Dane, De La Soul, Doug E. Fresh & MC Ricky D (also known as Slick Rick), Eric B. & Rakim, Clarence ‘Blowfly’ Reid (a forerunner of risqué style rap), Kool Moe Dee, Jungle Brothers, Stetsasonic, The Juice Crew featuring MC Shan and Roxanne Shanté, The Real Roxanne, Ultramagnetic MCs, UTFO and Whodini. Acts from neighboring cities, such as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince and Schoolly, both from Philadelphia, also came to prominence. During this period, rap music artists also collaborated with other popular music styles, as is evident for example with the punk group Blondie’s 1980 recording ‘Rapture’ (leading some music critics falsely to assert that this was the first rap) and British punk stylist-cum-entrepreneur Malcolm McClaren, with the recording of ‘Buffalo Gals’ (1982).
Rap music also stormed the airwaves, thanks to the first rap music radio show host personality, Mr Magic. Magic’s radio show was initially launched on WHBI of Newark, New Jersey in 1979, later finding a permanent home on WBLS in New York City. New York’s KISS FM followed with the hiring of its first hiphop music host, DJ Red Alert. Magic’s radio concept established a trend for other rap-oriented stations to follow, such as Greg Mack’s all-radio station KDAY in Los Angeles, and the declared ‘pioneers of underground rap radio,’ Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito ‘The Barber’ Garcia, whose rap show was launched on WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s radio station’ (Keyes 2002,73).
Run-D.M.C., a trio from Queens, New York consisting of two MCs, Joseph ‘Run’ Simmons and Darryl ‘D.M.C.’ McDaniels, and DJ Jam Master Jay, made a major contribution to the crossover success of rap by establishing a sound that combined rappin’ with a background of rock guitar. Their single ‘Rock Box’ from the group’s debut LP Run-D.M.C. (1983) broke ground as the first rap song played on the syndicated rock-oriented video television station, MTV. Following this achievement Run-D.M.C. released their sophomore LP, King of Rock (1985), followed by their multi-platinum LP, Raising Hell (1986), with its innovative rendition of ‘Walk This Way’ by the hard rock group Aerosmith, who appeared on the recording and in the video with Run-D.M.C.
Russell Simmons, the older brother of Joseph ‘Run’ Simmons, entered hip-hop first as a promoter and manager of local hip-hop acts in New York City with his company Rush Productions, teaming up with the then New York University student Rick Rubin in 1984 to form Def Jam Records. Their business partnership led to other important innovations in rap music history. Their first solo artist was LL Cool J and his debut LP Radio (1986). In the same year they released Licensed to Ill, the debut album by the Beastie Boys, a punk-style rappin’ trio whose success proved the commercial viability of white rap music acts. A year later Def Jam signed what was to be their most controversial group, Public Enemy (PE). Dubbed as the ‘Prophets of Rage,’ the militant Long Island group, led by the main lyricist Chuck D and his side-kick Flavor Flav, together with their security (known as Security of the First World, who donned clothing reminiscent of the Black Panther Party) and their production team, the Bomb Squad, introduced listeners to Black Nationalist rhetoric via sampled speech material of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X, and revolutionized the art of mixing or creating a recording. The Bomb Squad, masterminded by Hank Shock-lee, produced the music for the recording ‘Fight the Power’ (1989) used in the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing (1989). PE’s extensive use of digital sampling and of the coveted Roland TR-808 drum machine with its sonic boom or kick to produce breaks or beats and an array of sound timbres and textures, was unprecedented at the time.
The success of these groups in the mainstream was boosted by the creation of MTV’s all-rap music programming, Yo! MTV Raps in 1988. Its first vee-jay or video television host was graffiti artist Fred Brath-waite, known in the hip-hop world as Fab Five Freddy. Following suit, Black Entertainment Television (BET) began airing Rap City (later known as Tha Bassment) in 1980, and in 1984 Video Music Box was launched by former itinerant DJ, Ralph McDaniels. Rap’s venture into the mainstream was taken further by television commercials that featured hip-hop music acts as spokespersons for name brand clothing, sneakers and soft drink beverages.
