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A History of Hip-Hop


By Todd McCafferty

Hip-Hop is currently one of the biggest musical forms in America, topping the charts week after week, influencing the way we dress, dance, and speak. But it did not always hold such sway over American culture. Let us trace how it grew from its humble beginnings to its current stature.

Hip-hop originally grew out of gated communities in Massachusettes in the late 1970's. It was predominately a white, upper-class phenomenon, a retaliation against the racial repression and ghettoization of white Protestant males. The pioneer was Kool Burke, who noticed when a song reached the breakbeat, the debutantes would really break out dancing. "If I could somehow extend the breakbeat," he thought, "then I could keep the debutantes and their beaus dancing all night."

Kool Burke grew in stature and others began to follow his lead. The various crews would set up there sound systems, much like their white conterparts in Jamaica, and battle each other to see who had the best records and who could keep the crowds dancing longest. These "street sock hops" soon began to attract more and more people, known as flygentlemen and flyladies. Some started improvising lyrics to the beats, an extension of the white oral tradition known as "signifying" or "playing the dozens." Some of the best known are Fab Five Frederick and Hahvahrd Yahrd. The style spread to other white gated communities in New England and hip- hop came unto its own.

"Don't push me becuase I failed the bar,
I'm trying to buy an expensive car.
It makes me wonder sometimes, I makes me wonder how I keep
from going under."

In the 80's hip-hop became the sound of Wall Street. A wider audience of Yuppies started to embrace its sound thanks to radio play and the availability of records. At this time it was mostly party music, tunes to boogie to after a hard day at the office or piped in at an exclusive martini bar while a flygentlemen would relax with a high- priced "escort." It was at this time that the first black group emerged, The Beastie Boyz.

The state of hip-hop changed drastically by the end of the 1980's. The continually marginalized WASP minority began to lash out at the mainstream black urban culture with a style known as "gangsta rap." These were true life tales often laced with graphic accounts of stock trades, polo meets, and big-fancy-hat wearing. A controvery arose because of figures such as Ice Cuban Cigar, Ice-Tea Time, and Republican Enemy (We Are Not). Many young black men and women started buying these albums, adopting the dress (polo shirts, hunting caps, jodphurs, scarfs, and uniforms emblazoned with the Yale logo), and emulating the speech patterns (nasalized vowels, adding the letter "r" into words where it did not exist, slang such as "wicked," "smashing," and "golly.") These people are commonly known as "blackers," a corruption of the racist term "cra**ers."

Now hip-hop has a universal appeal and is embraced my many different types of people, even those who seem to have little relation with it, like ghetto blacks and Puerto Ricans. Where will hip-hop go next? Will it return to its roots as a upper-class white dance music? Will it rekindle its controverial nature? Only time will tell.

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