Jamaican born DJ Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell is credited as being highly influential in the pioneering stage of hip hop music, in the Bronx, after moving to New York at the age of thirteen. Herc created the blueprint for hip hop music and culture by building upon the Jamaican tradition of toasting – or boasting impromptu poetry and sayings over music – which he witnessed as a youth in Jamaica.
Herc and other DJs would tap into the power lines to connect their equipment and perform at venues such as public basketball courts and at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, Bronx, New York, a historic building “where hip hop was born”. Their equipment was composed of numerous speakers, turntables, and one or more microphones. By using this technique djs could create a variety of music. According to Rap Attack by David Toop “At its worst the technique could turn the night into one endless and inevitably boring song” (12). In late 1979, Debbie Harry of Blondie took Nile Rodgers of Chic to such an event, as the main backing track used was the break from Chic’s.
Herc, along with Cale Nosack was also the developer of break-beat deejaying, where the breaks of funk songs—the part most suited to dance, usually percussion-based—were isolated and repeated for the purpose of all-night dance parties. This breakbeat DeeJaying, using hard funk, rock, and records with Latin percussion, formed the basis of hip hop music. Campbell’s announcements and exhortations to dancers would lead to the syncopated, rhymed spoken accompaniment now known as rapping. He dubbed his dancers break-boys and break-girls, or simply b-boys and b-girls. According to Herc, “breaking” was also street slang for “getting excited” and “acting energetically”. Herc’s terms b-boy, b-girl and breaking became part of the lexicon of hip hop culture, before that culture itself had developed a name.
Later DJs such as Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash and Jazzy Jay refined and developed the use of breakbeats, including cutting and scratching. The approach used by Herc was soon widely copied, and by the late 1970s DJs were releasing 12″ records where they would rap to the beat. Popular tunes included Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks”, and The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”.
Emceeing is the rhythmic spoken delivery of rhymes and wordplay, delivered over a beat or without accompaniment. Rapping is derived from the griots (folk poets) of West Africa, and Jamaican-style toasting. Rap developed both inside and outside of hip hop culture, and began with the street parties thrown in the Bronx neighborhood of New York in the 1970s by Kool Herc and others. It originated as MCs would talk over the music to promote their DJ, promote other dance parties, take light-hearted jabs at other lyricists, or talk about problems in their areas and issues facing the community as a whole. Melle Mel, a rapper/lyricist with The Furious Five, is often credited with being the first rap lyricist to call himself an “MC”.
In the late 1970s an underground urban movement known as “hip-hop” began to develop in the South Bronx area of New York City. Encompassing graffiti art, break dancing, rap music, and fashion, hip-hop became the dominant cultural movement of the African American communities in the 1980s. Tagging, rapping, and break dancing were all artistic variations on the male competition and one-upmanship of street gangs. Sensing that gang members’ often violent urges could be turned into creative ones, Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation, a loose confederation of street-dance crews, graffiti artists, and rap musicians. By the late 1970s, the culture had gained media attention, with Billboard magazine printing an article titled “B Beats Bombarding Bronx”, commenting on the local phenomenon and mentioning influential figures such as Kool Herc.
Hip hop as a culture was further defined in 1982, when Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released the seminal electro-funk track “Planet Rock”. Instead of simply rapping over disco beats, Bambaataa created an electronic sound, taking advantage of the rapidly improving drum machine, synthesizer technology as well as sampling from Kraftwerk.
The appearance of music videos changed entertainment: they often glorified urban neighborhoods. The music video for “Planet Rock” showcased the subculture of hip hop musicians, graffiti artists, and b-boys/b-girls. Many hip hop-related films were released between 1982 and 1985, among them Wild Style, Beat Street, Krush Groove, Breakin, and the documentary Style Wars. These films expanded the appeal of hip hop beyond the boundaries of New York. By 1985, youth worldwide were embracing the hip hop culture. The hip hop artwork and “slang” of US urban communities quickly found its way to Europe and Asia, as the culture’s global appeal took root.
The 1980s also saw many artists make social statements through hip hop. In 1982, Melle Mel and Duke Bootee recorded “The Message” (officially credited to Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five), a song that foreshadowed the socially conscious statements of Run-DMC’s “It’s like That” and Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos”.
During the 1980s, hip hop also embraced the creation of rhythm by using the human body, via the vocal percussion technique of beatboxing. Pioneers such as Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie and Buffy from the Fat Boys made beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using their mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and other body parts. “Human Beatbox” artists would also sing or imitate turntablism scratching or other instrument sounds.