As hip-hop music expanded its roster to include female MCs during the mid-1980s, they, unlike previous MCs, introduced feminist-inspired themes in their raps. One trend that opened the doors for female MCs was the ‘answer-back’ rap or male/female sequel. Among the most noted examples were ‘A Fly Girl’ by the Boogie Boys followed by ‘A Fly Guy’ by PebbleePoo (both 1985), ‘The Show’ by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick followed by ‘The Show Stoppa’ by Salt-N-Pepa (both 1985) and ‘Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble’ by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (1986), followed by ‘Guys Ain’t Nothing But Trouble’ by Ice Cream Tee (1987). In the wake of the answer-back rap trend a legion of solo female MCs emerged, including Antoinette, The Real Roxanne, Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, Queen Mother Rage, Queen Latifah and Sparky Dee. While only some of these female MCs – MC Lyte and Queen Latifah among them – sustained long careers in the world of hip-hop, female MCs of the 1980s proved the viability and respectability of female hip-hop artists, who by the 1990s had contributed to more diversified images of women in hip-hop music. Most notable in this regard were Bahamadia, Boss, Bytches With Problems (BWP), Da Brat, Eve, Foxy Brown, Harmony, Lauryn Hill, Lady of Rage, Left Eye of TLC, Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Mama, Mia X, Missy Elliott, Monie Love, Nefertiti, Queen Pen, Rah Digga, Remy Ma, Sista Souljah, T-Love, Trina and Yo-Yo (see Keyes 2002, 186–209).
During the 1980s a host of photojournalists documented the burgeoning hip-hop culture in a series of illustrated books, considered amongst hip-hop critics of the contemporary scene as containing important and classic photographs in the annals of hip-hop. Among the most highly regarded were The Rap Attack: African Jive to New York Hip Hop by David Toop with photographs by Patricia Bates (1984), Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Herny Chalfant (1984), Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti by Steven Hager (1984) and Fresh: Hip Hop Don’t Stop by Nelson George, Sally Banes, Susan Flinker and Patty Romanowski (1985).
By the end of the 1980s the record industry had recognized the commercial appeal of rap music. Overall sales of sound recordings, concert ticket sales, television commercials and the foray of rap into the film industry catapulted it to the realm of a billion dollar industry.
Monica Lynch, the former president of Tommy Boy records, observed that the versatility of hip-hop music lay in its success at ‘reinventing itself. Every six months, there’s a new wrinkle in the fabric’ (quoted in Henderson 1988, R6). Several trends occurred that undoubtedly contributed to rap’s longevity. First, as we have seen, DJs revolutionized sound production concepts to create a break via digital sampling. Second, rap music’s ability to merge with pre-existing popular music styles was taken further, most notably by producer-songwriter-musician Teddy Riley. Through the creation of his group Guy, featuring lead singer Aaron Hall, Riley forged a mix of soul-laden vocal styles over a hip-hop produced track, leading to a musical hybrid known as ‘new jack swing.’ In the early 1990s a bevy of singers, sometimes called hip-hop soul, emerged on the pop music scene, among them Mary J., dubbed the ‘Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.’ An array of R&B male vocal groups also sang over hip-hop produced tracks, most notably The Force M.D.s, New Edition, Bobby Brown (of New Edition), Bell Biv Devoe (also from New Edition), and New Kids on the Block.
Other hybrids were created by R&B artists teaming up with rap acts, for example Chaka Khan’s ‘I Feel for You’ (1984) which featured Melle Mel of Grandmaster Flash with rapping verses, while new jack swing creator Teddy Riley collaborated with gospel legends The Winans on ‘It’s Time’ (1990). With rap music’s growing success in the music industry and among a core of young consumers, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) established a category for ‘Best Rap Performance’ in 1988, followed by Billboard magazine’s creation of the ‘Hot Rap Singles’ in March of 1989.
In hip-hop’s history, the ability to reinvent itself that Monica Lynch remarked upon has regularly been matched by a capacity to diversify along regional lines. In the 1980s Los Angeles and Oakland emerged as newer sites and fertile grounds for the genre’s continued development, as evident in the popularity of ‘reality rap,’ also dubbed as ‘gangsta rap,’ one of the genre’s most controversial forms.
