Starting in the Bronx, New York in the 1970's, Hip-Hop began when DJ Kool Herc began playing the local parties and bringing his Jamaican dance hall influences to the inner city. Avoiding the bourgeois disco tracks that were dominating the clubs of downtown New York and didn't speak to the ghetto culture of the Bronx, Hip-Hop was a rebellious movement with closer similarities to Punk.
When Afrika Bambaataa, former leader of the infamous gang The Black Spades, threw his hat in the DJ ring, he understood the potential power that this movement had. A power to liberate the disenfranchised and give a voice to a youth culture that was often ignored or berated. He formed The Zulu Nation, a group of former gang members that worked diligently to organise events to help raise cultural awareness and knowledge. He also created the four elements of Hip-Hop; DJ'ing, Emceeing, Breakin and Graffiti. These are the basic components that make up Hip-Hop, not just rapping which is the common misconception.
Commercial success followed with huge chart hits like the Sugarhill Gang's 'Rappers Delight', Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 'The Message' and the aforementioned Afrika Bambaataa's 'Planet Rock'. But Hip-Hop really took off with the release of RUN DMC's debut self titled album, the first Hip-Hop album to go Gold and their video for the single 'Rock Box' was the first Hip-Hop video to be aired on MTV.
Finally, the streets had a voice. An outlet to tell their stories to not only their peers, but a generation of suburban kids who now had a fascinating insight into the urban culture.
A slew of groups and artists followed. In the mid 1980's, Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, brother of Run from RUN DMC, formed a record label called DEF JAM and began producing records for LL Cool J (the Lady Lover), The Beastie Boys (the party animals) and Public Enemy (the political activists). Later in the decade, artists began to emerge from California bringing their own message and stories with them. Ice-T, a former gang member turned Army veteran, created what became known as Gangsta Rap, using more abrasive and hardcore lyrics to paint a picture of gang life in Los Angeles. His lyrics were more of a warning than an attempt to glorify the violence and he preached that knowledge was a more powerful weapon than a gun. Shortly after, NWA or Niggas with Attitude, a crew from Compton comprised of; Dr Dre, Ice Cube, Mc Ren, DJ Yella and Eazy E, released their first album entitled "Straight Outta Compton", a no holds barred, take no prisoners look at the gang culture with a 'Fuck It' attitude. Their track 'Fuck The Police' garnered the group a warning letter from the FBI, which only made them more fierce when re-entering the studio.
The 1990's opened the floodgates to Hip-Hop as it became a much more commercially viable art form. It was no longer rare for albums to reach multi-platinum sales figures and with the exception of a few pop releases, the message and story of the streets remained embedded in the lyrics.
The mid 90's saw the rise of two mega stars, the likes of which had never been seen before; The Notorious BIG and 2Pac. Biggie from New York and 2Pac from California, these two Hip-Hop Heavyweights were close friends, until an attempted assassination of 2Pac left him bitter and angry at Biggie who he blamed for trying to kill him. This feud between two men was blown way out of proportion by the media who dubbed it a war between the East and the West Coast and Hip-Hop stars from both sides of America were being drawn into an uncomfortable war of words as threatening lyrics were hurled backwards and forwards. In September of 1996, 2Pac was shot and killed after leaving a Tyson fight in Las Vegas, Nevada. Less than six months later, the Notorious BIG was also shot and killed in LA whilst promoting his upcoming album, the darkly ironically titled 'Life After Death'.
This is where the history lesson ends and my opinion begins, because to me, this was the death of Hip-Hop.
Shortly after the death of Biggie, Big L, a young star on the rise with the most amazing knowledgeable lyrics and Big Pun, who along with Biggie proved that in Hip-Hop you didn't have to conform to a body image to sell platinum records, both died. Sean 'Puffy' Combs, Biggies "best friend" capitalised on his death by using it as a tool to promote himself as a brand, a gaudy throw back to the bourgeois scene that Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa were dismissive of when creating the movement. The success of Jay-Z and his lyrics focusing on being incredibly rich, was an overly obnoxious spit in the face to the origins of Hip-Hop and the message of the streets that it was intended to bring to the uneducated. Now instead of saying "I have nothing, this is my life, this is how I survive", rappers a more inclined to brag about their incredible wealth and patronising their audience with an attitude of superiority. And then there is Kanye West... what a prick! Someone needs to beat some humility into this arrogant diva. He is a disgrace to the term Hip-Hop!
I have been told that I should be happy that these guys are able to make a very good living off of Hip-Hop and that it has made it to the heights of success that it has. But I can't be happy that it got to that level of success by selling out its values. The message has been sacrificed for wealth and greed and the corporations that own the record labels have twisted Hip-Hop into a more profitable, marketable business rather than letting the poetry speak freely. I would be happier if KRS-ONE, DJ Jazzy Jeff or Public Enemy had that level of fame and wealth as they don't deviate from their objectives.
Others argue that Hip-Hop isn't dead and that I should look to the underground for the true message. But a message only has power if it is heard. Jeru Tha Damaja warned us that "Ignorance is a poison", but we didn't acknowledge it and now the ignorant masses control the market and the underground stand alone in a dark room talking to themselves. There is no revolution coming because the people have been bought off. No more HHC magazine, no more YO! MTV RAPS and Tim Westwood sold out years ago and is happy to endorse N-Dubz as a legitimate Hip-Hop crew! What the Fuck! Oh, and by the way, for those of you that didn't know, DEF JAM signed N-Dubz to their label in 2010. What has the world come too!!!
Hip-Hop is DEAD!
I truly am saddened by the passing of Adam Yauch. He was a pioneer in Hip-Hop as a boundary breaker as well as a straight up talented EmCee. Knowing that there will never be any more fresh Beastie Boys music that at least includes MCA is a massive blow to Old School fans like me who find their options for what to listen too dwindling as time moves forward. We have lost one more piece of the puzzle and the bigger picture is becoming increasingly harder to make out.