A half-century of hip hop: the globalization of the genre from the Bronx

On this day in 1973, during a party in an apartment in the Bronx of New York City, hip-hop was formed.

The Jamaican funk and soul DJ Kool Herc used two turntables and a microphone to blend together two records, isolating and elongating the kick drum beats or “breaks” and announcing things in time with the music. What happened after that is old news.

Although its precursors, such as the Last Poets and DJ Hollywood, planted its seeds far earlier, 11 August 1973 became its modern-day birth date.

Soon, D.J.s were making 12-inch records on which MC teams rapped over the rhythm to demonstrate their dexterity.

The Sugarhill Gang’s 1980 single “Rapper’s Delight” became an early old-school classic. Critics at the time thought the song was gimmicky, but the song, which sampled Chic’s Good Times, became a classic and perfectly encapsulated the early block party attitude of hip-hop.

In the movie “The Wedding Singer,” Ellen Albertini Dow’s rapping grandma does a funny version of the song.

Sugarhill Gang members Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank, and Master Gee.

Sugarhill Gang members Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank, and Master Gee.

The four foundations of the revolutionary, grass-roots movement were rapping and mixing, breakdancing (a new style of street dance that emerged with the music), graffiti, and the music itself.

Another Bronx D.J. named Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu movement, which hosted dance contests and concerts for gang members.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy, two of New York City’s most famous graffiti painters, made the transition from the sidewalk to the television screen in the groundbreaking MTV video for Blondie’s “Rapture.”

A DJ providing music for a dancer during the 2006 U.K. B-Boy Championships

The four cornerstones of hip-hop are the D.J., the rhyme, the break, and the tag.

Growing hip-hop meant more chances to chart and collaborate with artists from other genres. In 1986, Run D.M.C. reinvented Aerosmith’s rock song Walk This Way with hip-hop, and the result was an immediate new school hit that propelled them to the status of the first hip-hop worldwide superstars.

Hip-hop from the . 50

A survey has identified the top hip-hop tracks of all time.

On a more technical level, tunes like The Message helped popularize “scratching,” the methodical movement of a record back and forth on the wheels of steel. The Roland TR-808 drum machine was a game-changer and accelerated the process.

There were individual indications that black guys were no longer the only target audience for hip-hop. After Salt-N-Pepa’s success with Push It!, the Beastie Boys, who were advocating for the freedom to party, released the first rap album to debut at No. 1 in the United States, entitled Licensed to Ill.

The search for a voice

Hip-hop artists were beginning to speak out on important social and political concerns. Fight the Power, by Long Island’s Public Enemy, addressed issues faced by black youth and was inspired by the Black Power Movement of the 1960s.

With “as vivid a representation of ghetto existence as a Gordon Parks portrait or a Langston Hughes lyric,” N.Y. State of Mind by Nas, one of the few rap tracks included in the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, was praised.

N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” had Dr Dre saying, “Forget about the ghetto, and rap for the pop charts,” over a catchy borrowed tune.

During the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival, Public Enemy members Chuck D and Flavor Flav performed.

During the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival, Public Enemy members Chuck D and Flavor Flav performed.

The genre was diversifying, with groups like the Wu-Tang Clan and the Compton rappers bringing a wider range of sounds to the table.

The introduction of De La Soul with their debut 3 Feet High and Rising, along with other alternative, more spiritual “daisy age” groups like A Tribe Called Quest, showed that hip-hop was expanding its musical palette and its fan base. Then there came Mos Def and The Roots, often regarded as “hip-hop’s first true band.” In the next decade, they’d become famous for playing on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show in the United States.

Monie Love, Queen Latifah (on songs like “United We Stand”), and subsequently, Lauryn Hill were at the forefront of a movement that intentionally glorified the lives of black women.

Hill said, “I suppose by us imparting information to our people, we are bringing knowledge to every other group and letting them know how we lived.”

Age of Glory

Hip-hop’s heyday was from the late ’80s to the ’90s, but it didn’t get its first No. 1 hit until 1990 with Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby.

Singers like Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. achieved widespread success with songs such as “California Love,” “Changes,” and “Juicy.”

 Propelled rap to the top of the charts. Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thing was Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg’s ode to the gangster rap scene.

Once pals, California’s Tupac and Brooklyn’s “Biggie” were high-profile victims of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry that became violent in 1996 and 1997. Both killings were unsolved, but once they occurred, things calmed down.