As noted earlier, the vernacular dance culture of Los Angeles was an important site where a forerunner of hip-hop dance developed. In music, however, the situation was different. The style of hip-hop music for which the city was to become famous traces its development to a style known as techno-funk, introduced by Afrika Bambaataa and advanced by other 1980s electro-funk groups – influenced by Parliament – such as Zapp’s classic ‘More Bounce to the Ounce’ (1980) and Midnight Star’s hit ‘Freak-a-Zoid’ (1983). Early practitioners of hip-hop music in Los Angeles produced a hybrid of techno-funk and rap. Representatives of this style include Arabian Prince, The Dream Team, Egyptian Lover, Uncle Jam’s Army, World Class Wreckin’ Cru, among a host of others.
Among early sites for hip-hop in Los Angeles some of the most important were skating rinks such as Skateland USA, World on Wheels, and clubs such as the Radio (renamed Radiotron in the film Breakin’) and the Radio Lounge. By the mid-1980s the hiphop sound heard at these venues was being replaced by a more funk-driven sound to which lyrics about gang violence, police repression and drug lore (i.e., crack cocaine) were frequently added. The sound was known locally as G-funk or reality rap; commercially, it became known as gangsta rap. Because of its description of street culture and lifestyle in the most graphic terms via a hypermasculine gaze, gangsta rap would soon come to represent what hip-hop culture defines as hard core.
The rise of gangsta rap styles affiliated with the West Coast are usually traced to solo acts Toddy Tee, with his mix tape-underground hit, ‘Batterram’ (1985), followed by rapper Ice T (dubbed the Original Gangsta) with his recording, ‘Six in the Morning’ (1985). However, the credit for the prototype commercial recording of gangsta rap is often given to Philadelphia artist Schoolly D’s ‘Gangster Boogie’ (1984), followed by ‘PSK What Does It Mean?’ (1985) and to Bronx artist KRS-One, of the group Boogie Down Productions, for his ‘9mm Goes Bang Bang’ (1987), all of which depicted figures from black underworld crime culture.
One of the distinguishing features of West Coast gangsta rap is its incorporation of cholo iconography affiliated with Chicano gang culture. Cholo is characterized by ‘a distinctive street style of dress, speech [caló/Spanglish], gestures, tattoos, and graffiti that is a direct outgrowth of a 1930s to 1940s second-generation Mexican subculture called pachuco’ (Vigil 1994 , 3). Other images affiliated with cholo culture vividly displayed in music videos depicting Los Angeles gang culture were lowriders, bandanas, oversized shirts and baggy pants. One of the first examples of Latin rap on record is Chicano MC Kid Frost’s caló hit ‘La Raza’ from the LP Hispanic Causing Panic (1990).
The roster of gangsta rap from Los Angeles was augmented by a former drug dealer, Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright, who founded his own label, Ruthless Records, in 1987 and in the same year formed the group Niggas With Attitude or N.W.A. N.W.A. included MC Ren, DJ Yella, lyricist Ice Cube and Dr Dre, who was to become a renowned hip-hop producer. N.W.A.’s controversial lyrics addressed issues such as police brutality to black and brown (Latino) men and aspects of ghetto life of Compton, a Los Angeles suburb, including drug dealing and ‘gangbanging.’ One of the group’s most controversial songs, ‘Fuck tha Police’ from their debut LP Straight Out of Compton (1988), generated much controversy and was suspected by the Federal Bureau Investigation’s (FBI) Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of concealing cryptic messages propagating hate against the government (see Kelley 1996, 117–58).]
The commercial success of N.W.A. encouraged a wave of gangsta rap artists, among them Above the Law, Ice Cube and his affiliate groups, Da Lench Mob and West Side Connection, featuring Mac 10, and artists on the Death Row label, founded by Suge Knight and Dr Dre (such as Snoop Dogg, formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound featuring Kurupt and Dazz, and Tupac Shakur). Latino gangsta acts also proliferated, including Mellow Man Ace and the collective Cypress Hill. Some female artists were mentored by gangsta or reality MCs like Ice Cube and Eazy-E, among them Yo-Yo, J.J. Fad and Michel’le.
