How did Hip Hop Become a Popular Music Genre?



We have explored the beginnings of various music genres and it has been hard to pinpoint the exact start. Most music genres began as a cultural movement, with different musicians from various places adding their style and creativity to a genre. Hip hop, which has grown into a popular international music genre is no different. It too has grown from cultural influences. But when it comes to hip hop, you can actually point to a specific place for its birth. How did hip-hop become a popular music genre worldwide?


The conditions that birthed hip-hop


Hip hop emerged from the Bronx in New York City in the 1970s. The city’s economy was faltering thanks to the decline of the manufacturing industry. Most of the white middle-class shifted to the suburbs to avoid the economic challenges. African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and Caribbean communities who stayed on suffered the consequences that saw rising crime rates, gang violence and poverty.


Many businesses shut down including entertainment joints. To express their frustrations and despair, urban youths turned to graffiti art and street recreation. Block parties emerged and laid the groundwork for the birth of hip hop.


How it all began


On 11 August 1973, DJ Kool Herc, a Jamaican immigrant, began performing in the Bronx when he and his sister hosted the “Back to School” jam in their apartment. He played with not one, but two turntables in an attempt to bring out the percussive ‘breaks’ in popular funk and soul influenced by Jamaican dub music. The breakbeat turntablism soon became influential and was the most anticipated part of a song where people danced the most. It also influenced rapping and breakdancing.


Herc named the people who danced to his music B-Boys and B-Girls, in short for Break-Boys and Break-Girls. He also developed the rhythmic spoken delivery of rhymes and wordplay performed by MCs. He spoke in rhythm and rhyme over instrumental parts of the songs to get the crowd hyped.

Influential contributors to hip hop


Besides Herc, there were other influential hip-hop figures from New York City. Afrika Bambaataa was a pioneering DJ who organised block parties in the Bronx in the late 70s. Through his Universal Zulu Nation, he guided the city’s youth by introducing them to DJing, breakdancing, rapping and visual arts to guide them away from violence and drugs.


Another noteworthy innovative DJ from the Bronx was Grandmaster Flash. He was the first to manipulate records in a forward and backward motion and invented techniques such as backspin, cutting, punch phrasing and scratching. He also created the Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and the group is one of the most influential hip-hop acts.


Hip-hop’s golden age


By the 1980s, hip hop was in ascendence. The sound has spread beyond New York and was played in clubs across North America. Roland released the TR-808, a programmable drum machine that helped to create the genre’s signature sound. Sampling became another key technique as no copyright law existed to protect music from being sampled. DJs sampled music from jazz, and rock to funk without legal troubles.


The early rhythmic chants progressed into metaphorical lyrics and explored a wide range of subjects. Artists began to perform the lyrics over more complex, multi-layered instrumental arrangements. New school rappers such as Run DMC, who fused rap with hard rock took rap into the top ten charts. It catapulted rap further into the mainstream. Other hip-hop innovators included L.L. Cool J, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and many more.


Original hip-hop sounds


Hip hop and rap relied heavily on sampled music up to the early 1990s. Unhappy about having other artists cash in on their work, original copyright owners wanted compensation. Soon, copyright enforcement laws were passed that required artists to clear all samples to avoid lawsuits. But it was expensive to clear samples.


As a result, hip hop took a new direction and producers decided to create their own original sounds than rely on samples. As a result, hip hop lost its jazz and soul influences but produced musicians such as Dr Dre., Snoop Dog, the Notorious B.I.G., Nas and Jay-Z. By the end of the decade, hip hop became an integral part of popular music.


Want to learn how to play hip hop? You can learn music rhythms from drumming by signing up for our trial class at Ritmo Music Studio, located near Chinatown MRT.


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