Rap came from the African continent via Jamaica via the Bronx. The griot tradition heavily influenced Jamaica toasting (chanting/talking over riddims) which came to prominence in the 1950’s. This was transported to New York in the 1970’s and 80’s by Caribbean immigrants such as DJ Kool Herc and popularized by block parties powered by sound systems. From here many African Americans began to put their own spin on these musical traditions, and thus hip hop was born.
Rap music is undeniably one of the most popular music genres to date but how well do you know the history of rap? Join me as I take a stroll down memory lane and revisit the origins of what we know today as Hip-Hop.
What does rapping mean?
Rap is actually a very old word. You can find the term popping up as early as the 15th and 16th century in Britain. Initially the word rap meant to strike or to hit. A few centuries later a slight variation of this definition appeared which meant to speak or talk. In America around the 1960’s it began to pop up in the black community and was used as a slang word to mean that someone was talking or having a conversation.
The roots of rapping
Thousands of years ago in Africa “griots”, where village story tellers who played basic handmade instruments while they told stories of their family and local current events. This style of talking while music is playing is rap music as we know it at its root form. The griot is still a major form of communication in Africa still to this day.
This griot tradition carried over when Africans were captured against their will, transported to America & forced into slavery. One way they would cope with the tremendous amount of pain & heartbreak of slavery would be to sing. While they were working in the fields they would often sing using “call to answer”. One leader would call out a certain part of a song and the rest of the slaves would answer with the next line. In modern times performing artists call this emceeing or crowd participation.
History is about to be made
On August 11, 1973 in the Bronx, New York history was about to be made. DJ Kool Herc (now known as the first DJ & founding father of hip hop) & his sister Cindy began hosting back to school parties in the recreation room of their building. It was these gatherings that would spark the beginning of a new culture we know today as Hip-Hop. One night during DJ Kool Herc’s set he tried something new he called “merry go round”. He used two turntables playing the same break beat section of the James Brown record “clap your hands”. When one turntable would finish playing the section he would switch to the other turntable and play the same section. This allowed him to extend that section of the song as long as he wanted. This technique is now referenced to as looping and is used by record producers in almost every beat.
From emcee to rapper
As DJ Kool Herc continued to do more parties he realized that speaking on the mic was just as important to keeping a party live as DJing was. In order to keep up with the demands of the crowd he reached out to his good friend Coke La Rock to be the first dedicated MC of these parties. During one of these parties Coke La Rock spit his very first bar, ” There’s not a man that can’t be thrown, not a horse that can’t be rode, a bull that can’t be stopped, there’s not a disco that I Coke La Rock can’t rock”. This one bar made Coke La Rock the very first rapper in Hip-Hop and birthed a new genre of music we know today as Rap music.
The first mainstream rap song emerges
Within the next few years DJ’s & Rappers was popping up at every block party to showcase their talent but record companies considered rap music a fad & was not compelled to invest into it. Rap music finally reached mainstream recognition in 1979. The first rap song to get commercially released was “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” by the Fatback Band. However this song was pushed to the b-side of the tape but after getting a huge response from the clubs it was later released on the a-side and became a top 30 hit on r&b charts.
In the winter of that same year a rap group emerged called Sugar Hill Gang comprised of Englewood, New Jersey natives Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson, and Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien. They released a rap song titled “Rappers Delight“. This song was over 14 minutes long and used the “Good Times by Chic” sample in the background. Rappers Delight went on to achieve the top 40 billboard spot in 1980.
The rest is history
And the rest is history. What record companies thought was just a fad rapidly grew into the most popular music genre of this decade. Rap music’s beginnings were humble and focused on bringing families together and uplifting each other’s spirits in times of heartache and pain. Since its inception much has changed and evolved but the essence of its heart and soul remains. What are your feelings on the current state of Hip-Hop? Please leave your comments below.