The West Coast rap style was not confined to gangsta rap. Alternatives could be found in the gravelly voice of Tone-Löc with his party-oriented bestselling single hit ‘Wild Thing’ (1988) and in The Young MC, the songwriter for ‘Wild Thing,’ who followed up with his solo hit, ‘Bust A Move’ (1989). Beyond Los Angeles, other areas were also productive. In Oakland, while Too $hort rapped about the ghetto lore of his neighborhood or ‘hood,’ MC Hammer was instrumental in developing a dance-rap style that shied away from the hardcore realities of ghetto life. Among other Bay Area artists were more underground acts who had not attained a mainstream reputation. These included Blackalicious, The Coup, E-40, Hieroglyphics, The Luniz, Paris, Planet Asia, Spearhead, Spice 1 and Digital Underground. To the Northwest, in Seattle, Sir-Mix-A-Lot scored several platinum hits, from ‘Square Dance of Rap’ (1985) to the techno-funk mix ‘Baby Got Back’ from Mack Daddy (1992), released on his own label Rhyme Cartel.
Beyond the East and West Coasts, rap scenes developed in a number of regions. In Houston, Texas, for example, Southern rap in the shape of the Geto Boys documented the realities of life in city of Houston’s notorious Fifth Ward. While gangsta-funk thrived in California and parts of Texas, a techno-driven sound facilitated by the coveted drum machine Roland TR-808 with its sustained ‘kick drum’ sound became a fixture in the music of Miami’s 2 Live Crew and other Miami acts to follow. The Miami bass sound, sometimes dubbed ‘booty music’ from its affiliation with the ‘dirty rap’ or risqué rap of 2 Live Crew, was further complemented by an artist from Orlando, Florida, DJ Magic Mike, who established a reputation as a major producer of the Miami bass sound and helped propel its sound farther into the mainstream of rap with acts such as 95 South and the 69 Boyz, with their double platinum single ‘Tootsee Roll’ (1994).
The Miami trio 2 Live Crew, masterminded by manager Luther (Luke) Campbell, became the center of a major censorship debate when their 1989 album, Nasty as They Wanna Be (1989), was heavily criticized by watchdog groups such as the Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) for its sexually explicit content. The album was judged obscene by a local district judge, and although the band members were acquitted, the case was not finally resolved until it reached the Supreme Court in 1992. Although the Crew and other rap artists who had also been the subject of censorship controversies, such as artists on the Death Row label, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg (also known as Snoop Dogg), and label owner, Suge Knight, were protected by the First Amendment, rap music artists began recording two versions of their LPs – a radio or clean version and an explicit version as indicated by ‘explicit content’ warning labels. This was a result of the PMRC’s campaign, which followed their attacks in the mid-1980s on a variety of music they considered inappropriate for teenage or younger listeners.
In addition to censorship and related controversies, copyright infringement cases arose stemming from hip-hop DJs’ practice of reproducing pre-recorded music via digital sampling without seeking copyright permission. Sampling also prompted an amendment to US copyright statutes to include the reproduction of any music via digital means.
The controversies surrounding rap attracted a cadre of scholars whose books launched the serious recognition of the burgeoning art form into the academy. Among these works were Houston Baker’s Black Studies: Rap, and The Academy (1993), Tricia Rose’s Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994), and Russell A. Potter’s Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism (1995).
During the 1990s changes also occurred in the way in which DJs approached their task. DJing advanced into a complex system of turntable techniques, launching the turntable into a musical instrument category of its own. Those accomplished on the turn-table at creating and making beats on the ‘wheels of steel’ began to be referred to as ‘turntablists’ – a term coined by DJ Babu of Dilated Peoples. Noted turn-table artists, who are recognized for their unique art form, include the Beat Junkies, X-ecutioners (led by Rob Swift), Invisibl Skratch Piklz (featuring DJ Q-Bert, Mis Master Mike, etc), Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark of the rap music collective Jurassic 5, and solo acts, DJ Honda, DJ Shadow, DJ Symphony and an array of others. Turntablism developed into an art form in its own right, largely through international competitions, sponsored by the popular turntable brand Technics, such as the Technics DMC World DJ Championship and the International Turntablist Federation Championship.
