Written by Zach Frimmel
Music is a complex organism with a mysterious origin. Like other complex entities, music has evolved with the advent of new technology, social demands, and creative innovation. Whether we’re talking about the eras of primal, classical, blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, or hip-hop, each one of these epochs was birthed as a product of their environment. Vaguely speaking, the way classical music shaped the milieu of the Renaissance period, blues and jazz defined the cultural consciousness of the early 20th century; and the same way rock ‘n’ roll influenced the energy of mid-century America, hip-hop redefined the limits of expression for ages to come. Of course, the dawning of each genre was devised by different means and produced different cultural results, but they all lent an Escher-esque hand in developing society’s vision of music and general perspective on life.
As stated above, one of the most recently significant grooves made in the ever-revolving record of music is the supernova of hip-hop, which started in The Bronx borough of New York City in 1975. The winner of who invented hip-hip is a slightly complicated trophy to award. The acknowledged frontrunners for this watershed were DJ Kool Herc and Grand Wizard. Interesting enough, James Brown – the “Godfather of Soul” himself – is regarded as inspiring the minds of the hip-hop movement for his dance dynamic and verbal quirks. Moreover, the behavior and mannerisms of hip-hop directly stem from those of Jamaican dub music. The musical elements and articulation involved in this thread of music gave hip-hop’s art form the building blocks it needed to erect it’s own structure of style. The playful nuances and utter disregard to the rules of language that emcees discovered and mastered was like nothing the world had scene before.
The concept of hip-hop that was being demonstrated in the ‘70s is attributed to the African-American community and is understood as a product of their traditions and verbal patterns. Contrary to popular belief, this phonetic phenomenon would have sounded more like spoken-word rather than the idea of hip-hop that we know today. Just to name one, a post-civil rights poet like Gil-Scott Heron is a good signpost for this mental destination as he delivered the earliest stage of “rapping” while capturing a collective emotion. It wouldn’t have been until something like Sugar Hill Gang’s 1980 hit “Rapper’s Delight” when the modern spin on hip-hop would incarnate. Little did they know that what they started would spark a revolution for the African-American community, as hip-hop would soon be the megaphone for the vehement voices of the street.
While a whole generation was boogying their asses down to “Funky Town”, ambassadors for art like Afrika Bambaataa (first to experiment with electro), Run-D.M.C., Beatnigs, Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy all shook the 1980’s with an in-your-face handshake. Now that hip-hop was gaining momentum as a cultural catalyst, acts like these spawned a legion of sub-genres, which opened the door for tycoons of the 90s like Wu-tang Clan, Arrested Development, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, J-Live, The Fugees, and Biggie.
Comparatively to how jazz and rock ‘n’ roll depended on blues music, the MCs and DJs of modern hip-hop depended on their musical predecessors so that they could “sample” their sound into a completely new canon of art via their vernacular, angular approach, and overall sui generis style. The construct of hip-hop has evolved due to its adaptable properties. Hip-hop was able to progress outside of its box because it was a viable platform that was able to integrate classical, jazz, soul, funk, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll music into its songs. As a result, the 90s hip-hop scene witnessed a scattering web of styles including: progressive (Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy), east coast (Jay-Z and Nas), west coast (Blacklicious, Jurrasic 5) new school (Beastie Boys, LL Cool J), gangster (Dr. Dre, N.W.A.), and jazz hop (The Roots, Guru).
In a congruent fashion, the way drugs and hallucinogens gave us acid jazz, Hendrix, Woodstock, and psych rock, gangster rap begot the blooming of gangs, Dr. Dre, graffiti, and acerbic view into the ghetto. The harsh climate that some rappers and hip-hop artists experienced was articulated with reciprocally harsh-sounding lyrics. This perspective seemed to bring about a slow-moving paradigm shift in the attitude and approach to hip-hop when addressing groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy. The message of the music still took precedence, but the tone and language seemed to be more focused on apoplectic and stiff-arming rhetoric. Just the simple nature of their names was seen as taking a radical stance in their milieu. And for good reason, these MCs and DJs were fed up with certain socio-economic politics of America and the certain conditions they faced so they made it a priority to cathartically share their anger and annoyance.
The 90s opened the floodgates for even more MCs to have their soapbox. Great albums like Uptown Saturday Night by the Bronx-bred Camp Lo and Low End Theory by the Queens-quartered A Tribe Called Quest were now able to thrive. Each geo-social pocket of America was given to its respective school of thought and brought its own dishing out of words and verses to the table. Word spread fast, which meant the South needed to get in their rebel yell from the trenchant mouths of Andres 3000 of Outkast and Ludacris with the hit “Move Bitch”, which featured Mystikal, who also contributed to the billboard chart with hits like “Danger” and “Shake Ya Ass”. Back on the west coast, groups like Cypress Hill were keeping California on the rapping map with their part-Latino flare.
Reaching the 21st century, hip-hop not only did well for itself in the 2000s, but it exponentially busted from its seams as it became a household item, a mainstream commodity, and a run-of-the-mill outlet for listeners and performers. Holding down the fort in the first decade were provocative leaders like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Lil’ John, and Eminem. Also, the inception of crunk, soul, and alternative are just three impetuses that have recently joined the movement. Alternative hip-hop seems like a rather vague label but seems to stretch anywhere from the Malibu-lax style of Swayze to the ax-sharp tongue of Aesop Rock.
Call me farsighted, but I don’t think we’ve seen all there is to see in the realm of beats, rapping, and emceeing. Another year means another chance for hip-hop to mutate and form more colorful veins for music as a whole. Now more than ever, hip-hop plays a vital role in why music is a complex and beautiful organism. Regardless if one knows the lore of hip-hop of not, it’s easy to understand that it has had an indelible effect on humanity and an incredible effect for those who participate in its multi-faceted mischievousness.
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