Updated: Sep 14
✦ As Hip Hop marks its 50th year we take a closer look into the cultural phenomenon
The date of August 11 is a seminal one in the world of Hip Hop. On that day back in 1973 a young DJ by the name of Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell organised a ‘Back to School Jam’ party at their housing block complex in the Bronx, New York, where a new technique of rotating two copies of the same record to enable people to dance longer was tested. It was this technique, later complemented by MCs engaging with the crowd, graffiti, beatboxing and break dancing, that would evolve over a 50-year timespan into one of today’s most popular subcultures.
A common misconception is that the term Hip Hop merely relates to a musical style. However, it encompasses far more and is essentially an expansive urban cultural and art movement that fuses graffiti, fashion and music.
This movement developed over the decades by reflecting on the negative effects of post-industrial decline, political discourse and a rapidly changing economy, specifically in regards to young, inner-city African Americans. The musical style associated with Hip Hop, rap, provided these disenfranchised youths a platform to express themselves, to vent and tell their stories to highlight the inequality that was tarnishing their lives and so many others. Also, despite many conceptions to the contrary, the Hip Hop movement strived to keep such youths out of trouble and away from the likes of drugs and crime by providing a collective with a sense of belonging and purpose.
Legend states that the term Hip Hop was created by Robert Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins, a well-known MC in the rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, one of the most iconic and pioneering groups on the scene. It is said that Wiggins coined the onomatopoetic word in 1978 to describe the sound of marching feet to a friend who had joined the U.S. Army.
Originating from the use of two turntables, a mixer and an MC, the musical component of Hip Hop evolved in alignment with innovations in technology which made access to sampling technology and drum machines both more affordable and widespread, allowing early pioneering artists such as Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa to truly drive the genre to the masses. The mid-1980s to the mid-1990s is referred to as the Golden Age of Hip Hop, where artists such as LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, KRS-One, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and many others found huge popularity.
It was also during this time that the musical style diversified and many derivatives of the genre were subsequently formed, such as West Coast and East Coast Hip Hop, with celebrated artists such as Snoop Doggy Dog and Tupac Shakur associated with the former, and the likes of the Notorious B.I.G, the Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep with the latter. Gangsta Rap focused on the violent lifestyles and impoverished conditions of inner-city African American youths that artists such as Ice-T and NWA popularised with lyrics that were more violent, openly confrontational and shocking than those of established rap acts. There was also the more party-themed style of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice that found huge commercial success in the charts - “Can’t Touch This” by the former still sees heavy airplay these days on commercial radio stations across the world.
What became known as the “Bling Era” emerged towards the end of the century and into the 2000’s, with artists such as Jay-Z, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Kanye West and Eminem finding huge success. Hip Hop had a huge impact on mainstream pop music at this time with the likes of TLC, Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, Aaliyah, Usher, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott crafting the R&B genre to huge acclaim. In tandem, the musical style gained traction all over the world with prominent artists emerging in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, all using the power of the genre to find a voice and express their views on social injustice.
Nowadays, over a quarter of the world’s music-listening population enjoy Hip Hop music on a regular basis as the scene continues to thrive and become fully integrated as an integral component of modern society and culture. The venue for the famous Bronx party in 1973 where it all started - 1520 Sedgwick Avenue – has since gone on to become a renowned landmark and the date officially recognised as the birth of Hip Hop; indeed, August 11 has been officially declared “Hip Hop Celebration Day” after the United States Senate passed a bill of declaration in July 2021. Similarly, according to the Senate Periodical Press Gallery, August is now designated as “Hip Hop Recognition Month” and November as “Hip Hop History Month”.
As the Senate bill states, Hip Hop has “become a culture, now found in communities across the United States, and has long been a worldwide phenomenon... [it] transcends many different ages, ethnicities, religions, locations, political affiliations, and socioeconomic statuses, which demonstrates the melting-pot quality of Hip Hop art and culture.”
This is especially true locally with the Macquarie Dance Academy (MDA), a student group focused on street dance culture and its art of expression, one of the key facets of Hip Hop. You can read our previous story with MDA member Sabrina Tay here.
Hip Hop has grown considerably over its 50 years and will no doubt continue to do so and shape modern day culture in the process. If any further evidence to illustrate this was required just note that breakdancing, otherwise referred to as “breaking”, will feature as a competitive sport at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris!
All that’s left to say is Happy Birthday Hip Hop, and here’s to many more to come!
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