The early 1990s saw several experimental projects exploring hip-hop’s ability to merge with pre-existing genres such as jazz. One such effort had been made several years earlier, in 1984, with Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’ (1983), featuring scratching from DJ Grand-mixer D.ST. Hancock now followed with another project, in 1994, called Dis Is Da Drum (1994), with scratching from the ‘Real’ Richie Rich. The final LP recorded by Miles Davis, Doo-Bop (1992), produced by hip-hop producer Easy Mo Bee, is another example from the same period of a distinguished jazz artist’s experimentation with hip-hop music. Other examples of the continued interest of jazz-oriented musicians in hip-hop include saxophonists Greg Osby (3-D Lifestyles ) and Branford Marsalis (Buckshot LeFonque ), and bassist Ron Carter’s work on the hip-hop classic The Low End Theory (1991) by A Tribe Called Quest. Other acts combined jazz and sampling, most notably Gang Starr, featuring DJ Premier and Guru in their revolutionary 1993 work Jazzmatazz: Volume 1 (which included live performances by Donald Byrd, Roy Ayres, Lonnie Liston Smith, and Courtney Pine), US3’s with their classic rendition of Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’ (1993) and rap act Digable Planet with ‘It’s Cool Like Dat’ (1993), featuring samples of Art Blakey and the Messengers.
The malleable quality of hip-hop music continued to show itself in other combinations, such as with gospel music (dubbed ‘holy hip-hop’, and featuring acts such as Chris Cooper and S.F.C., Preachas in Disguise, and Soldiers for Christ [Colbert 2008]) and with reggaeton (for example, Puerto Rican artists Calle 13 and Daddy Yankee). In the mid-1990s the return of soul under the guise of neo-soul led to many singers performing with a hip-hop sensibility, among them Mary J. Blige (the ‘Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’), Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Angie Stone (formerly known as Angie B. of the hip-hop group, Sequence).
A further development that began in the early 1990s saw hip-hop welcoming the participation of artists rapping over live bands. The concept had first been explored in the mid-1980s by the Brooklyn-based collective Stetsasonic. The Roots, a hip-hop collective from Philadelphia, took the idea further. Masterminded by MC Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) and drummer ?uestlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson), The Roots released their first LP, Do You Want More?!!!??! in 1994, following in 1999 with Things Fall Apart. The latter featured the songwriting craft of poet-songwriter-singer Jill Scott, who penned ‘You Got Me’ performed by hip-hop/neo-soul vocalist Erykah Badu. Jill Scott followed her successful debut as songwriter for The Roots with her debut LP, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 (2000), produced by DJ Jazzy Jeff (of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince).
By the mid-1990s rap had attained a dominant position in the musical landscape, and business entrepreneurs and marketing strategists began adopting the term ‘hip-hop’ as a cultural signifier for all manner of products with a street sensibility that expressed itself via style of dress, language, dance and an ‘attitude.’ Contributing to hip-hop’s growing success was the ingenuity and vision of entrepreneurs such as Russell Simmons of Rush Productions and Def Jam Records, who in 1992 formed Rush Communications, a media-conglomerate consisting of Phat Farm, a hip-hop clothing line, Def Jam Records and several television programs with a hip-hop aesthetic. But in the late 1990s hip-hop’s appeal was challenged by the eruption of the West Coast/East Coast feud. In the wake of the murder of rapper Tupac ‘2Pac’ Shakur in September 1996 and, six months later, of Christopher ‘Notorious B.I.G.’ Wallace, a rift developed between West Coast and East Coast rappers. With some hiphop veterans such as Afrika Bambaataa expressing growing concerns about the fate of hip-hop culture, black community leaders Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and the Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael) invited rap music artists from various coasts to a one-day summit meeting in Chicago to find peaceful solutions to end the rap-on-rap feud.
Neighborhood community centers also worked to control and dissipate negative energies within hip-hop culture by creating organizations. These include Project Blowed in the Leimert Park area of the Los Angeles Crenshaw district (founded in 1999) and J.U.i.C.E. (Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy) in the Pico-Union District of Los Angeles (founded in 2001). More national-based organizations include Representing Education Activism and Community through Hip-Hop (R.E.A.C. Hip-Hop, founded in 2005, formerly known as the Hip-Hop Coalition) and KRS-One’s Temple of Hip-Hop (founded circa 1996). Each of these aims to empower youth with a more holistic and at times spiritual approach to hiphop. Additionally, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and cultural critic Bikari Kitwana started organizations such as the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) (2001) and National Hip-Hop Political Convention (2003), respectively, to enlighten hip-hop youth about political action and economic awareness. Such platforms served as important renewal sites for hip-hop at a time when it seemed to have lost its way to violence, misogyny and materialism. With the rise of hip-hop activism, scholar-critics documented these efforts and in doing so captured the efficacy of hiphop as a political tool for inner city youth and their community concerns. Such works as Stand & Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership, and Hip-Hop Culture by Yvonne Bynoe (2004) and Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip-Hop by Imani Perry (2004) stand as a testimony to these types of political incentives in hip-hop.
