Monday, December 12, 2005

Hip Hop - the background

Hip hop is a cultural movement that began among urban Jamaicans, African Americans and Puerto Ricans in the Bronx borough of New York City during the early 1970s, and has since spread around the world. The four main aspects, or “elements”, of hip hop culture are MCing (rapping), DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing. Some consider beatboxing the fifth element of hip hop; others might add political activism, hip hop fashion, hip hop slang, double dutching (an urban form of rope skipping) or other elements as important facets of hip hop. The term has since come to be a synonym for hip hop music (or rap music) to mainstream audiences.
In recent years the focus has been centrally place on rapping and producing.
The origin of the term “hip hop” itself is unclear; but, over time, the term has taken on a life of its own. The movement that later became known as “hip hop” is said to have begun with the work of DJ Kool Herc in the early 70s, while competing DJ Afrika Bambaataa is often credited with having invented the term “hip hop” to describe the culture. A variety of mythical etymologies and complex meanings have been attached to the term and continue to propagate within the hip hop community.
Hip hop music
The various factors that influenced early hip hop are complex and numerous, and vary from the griots of Africa to the rock of America. Although the majority of influences can be traced to African culture, the multicultural society of New York City resulted in diverse musical influences from all over the world finding their way into hip hop music.
Elements of the style and techniques of rapping originate with the griots of West Africa; traveling singers and poets had musical styles that contained elements of what would later evolve into hip-hop music. Some griot traditions came to the United States, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean with the passage of African slaves to the New World. Other notable influences are the spoken word sections of records by soul and funk musicians such as James Brown and Isaac Hayes.
One of the many influences on the creation of contemporary hip hop music is the Jamaican style called dub, which arose as a sub-genre of Reggae in the 1960s. Dub music saw producers such as King Tubby creating instrumental versions of popular reggae records for the purpose of clubs and Sound systems; they had discovered that dancers often responded better to the extended, isolated beats of the records, often featuring intense percussion and heavy basslines. Soon, the MCs that hosted the dances began speaking over the instrumental records, and the skills of MCs such as U-Roy, Dr. Alimontado and Dillinger saw them become popular performers in their own right. This tradition continues in contemporary Dancehall music. In 1967, Jamaican immigrants such as DJ Kool Herc applied the methods of Dub to Funk loops that were popular in New York City. According to David Top, Reggae was not popular among most African-American Hip-Hop fans in the early years of Hip-Hop, despite its influence.
In parks and community centres, up and coming DJs were playing to packed crowds of youngsters eager to hear the old funk tunes. Pretty soon (by 1976/77) the DJs and dancers we’re paying special attention to the percussion breaks in records like Jimmy Castor’s ‘It’s Just Begun’, Dennis Coffrey’s ‘Scorpio’ and Herman KeIly’s ‘Dance To The Drummer’s Beat’: in fact to any record with a good drum break, including tracks by the Rolling Stones and other white rock bands. One of the first Hip-Hop songs to be released was “Rappers Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang, which sampled Blondie, a popular white musical group.
The kids who danced to the breaks started calling themselves B-Boys and their energetic, acrobatic style of dancing which accompanied the playing of the breaks became known as breaking. The most popular Bronx DJs like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash started mixing two copies of the same record to make the breaks last longer; with fast cutting between the decks a 20-second drum break could be turned into a five-minute mix. Besides experimenting with the technical side of DJ-ing like cutting and scratching, the Bronx Jocks experimented with the the electronic music coming out of Europe.
Kraftwerk’s 1977 hit ‘Trans-Europe Express’ was a B-Boy favourite for its cool driving metallic Kraftwerk mixture of computerised drumbreaks and synthesisers. While all this was happening on the hot and sweaty dancefloors of the Bronx, out on the streets another vital element of the hip hop scene was falling into place.
Emceeing
The old, black tradition of using rhyming slang to brag or put down your enemies (or friends) had developed, through the street jive of the early Seventies, to become for many urban youngsters a new way of talking. In a larger sense, this was a continuation of a verbal tradition that goes back as far as the African griots. Half speaking, half singing the rhythmic street talk of Rapping was soon in the clubs, with aspiring rappers doing their thing over the local sound systems, the DJs providing backing tracks of instrumental loops of the latest dance hits.
