The 1970’s was a time of extreme poverty and violence within New York City; amongst the chaos and destruction a new culture was born. On August 11, 1973, in the Bronx, a young girl was planning her back-to-school party where her brother, Clive Campbell, would play music for the neighborhood out of their apartment. This was the birth of Kool DJ Herc also known as the Father of Hip Hop and the founder of the breakbeat, which he originally called the merry-go-round. The breakbeat is when a DJ uses two of the same records and switches between them to elongate the instrumental break of a song. This style would inspire a new form of dance called breaking, also known as breakdancing. DJ Herc called these dancers break-boys or break-girls, or simply b-boys and b-girls.
“cultural response to historic oppression and racism, a system for communication among black communities”.
Breaking, originally a slang word for getting excited, was the first official form of Hip Hop dance. The style would quickly grow, as artists created their own underground variations. Dancers such as Boogaloo Sam, who created popping and founded Electric Boogaloo crew, and Don Campbell, renamed Don Campebllock, inventor of locking and the founder of The Lockers. As these dancers began to form their own crews, a new aspect of the culture began to form. Hip Hop transitioned out of an informal street scene into more formal dance venues and battles began to form between crews. These battles became a staple at hip hop night clubs. MC Kid Lucky would later mention that “People used to break-dance against each other instead of fighting.” As artists began to delve deeper into the culture, they found ways of expression beyond the violence of their cities. This free form expression began a political movement within hip hop. It has been argued that rap music was formed to be a “cultural response to historic oppression and racism, a system for communication among black communities”. This is because the hip hop culture was birthed out of the social, economic, and political realities of the time.
The First Hip Hop Song
The first Hip Hop song to hit the charts was Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang (1980). This song incorporates DJ Herc’s breakbeat by sampling the musical break from Good Times by Chic (1979). Soon after, in 1984, Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three came out with The Roof is On Fire which some believe to be a tribute to Malcolm X’s 1963 speech about the difference of the “house Negro” and the “field Negro”. Malcolm explains that when the fields were on fire the “house Negro” wanted to protect their masters and hoped that the house would not burn down but the “field Negro” wished that the house would burn so they would be freed. This is just one example of the complex undertones of politics within early Hip Hop. Although these songs were extremely popular, the first group to truly “blow-up” was Run DMC; a group that also heavily focuses on political and social problems. The group would be the first artists to be featured in Rolling Stones Magazine, go on to garner gold, platinum, and multi platinum records, be featured on MTV, and sign a major endorsement deal with Adidas, which would later be featured in their song My Adidas.
Other Big Names
Now, one of the bigger choreographers are the Nappytabs, founded by Napoleon and Tabitha D’uom. This dynamic duo has choreographed for major celebrities such as JLo, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and many more. They have also covered many well known tv shows and theatres such as So You Think You Can Dance, The Emmy Awards, and Cirque Du Soleil. Many of the original Hip Hop artists believe that the form has morphed out of a group based performance to an audience based one so it can be better profited off of, but we see them proven wrong in the work of many of today’s artists. A recent example is Childish Gambino’s song This is America (2018), which openly speaks about gun violence. As well as, In 2018 Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his album Damn. which is a continuation of his album To Pimp A Butterfly, covering topics such as police brutality, racial inequality, and political outrage. Although the art form has changed over the decades, it was born out of the need for community and free speech, something that is still being fought for to this day by this dynamic art form.