As hip-hop approached the turn of the twenty-first century, it continued to diversify. In New Orleans DJ Jubilee is credited with ushering in a substyle known as ‘Dirty South’ or ‘bounce,’ via a remix of Juvenile’s ‘Back that Azz Up’ (1998), which appeared on 400 Degreez (1998) The bounce style consists of a sparse musical track with the emphasis on a pulsing snare drum with booming kick drum (re)produced on a drum machine. It was exploited in the music of New Orleans hip-hop artists Master P and his collective, Juvenile, Lil Wayne of the Hot Boys, with Lil Wayne eclipsing the popularity of the Hot Boys as he pursued a solo career. Other artists categorized as part of the ‘Dirty South’ style include Goodie MOb, OutKast, Ludacris, Lil’ Bow Wow, T.I., DJ Smurf and Soulja Boy (all of Atlanta), Chamillionaire (Houston, Texas), UGK (Port Arthur, Texas), David Banner (Jackson, Mississippi), Trick Daddy and Trina (Miami), Nelly (St. Louis) and Eightball & MJG and Three 6 Mafia (Memphis), the last of whom received an Academy Award for the Best Song in a film in 2006 for the single ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp’ from the film Hustle & Flow (2005).
Three 6 Mafia were also instrumental in the development of another substyle of the ‘Dirty South’ scene called crunk. The style has been described as ‘a fusion of Miami bass and Memphis buck – roughneck chants with 808 beats and humming bass’ (Sarig 2007, 286). The term crunk was first heard on record on Atlanta’s duo OutKast’s single ‘Hootie Hoo’ (1994) and Three 6 Mafia’s single ‘Gette’m Crunk’ (1997) helped to cement the style. The sound of crunk eventually exploded onto the Atlanta scene when hip-hop producer Lil Jon, self-proclaimed ‘King of Crunk,’ and the East Side Boyz together released the single ‘Who U Wit’ (1996), which eventually was released on their album Get Crunk: Who Da Wit: Da Album (1997). Other crunk acts produced by Lil Jon in Atlanta include Rasheeda, YingYang Twins and YoungBloodz.
‘Hyphy,’ another regional substyle, emerged in 2000 and is associated with the dance culture in the Bay Area in California. The term was coined by Keak Da Sneak. Among the artists are E-40, Messy Marv and San Quinn.
In the early 1990s popular culture witnessed the burgeoning hip-hop film genre, aptly called ‘new jack cinema.’ Often didactic in scope, these films present grim realities of ghetto street life and the tough choices young black people have to face. In an effort to bring about a sense of realism, rap music artists were cast to play serious character roles alongside renowned actors. Such films include: Juice (1991) with Tupac Shakur, New Jack City (1991) with Ice-T Boyz ‘N the Hood (1991) with Ice Cube, Menace II Society (1993) with MC Eiht, Above the Rim (1994) with Tupac Shakur, Set It Off (1996) with Queen Latifah. Not all films with a hip-hop sensibility were dark in scope, and satires and comedies were produced as well, for example, House Party (1990) featuring the rap music duo, Kid’N’Play, Men in Black with Will Smith (also known as the Fresh Prince) and Living Out Loud, featuring Queen Latifah (1998), I Got the Hook Up (1998) featuring Master P, and 8 Mile (2002), a semi-autobiographical, featuring Eminem. One of Eminem’s songs from the film’s soundtrack, ‘Lose Yourself,’ received an Academy Award for Best Song in a film, the first time an Academy Award had been given to a rap artist. Queen Latifah and Will Smith received Oscar nominations for their roles in Chicago (2002) and Ali (2001), respectively.
