A Deep Dive Into the History of Hip-Hop
Hip-Hop is one of the most popular, if not THE most popular genre of music in the world. With a plethora of sub genres, a rich history influenced by a variety of musical backgrounds, and a massive following, almost everyone is familiar with Hip-Hop from some standing. However, while many of us may turn on a Hip-Hop song, or utilize it as a search option to find music to listen to, the rich history of Hip-Hop may remain a mystery. While we only have a few pages to do it, we are going to deep dive into the history of Hip-Hop—its cultural and musical birthplace, how it has evolved over the years, and some of the terminology that comes with it. So strap in.
To begin talking about Hip-Hop, we need to talk about where it first started. While many musical genres have broad, nonspecific origins, many can pinpoint the exact date where Hip-Hop was born. That day was August 11, 1973 in the Bronx, New York. In a block party, DJ Kool Herc took a number of funk records, and soul records, and mixed them together with rhythmic and percussive bass utilizing two turntables. This event also gave birth to the form of and style of DJ equipment still in use today.
This new genre of Hip-Hop began to spread quickly, rooted in this idea of splicing funk and soul beats together. Because of this, much Hip-Hop, especially throughout the 70s and 80s was rooted in classic funk. Not only did this make it accessible, but also made it practical for a live band—something a modern listener may not expect.
These new sounds acquired within the Hip-Hop genre began to seep into other genres long before they became the main event many of us listen to. For instance a sub genre of Jazz called Acid Jazz was born, wherein Hip-Hop and soul stylings began to take precedence in Jazz. A great example of this is in the legendary Miles Davis’ Doo-Bop album, or Jamiroquai’s Emergency on Planet Earth.
Though Jazz was not the end. Hip-Hop also quickly pulled in influences from the Rock scene, creating an almost entirely new genre of New School with bands like Run-DMC, and The Beastie Boys.
While this is a great overview of cross-genre influences and the birth of Hip-Hop, the legacy of Hip-Hop is something different entirely.
Culture, Rap, and Technology
Hip-Hop was born in African-American culture in the Bronx. Pulling from its Soul and Funk influences which were largely from the same culture, Hip-Hop quickly became an outlet for people to share opinions, experiences, and cultural identity with large masses. In fact, even the name Hip-Hop reflects this. Hip meaning “what’s in” and Hop meaning “movement.” Because of this, or possibly through this, Hip-Hop evolved past remixing records and quickly grew to beats, style, and a lyrical method we now know as rap.
Before we dive into the evolution of rap in the history of Hip-Hop, let’s talk about the technology of Hip-Hop. Especially in the world of music, technology tends to reflect culture. When DJ Kool Herc used two turntables to combine records, the music industry began to produce these kinds of products. But no piece of equipment quite defines Hip-Hop like the Roland TR-808.
The Roland TR-808, has defined Hip-Hop with the sound of the 808 drum. This bass-heavy kick still shows up as the dominant drum in Hip-Hop music today, and it was released in 1982! But the Roland TR-808 did something especially progressive for the Hip-Hop genre; it allowed producers to easily produce beats without bands, and without live drummers. This largely opened up the space for Rap to explode.
While it was nameless, Rap did exist in some forms prior to its Hip-Hop pairing. You could hear Rap stylings on Soul records, as well as in Jazz, and even Blues music. But it truly gained its foothold in the early 90s as groups like Wu-Tang Clan and N.W.A began to sweep the scene with their honest, aggressive, and punchy lyrics paired with (you guessed it) 808s and exciting samples.
If you’ve ever looked for GOAT meaning, that came out of early 2000s album G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) by LL Cool J.
Rap has been Hip-Hop's lyrical avenue for cultural expression, and poetic honesty.
Where Are We Now?
So where is Hip-Hop now? Like all musical genres, Hip-Hop has stuck to its roots while evolving with technological and cultural systems. Sounds are more digitally produced, samples are acquired in a different way. Turntables are no longer our sampling tools, but Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs).
This means that it is more accessible than ever, so cultural expression can continue to endure through the genre. Though, it’s never bad to take some time and look back, to find the roots of the genre, and listen to the music that birthed it.