Styles & Forms | Hip Hop

As the 1970s played out and disco took over, a new generation reacted against the commercial homogenization of black music by creating a completely new sound. This sound came from the streets and was accompanied by its own dress code, language, dance styles and attitude: hip hop was a way of life. 

Whereas disco was symbolized by the swank Manhattan nightclubs, these new sounds swaggered out of the street corners and house parties of the Bronx, where the most plentiful resource was ingenuity. During the second half of the 1970s, young black America was literally cutting disco up as DJs made their sets more challenging by working two turntables with the same record on each, mixing between them to prolong the interesting bits at the expense of the banalities. The DJ credited with starting this is Jamaican ex-pat DJ Kool Herc, who noticed, when operating his sound system, that it was the instrumental breaks in the extended 12-inch mixes that particularly moved the crowds, and began to mix two such sections together to create one seamless segment. It is from these extended instrumental breaks that the terms ‘break beats’, ‘break-dancers’, and ‘b-boys’ (an abbreviation of ‘break boys’) originated. 


However, these impromptu remixes soon took on lives of their own and entirely different tunes were created out of parts of others as sections of vocals or melody were cut up and repeated to assume completely altered vibes. An extra rhythmic thrust was provided by scratching, as a turntable’s stylus was manipulated in a record’s groove by moving the record itself backwards and forwards for beat-sized snatches. The burgeoning technology worked in tandem with this creativity as samplers and drum machines began to be used with increasingly sophisticated mixers and turntables allowing far more imaginative effects to be put into hip hop tunes. By the beginning of the 1980s, producers and mixers such as Arthur Baker, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa began to put this sound on record.

It also made stars of the slick-talking streetwise likes of The Furious Five, Spoonie Gee, The Cold Crush Brothers, The Sequence and Soul Sonic Force. Bringing a further, impromptu, anyone-can-join-in vibe to proceedings, DJs and MCs began rapping. Although such carryings-on are not unheard of in black American music – think of jazz’s scat singing or jive-talking radio DJs – this was the first time it had been a sustained and featured part of proceedings instead of an optional extra. Essentially publicizing themselves, the club or the sound system, commenting on what was going on around them and just whooping with exuberance, the rappers were the glue that held the early hip hop scene together as they vibed it up and, more importantly, kept it exclusive. 


Break-dancing and graffiti were the physical manifestations of hip hop, each, like the music, representing a street expression that relied on little more than inventiveness and practised expertise. In the same way as the music, they also...

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


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