Hip-hop culture has also been the subject of docudramas/documentaries that showcase specific artistic elements: The Show (1994), Rhyme and Reason (1997), and Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (2000) address the culture and aesthetics of spontaneous rhyming known as freestyle and the significance of ciphers to this tradition; Scratch (2001) and Keepin-time (2000) present a socio-history of turntablism; The Freshest Kids (2002) discusses the origins of b-boy/hip-hop dance culture; Rize (2004) examines a dance sub-genre identified with South Los Angeles called krumping; Nobody Knows My Name (1999) looks at the struggles and challenges of female MCs; Style Wars (1983, re-released 2003) and Infamy (2005) profile the graffiti art/writer culture; and Beyond Beats and Rhymes (2005) explores gender politics including misogyny and masculinity, and issues surrounding homophobia and hip-hop. The art of shooting or making music videos with a street edge sensibility (context, language, dress) opened doors for some music video directors to direct films, among them Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, Brett Ratner, Jessy Terrero and Hype Williams.
The diversity of hip-hop in the early twenty-first century is evident in the range of artists and artistic directions. Some artists have followed the tradition of developing songs with a national consciousness, acts such as Arrested Development, Black Star (with the duo Mos Def and Talib Kweli), The Coup, Common, dead prez, The Roots, X-Clan, Five Percenter, Brand Nubian, Lakim Shabazz, Poor Righteous Teachers (see Miyakawa 2005), while others such as MCs Busta-Rhymes, DMX, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G., Pharoahe Monch, Kanye West have specialized in verbal dexterity. Collectives such as Freestyle Fellowship have formed. Latino hip-hop featuring Fat Joe and his Terror Squad (with Remy Ma, Cuban Linx, et al.) and Haitian-reggae-hiphop featuring the Fugees (later performing as solo acts Wyclef Jean, Pras and Lauryn Hill) have all had considerable success. Chinese philosophy has influenced the formation of a number of groups, among them the kung-fu styled groups Fu Schnickens and the Shaolin-inspired collective Wu-Tang Clan (i.e., The Rza, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, the Gza, Masta Killa, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Cappadonna). A host of other MCs have also come to prominence: Bones Thugs-N-Harmony, 50 Cent, Fabolous, Ja Rule, Jeru the Damaja, Jurassic 5, Kid Cudi, Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, Mobb Deep, Naughty by Nature, Outsidaz, Redman, Soul Assassins, Souls of Mischief, Tha Eastsidaz, The Game, The Luniz, Warren G, just to name a few. In addition, hip-hop embraced a legion of singers from the contemporary R&B category who neatly fuse hip-hop production with R&B – artists such as the Senegalese-American singer-producer Akon, T-Pain, who popularized the use of the Auto-Tune, and singers who flirt with hip-hop production with R&B/neo-soul such as Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Keyshia Cole, Anthony Hamilton, Keri Hilson, India.Arie, Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Rihanna, Trey Songz, Musiq Soulchild and Usher.
Around 2004 hip-hop witnessed the entry of artists from global centers who became household names in a field once dominated by US-based acts. A roster of some of these diverse voices of hip-hop includes Sri Lankan British act M.I.A., Canadian lyricist Drake, Somalian-Canadian act K’Naan, Nigerian-German hip-hop singer Nneka, Japanese rapper Shing, South African hip-hop star Jean Grae and Trinidadian hiphop singer Nicki Minaj.
Hip-hop sensibility, once pioneered by small-scale neighborhood DJ or street-rap music producer, has influenced the entire scope of music production, and hip-hop producers have been elevated to record mogul status. For example, Dr. Dre, DJ Premier, Timbaland, Prince Paul, the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo), Swiss Beatz and Lil Jon have all produced hits for non-hip-hop artists. Meanwhile hip-hop acts such as Dr. Dre (Aftermath Entertainment), Eminem (Shady Records), Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs (Bad Boy Records Entertainment), Jermaine Dupri (So-So Def), Queen Latifah (Flavor Unit Records), Jay-Z [Roc-A-Fella]), together with the William Brothers, Bryan ‘Birdman’ Williams and Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams (Cash Money Records), and Russell Simmons (Def Jam/Rush Communications) have turned independent rap music record labels into multi-million-dollar enterprises. Hip-hop has penetrated the fashion industry on its own aesthetic terms with distinct name brands of global recognition: Echō, Enyce, FUBU, and clothing lines created by hip-hop artists – Rocawear (Jay-Z), Phat Farm (Russell Simmons), Sean John (‘Sean P. Diddy’Combs) – and popular footwear, including Lugz and Timber-land, etc.
