The Culture of Hip Hop
What is Hip Hop? Hip hop or hip-hop, is a culture and art movement that began in the Bronx in New York City during the early 1970s. While the term hip hop is often used to refer exclusively to hip hop music (also called rap), hip hop is characterized by nine elements, of which only four elements are considered essential to understand hip hop musically. The main elements of hip hop consist of four main pillars. Afrika Bambaataa of the hip hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the pillars of hip hop culture, coining the terms: “rapping” (also called an MC), a rhythmic vocal rhyming style (oral); DJing (and turntablism), which is making music with record players and DJ mixers (aural/sound and music creation); b-boying/b-girling/breakdancing (movement/dance); and graffiti. Other elements of hip hop subculture and arts movements beyond the main four are: hip hop culture and historical knowledge of the movement (intellectual/philosophical); beatboxing, a percussive vocal style; street entrepreneurship; hip hop language; and hip hop fashion and style, among others. The fifth element, although debated, is commonly considered either street knowledge, hip hop fashion, or beatboxing.
DJ Kool Herc
Clive Campbell (born April 16, 1955), better known by his stage name DJ Kool Herc, is the Jamaican–American DJ who is credited with helping originate hip hop music in The Bronx, New York City, in the 1970s through his “Back to School Jam”, hosted on August 11, 1973. Known as the “Founder of Hip-Hop” and “Father of Hip-Hop”, Campbell began playing hard funk records of the sort typified by James Brown as an alternative both to the violent gang culture of the Bronx and to the nascent popularity of disco in the 1970s. Campbell began to isolate the instrumental portion of the record which emphasized the drum beat — the “break” — and switch from one break to another. Using the same two-turntable set-up of disco DJs, he used two copies of the same record to elongate the break. This break-beat DJ-ing, using funky drum solos, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell’s
Afrika Bambaataa is respectfully known as “The Godfather” and “Amen Ra of Hip Hop Kulture”, as well as the father of electro-funk. Through his co-opting of the street gang the Black Spades into the music and culture-oriented Universal Zulu Nation, he has helped spread hip hop culture throughout the world.
In the late 1970s, Bambaataa formed what became known as the Universal Zulu Nation, a group of socially and politically aware rappers, B-boys, graffiti artists and other people involved in hip hop culture. By 1977, inspired by DJ Kool Herc and DJ Dee, and after Disco King Mario loaned him his first equipment, Bambaataa began organizing block parties all around The South Bronx. He even faced his long-time friend, Disco King Mario in a DJ battle. He then began performing at Adlai E. Stevenson High School and formed the Bronx River Organization, then later simply “The Organization.”Bambaataa had deejayed with his own sound system at The Bronx River Houses’ Community Center, with Mr. Biggs, Queen Kenya, and Cowboy, who accompanied him in performances in the community. Because of his prior status in the Black Spades, he already had an established Army party crowd drawn from former members of the gang. Hip hop culture was spreading through the streets via house parties, block parties, gym dances and mix tapes.
About a year later Bambaataa reformed the group, calling it the Zulu Nation (inspired by his wide studies on African history at the time). Specifically, Bambaataa watched the 1964 film Zulu, which sparked the name for the group. Five b-boys (break dancers) joined him, whom he called the Zulu Kings, and later formed the Zulu Queens, and the Shaka Zulu Kings and Queens. As he continued deejaying, more DJs, rappers, b-boys, b-girls, graffiti writers, and artists followed him, and he took them under his wing and made them all members of his Zulu Nation. He was also the founder of the Soulsonic Force, which originally consisted of approximately 20 Zulu Nation members: Mr. Biggs, Queen Kenya, DJ Cowboy Soulsonic Force (#2), Pow Wow, G.L.0.B.E. (creator of the “MC popping” rap style), DJ Jazzy Jay, Cosmic Force, Queen Lisa Lee, Prince Ikey C, Ice Ice (#1), Chubby Chub; Jazzy Five-DJ Jazzy Jay, Mr. Freeze, Master D.E.E., Kool DJ Red Alert, Sundance, Ice Ice (#2), Charlie Choo, Master Bee, Busy Bee Starski, Akbar (Lil Starski), and Raheim. The personnel for the Soulsonic Force were groups within groups with whom he would perform and make records.
In 1980, Taylor’s groups made Death Mix, their first recording with Paul Winley Records. According to Bambaata, this was an unauthorized release. Winley recorded two versions of Soulsonic Force’s landmark single, “Zulu Nation Throwdown,” with authorization from the musicians. Disappointed with the results of the single, Bambaataa left the company. The arranger credit on these recordings is correctly attributed to Harlem Underground Band leader, Kevin Donovan. This led to the false assumption that Bambaataa’s real name was Kevin Donovan, which was widely accepted by the hip hop community until recently, following sexual abuse allegations, when Bronx River residents spoke out and revealed in oral testimonies that Bambaataa’s real name was in fact Lance Taylor. The Zulu Nation was the first hip-hop organization, with an official birth date of November 12, 1977. Bambaataa’s plan with the Universal Zulu Nation was to build a movement out of the creativity of a new generation of outcast youths with an authentic, liberating worldview.
Grand Master Flash
Grandmaster Flash, is an American hip hop recording artist and DJ. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of hip-hop DJ-ing, cutting, scratching and mixing. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, becoming the first hip hop act to be honored.
