The Greats of Early Hip Hop

The history of hip hop is as diverse as the genre itself. As there are many different subgenres and types of hip hop music, it must also be true that the genre began with many great ideas that evolved over time, creating modern variants of hip hop such as jazz hip hop, electro hip hop, and so on.

Hip hop as we know it has roots in the Bronx area of New York City in the US. The genre emerged as the contemporary of R&B, disco, spoken word, and blues. Some of the first rap music incorporated parts of each of these genres, but hip hop music always placed heavy importance on spoken word and poetry, as it is an exclusively lyrical genre. Percussive beats from popular funk and disco songs were isolated by DJs and remixers at New York block parties. This was a technique utilized in Jamaican music as well at the time. Members of the party would often join in and contribute lines of poetry over the beat of the drum.

Famous New York DJ Grand Wizard Theodore is considered by modern music theorists to be the first “turntablist”, and one of the fathers of modern hip hop. Grand Wizard Theodore worked with funk and disco songs by mixing and matching drum beats, creating drum lines from popular music that could be rapped over.
Jamaican immigrants in New York City would often join in on the music by rapping with simple lyrics over the top of the drums created by DJs like Grand Wizard Theodore.

Afrika Bambaataa of the Universal Zulu Nation created the first hip hop awareness group in history shortly after. He organized former New York City gang members to give back to their community with cultural events for youth in the inner city. These culture fairs drove hip hop fandom to a peak in the 80’s, injecting hip hop into the young culture in the United States.

Melle Mel, another early rapper, was credited as the first rapper to use the term “MC” to describe himself as a lyricist. Funk Four Plus One pioneered many modern hip hop music techniques, going on to become famous after a star performance on Saturday Night Live drove them to international fame.

Hip hop music crossed over into the UK in the mid 1980s as a cultural phenomenon. UK hip hop groups and soloists went on to expand and create new derivative genres such as trip hop and drum n bass.
Hip hop soloists became more prominent as opposed to hip hop groups in the late 80s and early 90s with LL Cool J and other greats like DJ Hollywood, Spoonie Gee, and Kurtis Blow.

The first true hip hop albums were recorded in 1981-1982 by Afrika Bambaataa and other fathers of the genre. B-boy culture greatly influenced hip hop fashion and style, and became indistinguishable from the greater hip hop culture all the way into the 90s.

Modern mainstream hip hop borrows from electronic and other electronic music genres, but retains many stylistic elements from the original genre.


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