While it is readily apparent that hip-hop has become a competitive force in popular music and popular culture, there is no denying that in doing so it has lost the diversity of female representation. From the late 1980s to the late 1990s, women in the rap music world reflected various facets of contemporary [black] women’s lifestyle via their rhymes and performances. For example, the ‘Queen Mother’ prototype, Afro-centric feminism, was reflected in the performances of Queen Latifah, Nefertiti, Lauryn Hill, Medusa and Yo-Yo. The latter also displayed aspects of the ‘Fly Girl’ image reflected in the independent erotic hip-hop female act of performers such as Salt–N-Pepa, Missy Elliott, and TLC. The ‘sista with attitude’ and the no-nonsense, hardcore-laden MC types included Roxanne Shanté, MC Lyte, Eve, Mia-X, Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, the latter two of whom also shared characteristics with the ‘Fly Girl’ category. The ‘Lesbian’ who was uninhibited in rhyming about women loving women was represented for example by Queen Pen (see Keyes 2002, 186–209). By the year 2000 the number of diverse voices and rosters of female hip-hop acts had plummeted, to be replaced by more alluring, partially clad female rap acts or by women seen as extras in hip-hop male videos, which left in its wake a monolithic view of female representation in hip-hop. Much of the blame for the (mis) representation and lack of diversity of women’s presence and voices in hip-hop can be laid at the door of a music industry dominated by male executives and constantly yielding to the pressure and demand for male artists to use hip-hop as a lens through which to demean or objectify women. This lack of diverse representation led to a flurry of critical writing to address what had become a growing lacuna in hiphop culture. Works such as hip-hop feminist Joan Morgan’s When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip-Hop Feminist (1999), Gwendolyn Pough’s ‘Check It while I Wreck It’: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere (2004), Kyra Gaunt’s The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop (2006); T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting’s, Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip-Hop Hold on Young Black Women (2007) and the compilation Home Girl Makes Some Noise: Hip-Hop Feminist Anthology, edited by Gwendolyn Pugh (2007), led the way for vital discussion regarding the objectification of women in hip-hop in general. Black Entertainment Television (BET) presented a similar discussion about the representation of female MCs in the network’s first music documentary entitled My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth About Women and Hip Hop, directed by Ava Duvernay (2010). The cadre of female hip-hop MCs who candidly shared poignant views about the pressures and expectations levied upon women by a male-dominated music industry included MC Lyte, Missy Elliott, Eve, Rah Digga, Yo Yo and Lady of Rage.
At the same time, hip-hop’s twenty-first century existence is also evidence of its effectiveness as a cultural expression embraced by youth around the globe. With an aesthetic base predicated on self-expression and originality, non-US-based artists are finding their unique voices and linguistic spaces through a hip-hop prism. Reflecting this, a growing number of studies have addressed the global proliferation of hiphop. They include Nitasha Tamar Sharma’s Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness (2010), Mwenda Ntarangwi’s East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization (2009), Ian Condry’s Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Path of Cultural Globalization (2006), The Global Cipha: Hip Hop Culture and Consciousness, edited by James G. Spady, H. Samy Alim and Samir Meghelli (2006), Ian Maxwell’s Phat Beats: Dope Rhymes: Hip Hop Down Under Comin’ Upper (2003), Tony Mitchell’s edited volume, Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA (2001) and Adam Krims’s Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity (2000). Also contributing to the global success of hip-hop is the explosion of MTV on the international circuit, the circulation of hip-hop film classics, the formation and distribution of international record label subsidiaries by conglomerate music groups (i.e., Universal, BMG/Sony, and Warner Music Group), the proliferation of the Universal Zulu Nation international chapters, and the accessibility of hip-hop on the Internet. But regardless of international magnitude, hip-hop remains a cultural practice that was shaped and continues to be informed by the African-derived performance practices that underscore its aesthetic qualities.
See also: Hip-Hop (Volume XII, International)
Kelley, D.G. 1996. ‘Kickin’ Reality, Kickin’ Ballistics: Gangsta Rap and Postindustrial Los Angeles.’ In Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture , ed. William Eric Perkins. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 117–58.