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.