What is Hip-Hop History?

Mar 12 · 10 min read

And has anyone even attempted to answer the question?

I balk at the term “Hip-Hop Historian.”

Aside from it being pretentious as fuck, there doesn’t seem to be any qualifications for the claim. What does one have to master in order to take on that title?

As it stands, no one has broken up the supposed culture into segments that could be studied. Thus, you have people rambling on about the past ten years as if that encompasses the entire experience.

Well, worry no more, boys and girls. I, mauludSADIQ, will take the first swipe at this problem; I will do what has yet to be done and I will do it for free. You may not see it here first, but this will be the origin.

We’ll keep it simple and plain so it will be easily digestible.

Generally speaking, people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

I try to avoid any conversation about Hip-Hop or “the culture” at all costs. It’s beneficial for all parties involved. We’re not playing on equal grounds. That being said, as we move further away from the beginning of recorded rap, the gulf grows wider and wider.

Which brings us to our first field of study — The Pre-Recorded Rap era or the Jams Movement.

Not only do few people know about the years 1969 to 1979, the seminal years that formed what actually was “the culture,” few seem to care.

A scholar of this era would break Pre Recorded Rap up into five concentrations: gangs, writing, dancing, DJing, rapping — all of which culminated into the Jams Movement.

Any study of The Pre Recorded Rap Era would have to focus on “gang” culture, first. Without understanding gangs — it’s impossible to understand the role that writing (graf) had.

Long before Cornbread and long before Taki, gangs were getting up — marking their territory.

To be a non affiliated writer, you had better been cool with someone or you had better been dealing with Islam (more on that another time).

The movement of tagging which brought together youth from various (often time warring) parts of the city is often ignored. But it’s this movement, where teens were finding their identity, seeking fame, taking on new risks, it was this movement that paved the way for the Jams Movement.

That’s why it comes as no surprise that most early DJs like Kool Herc were writers and writers were DJs like Dez in the above photo.

A study of gangs will also present the historian with a rarely documented fact — b-boying or breaking started with the gangs. This hasn’t been properly explored as it is mostly oral history but it makes sense. If DJs in the South Bronx were playing music to the public, and the youth came, a large part of the youth population was gang affiliated.

Hence, James Brown classic, “Soul Power,” being morphed into a Black Spades chant, “Spades Power.” And it also explains why it was of the utmost importance that the DJ played what kept the people dancing — the breaks. And it goes without saying that the MC would be the next natural progression, shouting out the gang members, throwing their names in rhymes.

(Despite the fact that it happened at a later date in Los Angeles, their movement, minus the writing component, matured along the same line.)

That world continued untouched until 1979.

I would love to see more history dedicated to that era but the truth is, most people skip over it. And, truth to tell, they leap frog over the next era as well.

The next field of study would be the Backing Band Rap Era.

Although it was short-lived, the Backing Band Rap Era saw the shift of power from the Bronx to Harlem where many of the record labels were. These labels, as we discussed here, were mostly Black-owned labels cashing in on what they believed to be a novelty.

Having cut their teeth in the doo-wop era, many of these labels were looking for the next trend. Which is why you can also find great dance records (aka disco) being produced by many of these small labels.

These label owners employed session players to cut those disco jams and did the same for early Rap records.

One of the misnomers of this period is that most of the songs were interpolations of already popular songs. And, while that may be true of a few of the hits, it wasn’t true for the vast majority of the recordings which brings us to the next misnomer.

It’s often stated that no one liked these records. Well, I find that hard to believe. There are hundreds…hundreds of these early recordings, many of which can be found on YouTube and under each of those posts are thousands of comments saying, “this was my song.”

What has to be factored in is everyone couldn’t go to those Jams. Either they weren’t old enough, didn’t live close enough, or were just downright afraid to go. Maybe they couldn’t land a cassette from an OJ. For those people, Rap records were an entry into the growing subculture. And one of the first groundbreaking recorded Rap records fall into the next era or field of study.

That would be the Electro Rap Era.

Again, this is an era that is often overlooked or downplayed but of all the early Rap movements, the Electro Rap Era had the greatest impact.

Electro Rap is what sparked the Recorded Rap movement in Los Angeles. Electro Rap is what spawned Miami Bass. Electro Rap was morphed into Freestyle. Electro Rap is what brought in white folks.

You can’t talk about the development of Rap in Los Angeles without talking about Electro Rap. I never thought I’d say this but I’m thankful for NWA. I’m thankful because Electro Rap in Los Angeles went on for too damn long. JJ Fad was Electro Rap. The LA Dream Team was Electro Rap. That’s damn near a decade after “Planet Rock.”

And what is Miami Bass if it ain’t Electro Rap? They kept them bpms, kept them synths, added 808, and a twist from the scrip club culture and hau’ buddy you had you a movement. You don’t need me to tell you how long that flow lasted (mid 90s…at least).

It’s a shame that more people don’t remember Freestyle. I think part of the reason that that’s the case is the distinction of what is and what isn’t Freestyle was so narrowly drawn. When people say “I Wonder If I Take You Home” is Freestyle I have to stop myself from blurting out, “shut the fuck up.”

I say that to say that I fucked with the early Freestyle mostly because I rocked with Electro Rap. It crossed over. And that’s what brought the white folk to the party.

So Electro Rap can’t be ignored.

Which leads us to the Cultural Explosion Era.

Although Fab Five Freddy is often relegated to Yo! MTV Raps, and Michael Holman is rarely thought of at all, the vision of those two to package B-boying, Graf, and Rap together was genius.

That was the package that made Hip-Hop a national phenomenon, gaining television network exposure, popping up in mainstream music videos, and inspiring Hollywood (to make several sub par movies).