Another significant influence is Blues music. In many ways, hip hop is a continuation of an oral historical tradition dating back to the griots and traced through the Blues that came out of slavery. One of the main influences Blues had on rapping was the Call/Response aspect of the music. This survived into the tradition of “toasting” over Dub music, a tradition which was transferred to hip hop by Jamaicain immigrants like Kool Herc. This became most pronounced in the MC “Battles” of the early 1980’s. Freestyle rapping of improvised lyrics is also part of a tradition that began with musicians improvising on their instruments in Jazz and the Blues. Rappers such as Guru give credit to the Jazz element that influences Hip-Hop.
Herc was one of the most popular DJs in early 70s New York, playing at neighborhood parties (also known as block parties). After his first gig on Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx in 1973, Herc quickly switched from using reggae records to funk, rock and disco, as he found that the New York audience did not particularly like reggae. Herc and other DJs found that dancers often preferred the funky, percussive breaks of the records, and began extending them using an audio mixer and two records. Within a highly-competitive atmosphere, Herc’s friends and competitors quickly developed other mixing techniques in order to keep audiences excited. As in Jamaica, these events were often hosted by a performer who spoke while the music played; these were originally called MCs (Masters of Ceremonies) and, later, rappers. Early rappers focused on introducing themselves, the DJ and others in the audience, although they quickly progressed to including improvisation and a simple four-count beat, along with a simple chorus. Later MCs added more complex and often humorous lyrics, and incorporated a focus on sexual themes and all around boasting. Although it was yet to be recorded, hip hop music steadily grew in popularity, and by the end of the 1970s was beginning to become a major artistic force which had spread throughout the United States. During the 1980s and 1990s, hip hop gradually became mainstream (a transition usually considered to have been completed in 1992) in the US and, to a lesser degree, worldwide. By the 2000s hip-hop became the most popular music genre in the United States, at times occupying every top ten spot on the music charts.
Famous rappers of the past and present include Melle Mel, Whodini, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Rakim, Notorious BIG, Snoop Dogg, and 50 cent.
DJing
Hip-Hop DJing, referred to by some as turntablism, is the practice of using a turntable as a musical instrument. Skills associated with turntablism include record scratching, beat juggling, and mixing. A DJ should not necessarily be considered a producer of a music track (though there is considerable overlap between the two roles). Today, the terms are often used exchangably, similar to ‘rapper’ and ‘MC’.
Famous DJs include Grandmaster Flash, Mr. Magic, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Scratch from EPMD, DJ Pete Jones, Prince Paul (widely lauded for collaborations with De La Soul and assorted solo ventures), DJ Premier from Gang Starr, Pete Rock, DJ Scott La Rock from Boogie Down Productions, DJ Miz, DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill, Jam Master Jay from Run-DMC, Eric B., DJ Shadow, RJD2, DJ Q-Bert, Diamond D, Mr. Khaliyl (an associate of Mos Def and Jurassic 5), Young Einstein, DJ Nu-Mark, James Lavelle, Cut Chemist, DJ Format, DJ Serious, Mister Cee, DJ Paul Nice, DJ Aladdin, Mix Master Mike, DJ D-Styles, DJ Signify, DJ Rhettmatic, DJ Babu, DJ Kay Slay, DJ Quik, DJ Spooky, and DJ Spinderella (of Salt-N-Pepa).
Before they became the center of attention, an MC’s role was to get the crowd into the DJ’s mix. In general, Hip hop has focused on getting one’s audience to dance, although relatively large niche audiences have formed in present day that focus on lyrics rather than dance such as Chino XL. Disillusioned by the centrality of emcees, with this new culture, some DJs further explored the art of spinning records, creating the turntablist scene.
A DJ generally needs turntables, a good sound system, and scratch material, which typically comes in the form of vinyl records. Some early recorded rap music does not contain any sampling or DJing, however; for example, none of the members of the Sugarhill Gang were involved in the Bronx DJing scene and thus couldn’t have done any, which explains the session player remake of “Good Times”. ==
Graffiti art
Graffiti as an urban art form had been known since at least the 1950s, but began developing in earnest in the late 1960s and flourished during the 1970s. Hip-hop graffiti began during these periods on the subways of New York, and later expanded to the city walls themselves. This movement from trains to walls was encouraged by efforts by the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to eradicate graffiti on their property (the M.T.A. officially declared the transit graffiti-free in 1989).
