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Origins of Rap and Hip Hop Music
Transcript of Origins of Rap and Hip Hop Music
Music in America
The transformation of urban '70's Soul and Funk music into something new.
During the 1980's, three revolutions took hold of popular music: the emergence of disc-jockeys as a creative force (in particular, in techno from the the disco music tradition), the advent of Hip-hop (and therefore the "rapper"), and the marriage of industrial music, heavy metal and hardcore (generically associated with the "cyber-punk" culture).
The idea of "rapping" (speaking but not singing) was imported into New York by the Jamaican immigrants, who were already familiar with "toasting" (a reggae artist talking in rhyme over the instrumental sections of a record). Some of them became disc-jockeys ("DJ") that traveled around New York carrying their "sound system" to perform at block parties.
In 1975 in the New York City Bronx, one of those DJ's, Clive "Hercules" Campbell, or "Kool Herc,” started making music with two turntables out of breakbeats (the instrumental breaks of a song that focused on the rhythm section, the favorite part of the song for most dancers… “rapping” over it), while another young black man of the Bronx, Theodore "Grand Wizard" Livingstone was accidentally discovering the "scratching" sound of a turntable (displacing the rhythm, making the speed and the total sound “hip and hop” around). The technical foundations of rap and hip-hop music were laid by those two more or less random events.
Rap was born in this incestuous inter-cultural phenomenon of New York's poor boroughs (Harlem, Soho, Greenwich Village, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn). DJ's used this technique to comment on the song or to incite to the crowd to dance. The idea of altering the instrumental score originated from the need to provide non-stop dance tracks, but it evolved as disc-jockeys began to pronounce more pretentious slogans that became the equivalent of song lyrics, and as they learned how to operate the electronic equipment to accompany them with more syncopated beats. Campbell (himself only a DJ) employed two MCs ("masters of ceremonies", a nickname for the rappers) to introduce his sets, and they constituted the first "crew" of rappers (Kool Herc & the Herculoids).
The "deejays" became cult figures, the inner city equivalent of the Medieval knights, fighting duels that were based on turntable skills. In 1977, the Bronx was divided in three main spheres of musical influence: Afrikaa Bambaata in the southeast, Kool Herc in the west, and Grandmaster Flash in the center. They also corresponded to spheres of influences of different gangs in NYC.
Another element of Hip-hop, although not a musical one, was spray-painted graffiti art, or "tagging" (the "tag" being the stylized signature of the graffiti painter). It started in Philadelphia sometimes in the 1960s, pioneered by such legendary figures as Cornbread and Cool Earl (whose proof of existence is spurious). In 1970 a particular form of graffiti began to appear on the cars of the New York subway, and the following year the New York Times claimed to have interviewed the author, a teenager only identified as Taki 183 (also someone who may or may have not existed). These pioneers may be just fantasy, because many other kids began to produce graffiti’s and sign them with the legendary names. (Some of these graffiti artists, such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring went on to become professional artists).
The first rap records to chart significantly were the Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight (1979) and Kurtis "Blow" Walker's Christmas Rapping (1979) and The Breaks (1979). The latter was also the first rap single certified gold.
The most important innovation from the instrumental point of view was the birth of a new instrument, the turntable. In 1983 turntablist DST (DXT) played a solo of "scratch" on Herbie Hancock's "Rockit". Slowly, the turntablist became as important as the guitarist in rock music.
Innovators...The fusion between hip-hop and the rock world was first achieved by Run-DMC, whose albums Run-DMC (1984), King Of Rock (1985) and Raising Hell (1986) ran the gamut from hard-rock guitar riffs to politicized raps.
James Todd Smith, better known as LL Cool J, sang about the splendors and the miseries of the ghetto on Radio (1985), and then proceeded to coin a hyper-realistic and hyper-egocentric hyper-fusion on subsequent albums. He epitomized "party-rap", a compromise with mainstream pop sensibilities.
In the mid-1980's, New York Hip-hop producer Marly Marl (Marlon Williams) represented the new, professional face of hip-hop: whereas the early rappers were perfectly happy to make records with a turntable and a voice (and no instruments), now the DJ had evolved into a producer, and the breakbeat had often been replaced by a band. The power and influence was shifting from the musically illiterate rapper to the technologically savvy groove artist.
Under the influence of Public Enemy (Fight The Power), social commentary became more prominent and to the point, Philadelphia's “Schooly D” (Jesse Weaver) virtually invented "gangsta rap" (a genre that would dominate the Los Angeles scene in the 1990s) with the influential albums Gangster Boogie (1984), PSK (1985) and the album Saturday Night (1987).
Rap also crossed the racial divides, with white rappers such as the Beastie Boys. Their album "Licensed To Ill" (1987) integrated punk-rock and hip-hop into an organic whole (and was the first rap album, by either black or white artists, to reach the top of the album charts).
Near the end of the 1980’s, Hip-hop became more popular than Rap music, and it established a significantly different paradigm of music-making. Shifting the emphasis from the melody to the rhythm was not simply an extension of what funk music had already done: it was a complete and total revolution that changed the very meaning of the word "song."
Some important musical distinctions worth discussing...
•In this musical culture, the elegant melody of pop music was a negation of reality, whereas the intricate rhythms of Hip-hop music were an affirmation of reality.
•Where melodic songs were, fundamentally, meant to offer a respite from the real world, a Hip-hop song was a way to perform and experience a total immersion into it.
•Pop music was about being a victim or a protagonist: Hip-hop music was about being a witness.
•Pop music was about making storytelling memorable and mnemonic: Hip-hop music was about making storytelling as coldly factual as news reporting. The sonic montage made possible by sampling techniques added a further musical/sonic dimension.
•Pop conceived art as order: Hip-hop conceived art as chaos. As electronic devices replaced the traditional instruments, composition became a branch of engineering, and engineering became a way to reflect the chaos of the urban environment in which the artists lived and experienced.
This technological evolution has affected all areas of music composition...people can have a professional level digital studio in their home on their computer for a fraction of what it used to cost to set up a studio...all composers and performing musicians use computers and digital technology to some extent.
The use of previously recorded material for the basis of rap music is now being looked at more closely, both by rappers and producers, and by those whose music is being "borrowed." Now that rap is commercially successful, artists demand compensation for use of their original intellectual property...rappers can no longer just "sample" whatever they want and not be held financially liable.