1 Hip-Hop Music and Culture: Historical and Social Context
The South Bronx
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"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 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.
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
Rap music evolved in conjunction with the street mobile deejays, breakers, and later MCs.
Video Clip: Wild Style
The early MC's were
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.
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.
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.
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.
A source for social and political empowerment A forum for creative expression An expression of resistance Defines a cultural and social identity
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