Unit 1 Hip-Hop Music and Culture: Historical and Social Context
The South Bronx

Weekly activities: What do I need to know before class?
Audio Resources
Print these notes and discussion questions

INTRODUCTION

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

9 10 11 12 13

14 15 16 17

18 19 20
 
 
 
 

ARTISTS

BULLETIN BOARD

COURSE INFO

GLOSSARY

IMAGES

LINKS

PERSPECTIVES

SONGS

TIMELINE

URAP

RAP MUSIC HOME



ANY PROBLEMS?

"We use to break up the monotony of all the tension building
up in the neighborhood. 'Cause there was a lot of times where
the only event that everyone had was gangs.  Before we were
on radio, we would hold  parties in the park, and hold 'em
hostage, and make 'em have a good time." Flavor Flav

UNIT 1 OBJECTIVE: What were the social, economic 
and political conditions that gave birth to hip-hop culture?
INNER-CITY SOCIAL-ECONOMIC CONTEXT
The South Bronx Early History
ALTERNATIVES TO GANG VIOLENCE
HIP-HOP CULTURE
THE BEGINNING OF RAP MUSIC: MOBILE DEEJAYS
DJ Kool Herc
DJ Afrika Bambaataa
DJ Grandmaster Flash
DJ Competition
FUNCTIONS OF RAP MUSIC AND HIP-HOP CULTURE
 
Key Terms
b-boys and b-girls
breakers
emcee/MC
graffiti
hip-hop
mobile deejay/DJ
punch phrase
rappers
rap
scratching
tag
INNER-CITY SOCIAL-ECONOMIC CONTEXT

Rap music is the product of inner-city African-American and
Puerto Rican communities that were plagued by poverty, community
decay, and the proliferation of drugs and gang violence in the 
1960s and early 1970s. 

The South Bronx Early History
* Prior to World War II, Jews, Italians, Germans, and Irish inhabited
  the South Bronx and at a time when industrial jobs were plentiful. 
  During the war, Blacks and Puerto Ricans began to move to the South
  Bronx as the other ethnic groups moved out.
  
* In the 1950s, NYC began losing industrial and other unskilled 
  jobs. Black, Puerto Rican and other immigrants had difficulty
  finding jobs, paying rent and other bills. Public schools
  did not prepare the youth for the jobs related to the
  emerging service economy. 

* During the 1960s drugs entered the South Bronx and became
  an epidemic by 1965. The proliferation of drug usage led to
  an increase in major crimes and gang violence.
  
* In the 1970s fires in buildings and apartments raged
  through the South Bronx. Rent controls, the inability of
  tenants to pay rent, and the rising maintenance cost, led
  many landlords to abandon or set fire to their buildings. 
  Tenants also set fires to move into public housing.

* During this time New York City was broke and could not pay
  its bills. The city had to cut back on its services (including
  closing all but one fire station in the South Bronx) and
  provided little or no support to poor neighborhoods.
Return to top
ALTERNATIVES TO GANG VIOLENCE
Some gang members sought to improve social relationships between gangs
and to improve inner-city life.
Several became involved in community self-help projects funded by 
government grants. Such activities were influenced by the self-help, 
community empowerment, and the black pride ideologies of the Black 
Power movement.
Others formed social clubs designed to encourage constructive rather 
than violent forms of competition. 
From these clubs emerged various forms of creative expression such as 
graffiti tags, breakdancing and music.
HIP-HOP CULTURE

One such social club, called the Universal Zulu Nation, was founded in 
November 1974 by former gang member and mobile deejay Afrika Bambaataa. 
This social club first brought together:
* graffiti artists; 
* mobile deejays; 
* b-boys and b-girls (breakers, known as breakdancers
  outside community);
* and MC's (later known as rappers) 
  
The creations of these artists evolved a new culture known as "hip-hop" 
that produced both entertainment for inner-city youth and a new forum 
for competitive non-violent gang warfare.
At block and house parties, on schoolyards, and later in clubs, current 
and former gang members used their creative talents to transform their 
marginal existence into a meaningful social and cultural experience.
In 1975 hip-hop culture began to spread throughout the Bronx, New York 
City, and into the neighboring states of Connecticut and New Jersey.
By 1977 hip-hop culture, especially rap music, dominated the expressions 
of inner-city youth. 

Return to top
THE BEGINNING OF RAP MUSIC: MOBILE DEEJAYS
Rap music evolved in conjunction with the street mobile deejays, breakers, 
and later MCs.
Video Clip: Wild Style
The early MC's were 
DJ Kool Herc
Jamaican Kool Herc popularized the concept of Mobile DJs
in inner city communities. In 1973 he organized his
first parties in the recreation room of the projects in
South Bronx where he lived. He later gave block parties,
then played in clubs, high schools, community centers,
and parks. 
Kool Herc popularized the use of two turntables to mix
records on large outdoor sound systems.
He is also known for the creation of "break beats"-
the section in songs marked by increased rhythmic activity 
and layered percussion instruments. 
Herc used two records of the same song on different
turntables and cut back and forth between the same part
of the song to create his own version. 
DJ Afrika Bambaataa
Afrika Bambaataa was another DJ who became popular among
inner-city youth. He gave his first party in a Bronx 
community center in 1976. Prior to this time, he deejayed 
for other people.
Bambaataa introduced a wide range of musical styles and
genres to the deejaying tradition. He fused parts from
rock, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, African, Caribbean,
Latin American, and classical music to create new
compositions. 
DJ Grandmaster Flash
Jamaican Grandmaster Flash brought many innovations to
the DJing style of mixing records.
Flash began deejaying in abandoned buildings in the
South Bronx. Around 1976 he moved to the parks in housing 
project areas and later into clubs. In 1977, he
deejayed a major party at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom,
which attracted over 3,000 people. 
In 1977 a local record executive approached Grandmaster 
Flash about making a record, "using audio and putting
some talk on top of it." Flash turned down the offer.
Flash advanced the art of mixing and evolved the "punch
phrase" concept, where he took a musical phrase or vocal 
fragment from one record and punched it in over another 
record as it played.
Flash popularized "scratching," the manual spinning of a 
record back and forth with the needle in the groove. His 
partner, "Mean Gene" Livingston, is credited as the
pioneer for this invention. 
Return to top
DJ Competitions
DJs began competing among themselves at high schools,
parks, or community centers. The winner was the DJ that
attracted the largest crowd.
In the beginning, DJs occasionally inserted short phrases
over break sections. Herc popularized this tradition with
such phrases as "rock the house" or calling out the names
of people at the party. This DJ style draws from black
radio "personality" DJs in the 1950s and Jamaican DJs, who
coined various phrases, such as "Throw your hands in the
air and wave 'em like you just don't care," and "rock your
body to the beat." 
Grandmaster Flash extended these phrases into four line
verses. 
As crowds grew larger and the mixing techniques of DJs
became more complex, DJs added two or more MCs (known as a
posse) to their musical productions. In 1978, the spotlight
began to shift from DJs to MCs. 
MCs created raps and soon became the center of DJ
parties, evolving rap music as a distinctive genre. MCs
competed against one another -- within their groups and 
against other rap groups. 
FUNCTIONS OF RAP MUSIC AND HIP-HOP CULTURE
A source for social and political empowerment 
A forum for creative expression 
An expression of resistance
Defines a cultural and social identity 
Return to top
Last updated 8 June 2002 © Trustees Indiana University