The first forms of subway graffiti were quick spray-painted or marker signatures (“tags”), which quickly evolved into large elaborate calligraphy, complete with color effects, shading, and more. Finding original techniques was very important for graffiti artists; for example, in 1972, one well-respected graffiti artist called Super Kool replaced the dispersion cap on his spray paint with a wider one, found on a can of oven cleaner. This is still a common practice. By 1976, graffiti artists like Lee Quinones began painting entire murals using advanced techniques. Some of the most memorable of Quinones’ work were political in nature, calling for an end to the arms race, for example. The book Subway Art (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 1984) and the TV program Style Wars (first shown on the PBS channel in 1984) were among the first ways the mainstream public were introduced to graffiti. Quickly the rest of the globe imitated and adapted hip hop graffiti. Today, there are also strong scenes in Europe, South America, Australia and Japan. (Graffitti is a European-origin tradition. The word comes from the Italian term “graffito.”)
Graffiti has long been villainized by those in authority because of its (perceived) ties to gangs, violence, drug culture and street crime. Although it is a crime, falling under the category of vandalism, many artists are not violent criminals and do not engage in such activity as the brands that their art form has been labeled. This may be true in some cases, but most “writers”, as they are often called, are in fact true artists that spend painstaking hours practicing and refining their skill to create something that is beautiful, at least in their own eyes. Demonizing their art by saying it is nothing more than a nuisance that might not be aesthetically pleasing has resulted in knee-jerk legislation, such as the 3-strike laws in Los Angeles, California. These can send a young artist to prison for life just for writing on a wall, even if it is the only crime they have ever committed, because it is has been classified as “gang related activity”.
Breakdancing
Breakdancing, also known as B-boying or B-girling by its practitioners and followers, is a dynamic style of dance. The term « breakdancer » originates from the dancers at DJ Kool herc’s parties who would save their best dance moves for the break section of the song. Breaking is one of the major elements of hip hop culture, commonly associated with, but distinct from, « popping », « locking », « hitting », « ticking », « boogaloo », and other funk styles that evolved independently in California during the late 20th century. It was common during the 1980s to see groups of people in a playground, basketball court, or sidewalk with a radio performing breakdancing shows for a large audience.
While breaking in its current form began in the South Bronx alongside the other elements of hip-hop, it is similar in style to and may possibly derive from the Capoeira form of dancing/martial arts, which was developed by slaves during the slavery period in Brazil.
« Hip-Hop » as a form of dance is becoming more popular. Derived from, but not wholly consisting of, breakdancing moves, it is a dance without any limitations to positions and is an expression of how a dancer feels on the inside.
The style of hip-hop dance incorporates a lot of fast paced combinations and rhythm. Hip-hop is very casual and fun. The modern moves and energy make it a great form of fun and exercise for teens and pre-teens of today. Certain shoes can be worn at some studios, preferably the dance sneaker or jazz shoe.
Beatboxing
Beatboxing, considered by many to be the “fifth element” of hip hop, is the vocal percussion of hip hop culture. It is primarily concerned with the art of creating beats, rhythms, and melodies using the human mouth.
Early pioneers of the art include Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, and Buffy of the Fat Boys. The term ‘beatboxing’ is derived from the mimicry of the first generation of drum machines, then known as beatboxes.
The art form enjoyed a strong presence in the ‘80s. Beatboxing declined in popularity along with breakdancing in the late 80s, and almost slipped even deeper than the underground. Beatboxing has been enjoying a resurgence since the late ‘90s, marked by the release of « Make the Music 2000. » by Rahzel of The Roots (known for even singing while beatboxing) The Internet has greatly aided the rebirth of modern beatboxing—on a global level never seen before—with thousands of beatboxers from over a dozen countries interacting on the UK’s Humanbeatbox.com.
The art form has radically evolved, extending its reach to include physical theater routines, and has integrated itself into hip hop (and other forms of theater). Vocal percussion is a standby of a capella groups, as well.
Beatboxing has also recently branched beyond its traditional scope (mimicry of « beat boxes » to create hip-hop beats) to several new stand alone forms. It is now widely practiced as a form of human Drum & Bass, a style of heavy electronic music. The range of sounds that can be reproduced by the human vocal chords are staggering to many unfamiliar with this musical practice.
A recent development in the area of hip hop performance is hip hop theatre.

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