Styles & Forms | Golden Age Hip Hop

When The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow made an impact on the mainstream pop charts in 1979, rap was immediately palmed off as a novelty. However, the style not only survived, but has proved to be so influential that, in varying degrees, pop, rock, heavy metal and reggae have all borrowed from hip hop at some point. Also, astonishingly, hip hop’s golden age has lasted more than 20 years.

Hip hop has survived because it has continued to reinvent itself to a staggering degree, absorbing a turnover of influences matched only by its appropriation of musical technology. Whether it was the old school Sugarhill era, Def Jam’s rap’n’rock extravaganza or the west coast’s gangsta, like the beat itself hip hop’s golden era just won’t stop.

In The Beginning …

It is those three high profile areas that serve best to define hip hop’s success story, representing, respectively, the introduction, the consolidation and the pre-eminence. When Sugarhill Records became the first company to concentrate on recording and marketing rap, it was all relatively unsophisticated, in as much as technology didn’t extend past two turntables and a cross-fader, while rapping was confined to street-corner braggadocio in the simplest rhyming couplets. However, as an alternative to disco, rap found a wider following and quickly convinced its fans of a dazzling potential when ‘Rapper’s Delight’ gave way to ‘The Message’, ‘White Lines’ and ‘Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel’.

The whole hip hop experience spread across the media-friendly Manhattan nightclub scene as break-dancing, graffiti art and street style became as trendy as the electro and scratch-mixed soundtrack. B-boys and -girls, as the hip hop crowd was known, assumed iconic status, as pop videos all seemed to feature body-popping and the world’s sharper style magazines rushed to investigate these South Bronx goings-on. It was during this period, in the early 1980s that the moonwalk first went public and the baseball cap got turned back to front.

However, in spite of the obvious popularity and hipness quota of characters such as Grandmaster Flash, Whodini, Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Moe Dee and Soul Sonic Force, hip hop was still being ignored by the increasingly powerful MTV and so much mainstream radio. In the early 1980s, Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin came on the scene – a street-smart black artist manager and a heavy metal-loving white college boy, respectivelywho together founded Def Jam Records. They took hip hop to a level way beyond its cottage industry status in 1984, with their very first release – LL Cool J’s 100,000-selling song ‘I Need A Beat’.

Where Simmons and Rubin immediately made their mark on music was by combining their own personal preferences – hip hop and heavy metal – on Def Jam productions to create a whole new, ultra-obnoxious hip hop sound: denser, more in-your-face and technologically superior. It instantly took rap to a mainstream market by airing Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’, a single and video featuring...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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