Grandmaster Flash played parties and collaborated with rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Lovebug Starski. In the late 1970s, he formed his own group. The original lineup consisted of Cowboy (Keef Cowboy), Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) and The Kidd Creole (AKA Kidd Creole/Nathaniel Glover), and the ensemble went by the name “Grandmaster Flash & the 3 MCs”. Cowboy created the term hip hop. He created the term while teasing a friend who had just joined the U.S. Army, by scat singing the words “hip/hop/hip/hop” in a way that mimicked the rhythmic cadence of soldiers marching. Cowboy later worked the “hip hop” cadence into a part of his stage performance.
Mel was the first rapper to call himself “MC” (Master of Ceremony). Two other rappers briefly joined, but they were replaced more permanently by Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams, previously in the Funky Four) and Scorpio (Eddie Morris, a.k.a. Mr. Ness) to make Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Quickly gaining recognition for their skillful raps, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five pioneered MC-ing and freestyle battles. Some of the staple phrases in MC-ing have their origins in the early shows and recordings of the group. In 1978, the new group began performing regularly at Disco Fever in the Bronx, one of the first times a hip-hop group was given a weekly gig at a well-known venue
Grandmaster Flash carefully studied the styles and techniques of earlier DJs, particularly Pete Jones, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flowers. As a teenager, he began experimenting with DJ gear in his bedroom, eventually developing and mastering three innovations that are still considered standard DJ-ing techniques today.
- Backspin technique (or, quick-mix theory): Early New York party DJs came to understand that short drum breaks were popular with party audiences. Kool Herc began experimenting with the use of two identical tracks to extend the ‘break’, or instrumental section, resulting in what was known as ‘break-beat’. Grandmaster Flash perfected this technique where he could play the break on one record while searching for the same fragment of music on the other (using his headphones). When the break finished on one turntable, he used his mixer to switch quickly to the other turntable, where the same beat was cued up and ready to play. Using the backspin technique (also referred to as beat juggling), the same short phrase of music could be looped indefinitely.
- Punch phrasing (or, clock theory): This technique involved isolating very short segments of music, typically horn hits, and rhythmically punching them over the sustained beat using the mixer.
- Scratching: Although the invention of record scratching as a form of adding to the musical entertainment is generally credited to Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash perfected the technique and brought it to new audiences. Scratching, along with punch phrasing, exhibited a unique performative aspect of party DJ-ing: instead of passively spinning records, he manipulated them to create new music.
Stop the Violence Movement
The Stop the Violence Movement was formed by rapper KRS-One in 1987 in response to violence in the hip hop and African American communities. After a young fan was killed at a 1987 Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy show, KRS-One formed the Stop the Violence Movement in hopes of encouraging the hip hop community to end violence being committed among themselves. Further inspired by the recent death of fellow BDP founding member Scott La Rock, he assembled many contemporary East Coast hip hop rap stars of the time to record a song about anti-violence. With production assistance by band mate D-Nice and Hank Shocklee of the Bomb Squad, the product of the session was the chart-topping song “Self Destruction.” All proceeds went to the National Urban League. A VHS cassette entitled Overcoming Self-Destruction — the Making of the Self-Destruction Video accompanied the song’s release.
The song debuted at #1 on the first week of Billboard’s Hot Rap Songs existence and held the spot for ten consecutive weeks. The following rappers contributed the vocals to the song:
- Boogie Down Productions (KRS-One, D-Nice & Ms. Melodie)
- Stetsasonic (MC Delite, Daddy-O, Wise, and Frukwan)
- Kool Moe Dee
- MC Lyte
- Doug E. Fresh
- Heavy D
- Public Enemy (Chuck D & Flavor Flav)
In 2007, in preparation for the original track’s 20th anniversary, KRS-One re-launched the Stop The Violence Movement. This resulted in two new iterations of the original concept — “Self Construction” and “Self Destruction 2009.”
“Self Construction” was released first in April 2008. The track was produced by Duane DaRock and recorded in Los Angeles from February 7 to February 9 at the Los Angeles Recording School. “Self Construction” includes appearances by over 55 artists including David Banner, The Game, Nelly, Redman, MC Lyte, 50 Cent, Ne-Yo, Talib Kweli, Method Man, Styles P, Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Cassidy, Wise Intelligent, Awol One, 2Mex, Rah Digga and Rakaa.
“Self Destruction 2009” was released in late 2008 and features contributions by Twista,Syleena Johnson, Phil G, Crucial Conflict, Kenny Bogus, Straw and Pugz Atomz. Also in 2008, Jersey City rapper Heat recorded “Self Destruction 2” with the help of other local area rappers.
In late 2009, DJ Kay Slay produced “Self Destruction 2010” featuring Busta Rhymes, Bun B, Sheek Louch, Papoose, Uncle Murda and Jay Rock. In 2014, more than a dozen Baltimore rappers united under the name Stop the Violence Baltimore, recording their own version of the song with new lyrics pertinent to violence in their city at the time.
We’re all in the same Gang
“We’re All in the Same Gang” from the 1990 West Coast Rap All Stars Crew, which featured a few of the more notable names on the left side of the map. Comprised of rap stars MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E of N.W.A., Ice-T, Tone-Loc, MC Hammer, Digital Underground, Young MC, King Tee, Above The Law, JJ. Fad, Def Jef, Body & Soul, and Oaktown 3.5.7., the West Coast Rap All Stars were created to provide an anthem speaking out against the overwhelming amount of gang-violence in California, which was spiraling out of control at the time.
Spearheaded by high-ranking gang member Micheal Concepcion, who executive produced the project, the West Coast Rap All Stars would follow the east coast’s lead. A handful of New York’s top rappers joined forces as the Stop the Violence Movement and released their own socially conscious call for peace, “Self-Destruction,” two years prior. “We’re All in the Same Gang” featured the West Coast Rap All Stars teaming up for a positive cause and what would become a №1 rap single and earn a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, in 1991.