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How The Bronx & New York Started Hip-Hop

new york rappers new york hip hop history

New York Hip Hop History

The history of hip hop is incomplete without New York. New York Hip Hop took shape in post-industrial South Bronx – a New York area faced with marginalization on both political and social fronts. African-Americans and Hispanic youths saw hip hop as a means to express themselves freely.

So, what is the story behind hip hop origin in New York?  Some might say that during the summer of 1973, along Sedgewick Avenue in the South Bronx, a local teenager who later become known as DJ Kool Herc was asked to provide entertainment for a local neighborhood party.  As history would have it, Hip Hop was born on that day, and DJ Kool Herc gained the title “Father of Hip Hop”, while during the party, there was an emphasis on only one pillar of hip hop – deejaying.

So, what happened to the other three pillars of hip hop? How did hip hop become a global phenomenon?

Rapping, otherwise known as emceeing was gaining traction among African-Americans during the time. New York rappers lyrics were centered around societal issues and sometimes was largely more of some boastful statements and throw-downs worded rhythmically.

Initially, an emcee bore the tag “master of ceremonies” at DJ dance events. He/she introduces the DJ and elevate the mood of the party attendees. Consequently, emcees started spending more time on the mic; putting out wordplay and rhymes.

In the 1970s, South Bronx was known as a haven for street gangs, and there were poor neighborhoods scattered around its landscape. Graffiti, breakdancing, and rapping were activities which gang member engaged in to prove that they had the upper hand over their competition.

African Bambaataa keyed into this finding and formed what became known as the Universal Zulu Nation. His goal was to help these young chaps channel their violent tendencies into creativity. The Universal Zulu Nation had mainly reformed members formerly of the Black Spades within their ranks. However, some members had associations with other New York City gangs in time past.

new york rappers new york hip hop history

Graffiti mural of New York Hip Hop pioneer, DJ Herc in the Bronx. Courtesy of The All-Nite Images/Flickr

In the late 1970s, hip hop received media attention as Billboard magazine published an article titled “B Beats Bombarding Bronx” which made references to influential figures relevant to hip hop including DJ Kool Herc. By this time, it was likely that hip hop would become a worldwide phenomenon and it did so in an unlikely fashion.

As the hip hop movement made its way into the soul of New York, an incident happened between the 13th and 14th June 1977. There was electricity blackout across New York City. Arson, criminal activities, and looting became the order of the day. In the Bronx, looters made away with DJ equipment.

Consequently, a culture which was once a local phenomenon in the Bronx took roots in other American cities before taking its place in the world as one of the most widely acclaimed music genres.

By 1979, Hip Hop music had become a mainstream genre. At this time, DJ Kool Herc was improving the art of deejaying. Breakdancing was also coming on at the time as a fascinating art peculiar to the hip hop scene. DJ Kool Herc called his dancers – b-boys or b-girls and gave meaning to the term “breaking” which he coined. He put the term “breaking” as a street slang meaning “getting excited” or “acting energetically”.

As DJ Kool Herc was reinventing the art of deejaying, DJs such as Grandmaster Flash and Jazzy Jay were improving on it. They were putting together music pieces which entailed rapping to a beat in a 12-inch record. Songs such as “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” by Fatback Band and “Christmas Rappin” became instant hits back in 1979. Coincidentally, these music talents were from various parts of New York City.

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The Era’s of New York Hip Hop

The 1980s saw hip hop culture take shape within the American nation. The 1980s was a period when there was tremendous progress in bringing hip hop music to the fore of entertainment. Tunes like Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks”, Run-D.M.C’s “It’s Like That”, Ice-T’s “6’n The Morning” were all produced in the 1980s.

During this period, hip hop music artists were springing up outside the Bronx, and music videos became a norm. However, the urban lifestyle of the high-brow areas was often depicted in these videos. The music video for Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” changed all that. It showcased Hip Hop in a general sense.

To continue in the 1980s, KRS-One, Rakim, Slick Rick and many more, along with people behind the scenes like Russell Simmons, helped jump start the popularity of Hip-Hop further more as the genre began to make its way out of the urban community and into middle America.

In probably the best era of Hip Hop, the 1990s led to the rise of some of the greatest rap artists of all-time, Jay-Z, Nas, Notorious BIG, Big L, and Big Pun are just a few who began to lead their careers to a legacy of great.

During this era, we would have the opportunity to hear some of the best Hip Hop songs of all-time, Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones”, Wu Tang’s “CREAM”, ONYX’s “Slam”, Nas’ “If I Ruled The World” are just a few examples of the everlasting music that was produced during the 1990s.

new york rappers new york hip hop history

One of Wu Tang Clan’s leading artists performing, Method Man.

With the 1990s being the greatest decade of Hip Hop, the late 1990s was the greatest period as Jay-Z released the classics of “Reasonable Doubt” and “Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life”, similar to DMX and multi-platinum selling albums of “Its Dark and Hell Is Hot”, “Flesh of My Flesh” and “…And Then There Was X”.

Many might remember the impact Jay-Z and DMX had on the late 1990s in New York City’s rap scene, but projects from Busta Rhymes, Noriega, Big Pun and others also helped with the contribution to solidifying how great of a time was the late 1990s was for Hip Hop.

While there were a number of solo acts, the 1990s was a great era for Hip Hop groups in New York City with a diverse group of acts ranging from the Lost Boyz to Onyx to Wu Tang to Mobb Deep as anyone can argue that the greatest rap groups come from New York.

Into the 2000s, the country’s rap scene was slowly beginning to transition from the East Coast, but not before Cam’ron’s “Come Home With Me” open the door for one of the biggest rap movements during the 2000s as The Diplomats with Juelz Santana, Jim Jones and a roster of others, all hailing from Harlem, created a fan base that was well beyond the East Coast.

One of the 2000s most memorable moments was 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Trying, an album that became one of the best selling ever, as this classic album help not only help launch the very diverse career of 50 Cent but also a number of other artists from around the country.

Other New York rappers like MOP would finally get their deserving national attention after years releasing classics with the help of the Warriorz album, with the singles of Ante Up and Cold As Ice, but New York City’s reign of the 2000s would only be short lived.

Success of the early 2000s was only an extension of the late 1990s. But unfortunately, with the rise of southern Hip Hop in places like Atlanta, Houston, Memphis, Louisiana, and Miami, the music scene of New York City began to lose its momentum as the genre rap became more based around the southern sound.

Fast forwarding into the decade of 2010, the East Coast sound and movement within New York is slowly making a comeback as some are copying the forever popular southern sound, while others staying true to themselves and their culture by continuing the tradition of New York rappers and the city’s Hip Hop music.

With all being said, the Bronx is mainly responsible for taking on the world with the hip hop culture which soon developed a youthful appeal and transformed lives in a way no one might have imagined before its birth. The hip hop culture might have taken up a whole new vibe in the last decade. However, fans of Hip Hop owe it to New York for bringing hip hop to life.

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