Hip-Hop emerged from the ghettos of New York City in the early 70s. Tracing its roots in the African American and Latino culture of the city’s impoverished neighborhoods, hip hop was a cultural fact that encompassed a whole range of stereotypes and role models mainly associated to the black civil rights. Protesting against unemployment, poverty, criminality and police brutality, expressing political speech, resistance and controversy and echoing the distress of African Americans in the altering urban culture of the United States, hip hop was the way out.
In the 1970s, the ground-breaking and unique approach of New York DJs to music gave birth to new sounds and dance forms. In Bronx, Brooklyn and the surrounding areas, DJs experimented with startling percussion riffs and rhythmic drum breaks mixing funk and disco elements in clubs and neighborhood block parties. Introducing innovative techniques such as scratching, cutting and needle dropping, hip hop DJs such as Afrika Bambaataa, Eric B., DJ Grandmaster Flash, and Funkmaster Flex recognized the power of this new music genre and soon became the centre of attention in a growing club scene.
Lovebug Starski, Keith Cowboy, and DJ Hollywood used the term “hip hop” when the specific music style was known as disco rap. However, the term is credited to Keith Cowboy, who was scat-singing “hip-hop-hip-hop” mimicking the rhythmic tempo of marching U.S. soldiers to a friend of his. Over time, Cowboy worked on the hip hop tempo as a part of his stage performance and he was later copied by The Sugarhill Gang in “Rapper’s Delight” and by other hip-hop artists. Later on, Afrika Bambaataa used the term “hip hop” to spread the street culture of urban Black and Latino youth to the world.
Soon, hip hop became a massive culture. Hip hop DJs acquired a great ability to attract big crowds and prepared the ground for the expansion of MCing. The MC (emcee) would introduce the DJ rhythmically to the crowd following a specific beat produced by the DJ. MCs were extremely talented in performing poetry written in advance or improvising rhymes on the spot. Their appealing stage presence became influential to the increasing reputation of hip hop music. Without any doubt, the growing influence of hip hop can be traced in the modest early steps of the DJs and MCs, along with the rise of breakdancers and graffiti artists (taggers), who all together comprised the scene of New York City in the early 1970s.
Hip hop graffiti was a way of self-expression and personal creativity, although many people associated it with the explosion of gangs in the 70s. With the emergence of DJ’ing and breakdancing, mystifying, multi-colorful spray paint graffiti murals covered up New York City on walls, buildings, and subways. Many DJS, MCs and breakdancers were graffiti artists themselves, loved to experiment in new graffiti methods like they experimented with music and dance, and had their own followers and fans around the world. All these elements comprised hip hop in its cultural American mainstream substance.
All this expanding sway could not pass unnoticed by the white-owned record companies. In the late 1970s, hip hop music exposed its commercial power and the meteoric step against the American system begun.
In the 1980s, hip hop was characterized by extreme diversification and quality. The main themes of hip hop artists were political militancy and Afrocentricity, a fact that shows their innovative and experimental intention. Their sounds had a clear jazz influence; however they were harsh and strong. Some of the most important hip hop releases of the 80s are “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” by Public Enemy (1988), “Paid In Full” by Eric B. & Rakim (1985), and “3 Feet High and Rising” by De La Soul (1989).
In the 1990s, gangsta rap, a hip-hop subgenre, challenged America with its sexist, misogynistic, and homophobic messages. Glorifying blacks as gangsters, pushers, criminals, pimps, and prostitutes and focusing on drugs, sex and street violence, gangsta rap was provocative, harsh and alluring. However, despite its controversy, it unified diverse audiences and made hip hop genre the fastest growing music genre in the music industry, not only in the U.S., but also in the world. Some of the greatest gangsta rap releases are Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” (1992), Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Doggystyle” (1993), The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ready to Die” (1995) and of course, Tupac Shakur’s “All Eyez on Me” (1996) that went 9x multi platinum in the U.S.
Today, hip hop is a dominant music style globally. After a short period of declining sales in 2005, hip hop releases regained their place in the top ten charts. Moreover, hip hop artists such as Timbaland and 50 Cent endorsed Hilary Clinton in the Presidential Elections of 2008, while , Usher, Common and Talib Kweli endorsed Barack Obama, showing that hip hop is not only music: it’s a part of American culture.