That was the package that birthed the international Hip-Hop movement in places like France and Japan to the point where their industry rivals ours in years in existence and cultural relevance. French and Japanese rappers drop videos that have millions of views within hours and we don’t know any of these folk.

That package is still the defining idea behind what some self-proclaimed purists call “Real Hip-Hop.”

You not gonna tell me you’re a Hip-Hop historian if you haven’t made any attempts to investigate the implications of what this package did to Black Youth Culture. I mean, you could, but I won’t listen.

This era is the Revolutionary Era of Hip-Hop; an era that birthed the first rap megastars: Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, The Fat Boys, LL Cool J, etc. It’s the era that hammered the nail into the Jam Movement.

That era is not to be confused with the next — The Early Mainstream Era.

Up until the The Early Mainstream Era, Rap was still taken for a joke or a fad. Sistas might still clown you, white folks still did that thumb, pinky, “yo yo yo” shit. You ain’t hear Rap on the radio.

But the Early Mainstream Era is where industries began forming around Rap. We discuss that in detail here and here but needless to say, this is when radio shows popped up around the country that were dedicated to Rap. This is when it became possible to consume Rap related content.

The Early Mainstream era is what gave us the second but more widespread crossover controversy surrounding MC Hammer. This is the first era where one considered what it meant to be “pop.” This was the era where rappers began attacking social issues and/or reporting what was going on in the hood.

This is the era that produced the first so-called Golden Era of Rap where classic album after classic album was released for more than a year.

An historian of this era would have to pick a regional concentration because it is in this era where native Rap scenes popped up all over the country.

This era is dripping with nuance and requires deep study because it is this era that is truly the foundation for what we have now.

That lead to the Rap Explosion Era.

As time has gone on, Rap has shaken off all the other components that once made it a part of the Hip-Hop conglomerate. First, Rap shook off the writer. Once Rap became big business, corporate promoters handled branding and flyers pushing writers back where they started.

Next Rap killed the dancer. Between bpms slowing to a crawl and most songs being dedicated to murder and violence, there was little room to be dancing and shaking and shit. Sure, every once and awhile a song or two will come out with a dance attached but by and large, unless we’re talking about stripping, Rap ain’t made for the dancer (unless we talking down South…but most of ya’ll ain’t).

Man, Rap even killed off the DJ. Rappers went from being featured guests to frontmen, to complete solo acts in the matter of a decade, reducing the role of DJ to hypeman and necessary evil for shows. DJs don’t even scratch on records no mo.

The Rap Explosion killed off groups and it made record labels and a few artists super rich. Until…

The Internet Rap Era

Not to be mistaken for the Modern Era (which we’ll get to next), The Internet Rap Era gave us the first influx of rappers who became popular via social media sites like MySpace or Blogs.

Although they never reached the level of fame as folks from the Rap Explosion Era, acts like The Cool Kids, Charles Hamilton, Chester French, and Lupe Fiasco (who escaped the era) were on top of the world…for all of a year or two.

This was the first batch of Rappers to become known outside of the watchful eye of the tastemakers and label A&R’s. This is the era of Rappers that emerged after the fallout of Napster and music pirating.

Video money had dried up and the video shows were over…and YouTube became the place to be.

Everyone was so optimistic about the future of the new, liberated artists…finally, artists were free to express themselves without making the requisite radio friendly song. Artists could release as many projects as they desired. Everyone was so optimistic…except the Record label execs.

Which brings us to now. The Modern Era.

‘J’ournalism is the first draft of history’ is a quote attributed (albeit with controversy) to former Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham. But no matter who said it, it remains to be true.

The writers covering the times now, the ones unearthing new artists and trends, the ones with their pulse on the feelings and taste of the people, they are the ones that will be more apt to explain this era to the people who come after them.

This is the world of the Soundcloud to Record Label rappers. The Instagram to Instant Fame Rappers. Rappers who likely have never performed in front of anyone. Rappers who go from their first raps to first shows in less than a year.

The list of these rappers could go into the thousands, and, with the Modern Era, each of them have likely found a substantial following who stream their music, making their Labels money and revitalizing the Music Industry.

This too shall pass…but we perceive not.

Look, I’m giving this to you all for free.

I don’t know every Hip-Hop program in America…and I don’t have to. If any of them were worth fucking up your credit, we would see powerhouse Hip-Hop scholars blazing new trails on the historiography of Graf, DJing, B-Boying, Rap, Beat Boxing, Double Dutch, Skating, Fashion, Car Wheels & Tires, Memes, and everything that we touch (classical music has a wealth of it).

We don’t.

So I don’t want to hear anything about Hip-Hop history. Maybe Hip-Hop sociology. Maybe Hip-Hop gossip. But really…honestly, we’re talking about Rap. More specifically, we’re talking about the industry…that was not created by us.

If we’re going to call ourselves Hip-Hop Historians, then we need to either have an understanding that the depths of our history goes far beyond quoting when albums dropped or the typical “firsts.” There are some like Gino Sorcinelli who are working at the history and technique behind many of our classic recordings. Dart_Adams is addressing many of the inconsistencies in pseudo-scholarship that is often celebrated nowadays.

There are many others, but there are more questions than answers. And that’s why I can only call myself an Investigator. But Hip-Hop History? I beg your pardon, I’ve never heard nor seen it, not considered well.

Read, hit them clapping hands, share, and remember, hyperlinks are your friend.

The Brothers

The Brothers will discuss any and everything, whether it’s comics, movies, or even one’s favorite falafel spot. We will show you what you already know — Black men have perspective; greater still, a VOICE.


Written by

b-boy, old dude, Hip-Hop Investigating, music lovin’ Muslim

The Brothers

The Brothers will discuss any and everything, whether it’s comics, movies, or even one’s favorite falafel spot. We will show you what you already know — Black men have perspective; greater still, a VOICE.

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