In 1993, New York City hosted a performance by Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., and Puff Daddy.

Before things got bad in 1993, Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., and Puff Daddy all performed together in New York.

Las Vegas, 1998: Lauryn Hill performs at the Billboard Music Awards.

At the 1998 Billboard Music Awards in Sin City, Lauryn Hill performed.

Producer Timbaland and the sassy new star Missy Elliott led the way in experimenting with the sound, setting the standard that artists like Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion later aspired to.

Popular family-friendly rap songs by Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Will Smith, such as “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” showed a distinct side of hip hop.

In 1999, Lauryn Hill, formerly of the Fugees and the film Dangerous Minds fame, made history by collecting five Grammys for her introspective L.P., The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

The next generation of British female rappers owes a great deal to her soulful rhyming style, including Mercury Prize winners Ms Dynamite, Speech Debelle, and Estelle.

Featuring: Eminem & Dr. Dre

Dr Dre, once of N.W.A., has returned to the spotlight with rising artist Eminem.

The first white hip-hop superstar was on the verge of breaking out before the turn of the century. Marshall Mathers III (aka Eminem, Slim Shady) of Detroit broke out into the spotlight under Dr Dre’s tutelage.

His sarcastic, controversial, and rapid-fire rhyming style was a breath of fresh air, and he even got to portray a fictionalized version of himself in the rap war film 8 Mile.

The club was bumpin’ thanks to 50 Cent, another Dre protege. Fiddy, when he was younger, said that youth culture is the “hip” aspect of hip-hop. I don’t believe 50 is the time to be writing the hottest poem.

Hip-hop entered the digital era with a legacy of innovation thanks to artists like OutKast, Kanye West, Tyler, the Creator, and Kendrick Lamar.

Lamar said he recorded his lyrics because he wanted to convey “brutal” things that “society may not want to hear” while “still having that connection” with his audience.

After the death of George Floyd in 2015, the song “Alright” from his platinum-selling, Grammy-winning album To Pimp, a Butterfly became a hymn of resistance for the Black Lives Matter movement. He followed it up with the PPrize–winning–winning Damn in 2018.

Similarly, Canadian pop-rapper Drake made history when, with the help of his viral smash single “One Dance,” he was crowned the Billboard Hot 100 Artist of the Year.

One of the most prominent homosexual rappers in a historically homophobic culture, Old Town Road by Lil Nas X dominated the Billboard 200 chart for an unprecedented 19 weeks, setting a new record in the process.

Premiere of Top Boy in Hackney, 2019: Drake, Ashley Walters, Micheal Ward, and Little Simz

Premiere of Top Boy in Hackney, 2019: Drake, Ashley Walters, Micheal Ward, and Little Simz

When hip hop initially arrived in the United Kingdom, many bands just ripped off their American counterparts. Roots Manuva, So Solid Crew, and later The Streets offered rap a genuine British sound and dialect by fusing hip-hop with dub and U.K. garage, respectively.

Massive Attack and Portishead of Bristol, United Kingdom, pioneered trip-hop by fusing hallucinogenic elements of slow-tempo hip-hop with electronica.

The B.B.C. debuted 1Xtra, a radio channel dedicated to modern black music, in 2002. The pioneers of the grime genre were the London pirate radio D.J.s Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Kano, who fused elements of hip-hop, jungle, and dancehall to create the new sound.

Despite Oasis’s Noel Gallagher telling the B.B.C. it was “wrong” to have a hip-hop headliner at Glastonbury in 2008, it was a watershed event for U.K. audiences when Jay-Z performed.

After Beyoncé and Kanye’s sets, Stormzy took the stage as the first black British rapper to headline the country’s largest music festival, using his platform to speak out against racism in the criminal justice system and the arts. Two years before, the grime group Boy Better Know had established a solid foundation at Worthy Farm.

Rap music, which had already permeated the U.K. and U.S. street culture decades earlier, reached its zenith in 2022 when Eminem, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Mary J. Blige took a knee at the Super Bowl in support of Black Lives Matter.

Dave and Little Simz, who both star in the Drake-backed Hackney gang thriller Top Boy, are among the new wave of highly praised young British rappers. They’re all contributing to the mix, reaching new listeners with their own distinctive styles of storytelling.

There is no denying hip-hop’s recent ascendancy in radio play, streaming, and the charts or its impact on contemporary mainstream music, comedy, cinema, and fashion.

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